Blade Show: Kramer Shun Collaboration

One of Bob Kramer’s gorgeous custom Damascus chef’s knives.

There were many highlights at the 2008 Blade Show in Atlanta, including dinner with Murray Carter and an intimate group of his colleagues and supporters. The biggest surprise of the show, however, was the announcement of Shun’s collaboration with ABS Mastersmith Bob Kramer to produce a commercial version of his most popular chef’s knife. The prototype won Kitchen Knife of the Year at the Blade Show.

Shun\'s version of Bob Kramer\'s design

Bob Kramer custom on top, Shun’s version in Damascus-clad SG2 below.

Kramer’s knives have been favorites among kitchen knife fanatics and design junkies for a while, but it was a very favorable mention in Cook’s Illustrated that brought him to more mainstream attention. His straight carbon (52100) chef’s knives start at $475 and the Damascus versions can run well over a thousand — if you can get one. Kramer is now so backlogged with orders for his hand forged knives that he is not taking new orders for the foreseeable future. So the timing is perfect for a mass market Kramer chef’s knife. Shun has licensed Kramer’s design and produced a knife that will up the ante for design, performance and price among commercially available kitchen knives. Kitchen knife enthusiasts have long been used to high-octane edges and superior performance from boutique makers. Now the general public gets a chance to see what that can feel like.

The biggest difference in the Shun version is the steel. Kramer’s knife is made from thousands of layers of hand forged Damascus steel. It is not stainless. The Shun version is high-tech SG2 powdered steel clad in a softer stainless Damascus jacket. It is stainless, so a little more tolerant of typical conditions in a non-fanatic’s kitchen. If Shun follows the pattern of the Shun Elite series in the same steel, the edge should be right around 64 on the Rockwell C scale. Nice. In our conversation, Kramer said that he was very impressed with the SG2 steel. The feel of the knife is very close to the original. Heft and balance are spot on. The handle slabs are a little chunkier with a more pronounced palm swell than the elegant Kramer handle. These are just my impressions from a brief fondle at the show. I hope to get a knife in for review at some point in the near future.

The Shun-Kramer chef’s knife will be a Sur La Table exclusive for the first year. Pricing has not yet been announced. I’m guessing $450 MSRP with a street price in the $325 to $350 range.

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28 Comments

  1. Just finished the book! Great read. I haven’t learned so much from a book in a while. I’m really happy I made the purchase.

    The writing was appropriately casual rather than hokey. The sharpening guide and knife buying guide were also highlights for me. Thank you for writing it!

    One thing I’m still not so clear about are the advantages of a narrow knife versus a wide knife (slicer vs chef’s knife.) I’ve heard of many chefs and cooks who use a 12″ slicer for all of their prep. Is there a logical reasoning behind this or is it because they want to be cool by doing all their prep with one knife?

  2. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the book and are getting something out of it. Hiroyuki Sakai, Iron Chef French, was famous for doing most of his prep with a single Nenox slicer, but most chefs prefer a wider bladed chef’s knife for general prep work. You can use the side of the blade for smashing garlic and scooping vegetables from the board, and the heavier, stiffer blade is better suited for harder vegetables like jicama or butternut squash. However, a slicer is particularly well adapted for dealing with proteins. The narrow blade keeps moist foods from sticking. That’s where they get used to their best advantage.

  3. I think I will probably go with a wider blade because I still use my 9″ F. Dick knife from culinary school for almost all of my jobs, including smashing garlic and cutting up hard vegetables. I may get a Tojiro, as you recommended, but I’m still not sure whether I want to go for the extra length (and cost of course.)

  4. In addition to what Chad said:

    Compared to a slicer shape, the weight, balance, and extra face on a chef’s knife help the user to keep it straight up and down when used in a (push-cut) chopping motion. The higher heel helps keep the cook’s knuckles off the board. The spine and back geometry make the knife a little more comfortable for the two-handed rock cut most of use for a “rough-cut,” “walking the knife through…,” and “mincing.”

    On the other hand the extra flex in a slicer, even a fairly stiff slicer, helps the cook to “feel” the face of the food when slicing thin; the narrower profile aids making mid-cut corrections; and a specialized slicing blade and a general use chef’s knife allows the user to put different finishes on the edge. For instance, I like more polish on the chef’s and more “tooth” on the slicer.

    It’s a mark of Sakai-sama’s skill that he could use a slicer with its greater propensity for twisting for making fine cuts. The Delacroix of French Cooking probably paysanned carrots with a 12″ suji.

    That said, the Kramer Shun looks incredibly nice. The antique Sabatier which holds pride of place in my block is suffering existential angst.

    Want! Indeed,
    BDL

  5. Peter, word on the street is sometime in September, but that’s just rumor and speculation at this point. Don’t hold me to it. It does make sense, though, if Shun can get tooled up and has enough free manufacturing capacity. They’ll want at least a couple of months to build buzz before Christmas.

  6. Hi Chad, thanks for the info. That’s the response I also ended up getting from Bob Kramer. Can’t wait.

  7. Being a maker of handmade articles for use in the kitchen, I have a strong appreciation for others that do the same, and their creations. Kramer seems to be at the top of the heap these days when it comes to handmade kitchen cutlery, but there are many others whose work is pretty sweet too. His knives, at least from the photos I’ve seen, are nothing short of exquisite – form following function to the nth degree and beautiful to boot. I am probably going to be in the minority here, but I think the Shun is nothing more than a cheap imitation. Keep in mind “cheap” and “inexpensive” are not synonymous. Kramer’s knives have an understated elegance, and the Shun (from the pic) looks like a dime store semi-reproduction. But hey, that’s just me. Later-Tom

  8. I followed you here from your eGullet thread (where I left a long and rambling question) and had to drool, er, comment on this thread. Kramer lives within walking distance of me, do you know if he’s got a weakness for chocolate or other homemade goodies, because I would so bribe him to get on a short list for a knife!

  9. Just found out the Shun Kramers will be introduced with the following items:

    8″ chef
    7″ santoku
    3.25″ paring
    10″ bread
    4.75″ utility
    9″ honing steel
    7 pc set

  10. Just received my Shun-Kramer knives. Absolutely beautiful!

    The heft and feel of the knives is great. I especially like the utility knife. It feels good in the kitchen and it also feels as if it should have a sheath for going into the field.

    Note that they come with a “sharpening steel.” Should I give it to my ex-wife and get a ceramic honing rod for myself? (p. 14 of “An Edge in the Kitchen”).

    I found it interesting that the package did not contain a single word about the construction of the knives or their care. No informational materials at all.

  11. I have the beautiful Shun Chef’s Knife but have some questions about care. Do I ever use a steel? Will it ever get dull or out of alignment? If so, what do I do about sharping?

  12. Hi, Sally. Yes, the Shun will get dull at some point. They’re very well made knives, but every knife, no matter how well constructed, dulls over time. You will have much better luck with a high-grit ceramic rod than a conventional grooved steel. Shun knives are harder than the Wusthofs and Henckels that most people are used to. A standard grooved steel can cause the edge to chip. A ceramic rod won’t do that.

    I should probably put up a quick tutorial on steeling. I’ll try and get to that next week. Take care.

    Chad

  13. Chad,

    I have been looking at getting a nice chef knife. I was looking at the Shun Elite when I came across the new Kramer. Am I correct in my assumption that blade performance on these should be about the same? Also, I noticed you were using a Nenox on your Pinch and Claw video, would you recommend it over the Shun’s? I do like the look of it better, but have not had it im my hand. Do you know anything about the new Henckel Twin 1731 series, made out of a new metal used in avaition. I really like the sleek look, but $450 is a lot of money and I can’t find any info on it. I will be sending my knives out to be sharpened and hope to learn enough from your book to keep them well maintained in between sharpening. Thanks for any insights you can offer.

  14. One steeling tutorial coming up. I’m working on the proposal for the next book, but I should be wrapping it up soon, so I’ll have some more time to devote to the website.

    Take care,
    Chad

  15. Brad, I do like Nenox knives but they are bizarrely expensive. I buy them used from folks who suddenly realize what they’ve paid for them and are afraid to take them out of the rack :-P. The Shun Elites are fine knives. The steel on the Kramer is the same, I believe, so the performance should be the same. It all depends on the ergonomics at that point. Which one feels best in your hand?

    If you are sending your knives out to be sharpened, send them to Dave Martell at D&R Sharpening (www.drsharpening.com). He’s one of the best in the business.

    As for the Henckel Twins — I haven’t tried them yet. But, as always, don’t buy knives you don’t need. Have your current knives sharpened first and see if that doesn’t make a vast improvement. If you still hanker for a new chunk of steel, give the MAC Professional line a look. They’re harder to find than Shuns (you may have to shop online) but offer similar performance for a lower price (usually). If you really want high tech steel and super Rockwell hardnesses, do some surfing at http://www.JapaneseChefsKnife.com and http://www.EpicureanEdge.com. You’ll be amazed at the stuff out there that doesn’t make it to your local Bed, Bath & Beyond. Yoshikane and Artisan get high marks from those into supersteels.

    Chad

  16. CHIEF KNIKE. 6 INCH VS 8 INCH? IS THERE ANY ADVANTAGE TO HAVE A 8 INCH CHIEF OVER A 6 INCH?
    THANK YOU
    MIKE

  17. Hi, Mike. Yep, there is an advantage. I generally recommend 8″ as the bare minimum. If your knife won’t reach all the way across the pot roast or turkey breast, you are going to have to do a lot of sawing — not good. Personally, I find 240mm (9.5″) to be just about perfect for the home kitchen. There’s enough length that you can deal with all but the biggest butternut squash, yet it isn’t so huge as to be unwieldy. If you are looking at the Shuns, definitely go with the 8″. I’d even try the 10″ on for size. You might surprise yourself.

    Take care,
    Chad

  18. HELLO CHAD,
    THANK YOU FOR THE REPLY. I HAVE BEEN USING THE 6 INCH CHIEF FOR A FEW YEARS AND NEVER NEEDED A 8 INCH CHIEF. I WILL BUY A 8 INCH AND TRY IT AND SEE FOR MYSELF WHICH ONE I LIKE BETTER. I PUT MY NAME IN FOR A PRE ORDER FOR A BOB KRAMER DAMASCUS CHIEF KNIFE, I DO NOT CARE HOW LONG IT TAKES. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR ANSWER.
    MIKE

  19. I’ve had my Shun Kramer 8″ Chef’s for a few months now and love it (as my wife does as well). They now also offer a 10″ chef’s.

    I’m wondering about the best sharpening stones, as I’m not going to use the Chef’s Choice sharpener on this. Garrett Wade has a Norton waterstone kit with 1000, 4000 & 8000 grit stones plus a flattening stone. Henckels also has a double sided Japanese two-stone set in 250/1000 (sharpening) & 3000/8000 (finishing) grits designed to be used dry. Any thoughts?

  20. #1 Where does the Nakiri “veggie cleaver” fit into the culinary world? Is it just an attempt for knife makers to make one believe that when they buy a knife set at the knife store, the nakiri will be better at chopping veggies than a 10′ chef knife?

    #2 are cutting boards usually tend to split after a few years or am I just not buying a well enough made one? I am wanting to purchase a boardsmith,but wonder if it willsplit apart in some spots after a long period of time.

    #3 love your site. I wish you had some sort of forum where we could ask you specific questions. I did not know if I should ask this here or in another place?

  21. Hi, Jonathan, thanks for the kind words. The nakiri is one of the few double-beveled traditional Japanese knives and does indeed make for a great vegetable knife. If you already have a 10″ chef’s knife and know how to use it, however, the nakiri is probably redundant. However, nakiris can be very thin, making them better at precision slicing than a typical western chef’s knife. I have one from Murray Carter that just drops through carrots as though they weren’t there.

    Your cutting boards may be splitting A) because they haven’t been oiled and have dried out, or B) they’ve not been properly dried after use or have been sitting in water. You need to oil your board with mineral oil every once in a while, especially in winter when the air is unusually dry. Oil all sides, not just the top. When you wash your board, stand it on edge in the sink to air dry after wiping it down. If your board doesn’t have feet on the bottom air can’t circulate underneath to aid in drying. The excess moisture can cause the wood to swell and loosen glue joints. Boadsmith boards are expensive but are the best available today. My 18″ x 22″ is going strong after quite a bit of regular abuse. I got one for my mother a couple of years ago. I’ll have to check in with her to see how it’s holding up in a household where cutting board maintenance is not a top priority :-P.

    Questions here are fine, and you might also want to try the “In the Kitchen” forum at http://www.knifeforums.com. I’m there quite a bit as are pro chefs, knife makers, and knife nuts with more collective knowledge about kitchen knives and gear than you’ll find anywhere else.

    Take care,
    Chad

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