With nearly a millennium of katana-making history, it’s no wonder why Japan manufactures some of the best knives in the world.
Although today there are hundreds of Japanese cutlery companies, there are only a handful of cities that are considered knife hubs in this country: Sakai, Seki, Tafeku and Tosa Kurouchi.
Right now, let’s zoom in on two brands: Avoid from ‘City of Blades’, which is Seki, and Mac from the ancient sword city of Sakai.
Which of the two is better in terms of appearance and performance?
And more importantly, which one deserves to have a seat on your kitchen table?
Shun: A hundred years of expertise
Shun, in Japanese, means the very specific time when the food is at its most ripe, most perfect taste.
This is exactly what Saijiro Endo, the founder of the company, wants to achieve every time he forges and polishes a blade.
It has been over a century since Endo started its humble Seki business, and with all the accolades they have received, it seems that the brand has achieved their very own Shun.
Creating the knife
Seki has a long history of stabbing – the great katanas of brave samurai are from here.
So it’s not strange to see multinational and / or world famous cutters still sticking to the old way of throwing knives.
Shun is one of them.
While using modern machines at certain stages of their manufacturing process, much is still done by artisans manually.
They also have their proprietary VG Max, a very special steel mix that provides hard and sharp, yet ultra-flexible blades.
There are almost a dozen series under the Shun brand: Fuji, Hikari and Kanso, just to name a few.
Each series comes with different types of Japanese and a few Western knives: Deba, Santoku, Kiritsuke, etc.
Their introductory series, Sora, is the most affordable of all.
It also looks like it with its thick back, partial pliers and thermoplastic handle.
The Dual-Core series is Shun’s top variant.
Made of layered VG10 and VG2 steel and a Pakkawood handle, this can last a lifetime.
Shun’s best feature, in addition to their very generous warranty offer, is their free grinding service for all series.
- Many series to choose from
- Sora, their variant at the entry level, is quite affordable
- Free sanding service at all times
- Thicker back and strength make it heavier than most Japanese knives
- Some say shuns are a little too expensive
Best selling variant: Sora 8-inch chef’s knife
This is made of VG10 steel core and 420J stainless steel outer layer.
The spine is thicker and the belly more curved, reminiscent of a European chef’s knife than a Japanese Deba.
The dark colored handle with a decorative badge on the butt is made of a thermoplastic material.
Of all the Shun knives, this one is the most reasonably priced.
And for under $ 100, it’s a decent enough knife even for professional chefs.
Mac: A fantastic new knife on the block
Mac’s chairman, T.Kobayashi, experienced first-hand how difficult it is to use a traditional German knife in the kitchen.
It is clumsy and heavy, the sharp tip breaks off easily, and it is painful to maneuver on the cutting board.
When he returned home from a restaurant period abroad in 1958, he began to conceptualize a knife that is lighter, sharper and easier to use.
Kobayashi started with just two at the time.
Today, Mac offers several series and has sold over 30 million knives worldwide.
Creating the knife
The entire Mac manufacturing process involves 15 steps, starting from squeezing the basic contour of the knife out of a steel plate and ending with a visual inspection before the finished product is packed.
Apart from pressing and baking, the whole process is performed manually by their skilled craftsmen.
The company does not have a specific designation for the steel they use.
But the steel has a high carbon content, enriched with various metal alloys.
For corrosion resistance and flexibility, they added Chrome, Molybdenum and Vanadium.
To improve the sharpness and durability, they added Tungsten.
Today, the Mac offers seven series including Professional, Japanese and Damascus, just to name a few.
The original, the first Kobayashi design, is made of an extremely thin (less than 2 mm) and flexible blade with a curved rather than pointed tip.
It is full pliers and triple riveted, but does not have a support.
Instead, the wooden handle extends easily to the spine for a better and more secure grip.
The hole punched near the tip for hanging is an interesting addition as blocks and magnetic strips were not yet invented at that time.
The newer variants that followed have not changed much in terms of the overall look.
It seems that Mac stuck to T. Kobayashi’s design because it worked.
- Hard but flexible
- Extremely thin and sharp
- Security features
- Some varieties are affordable
- Most handles are made of wood only
- Some varieties are in the middle class, the rest are quite expensive
Best-selling variant: Chef Series 8-inch Dimpled Chef’s Knife
This is great for cutting almost any food because the spine is 2 mm thin, the belly is straight and only curves towards the tip.
The vertical depressions that run before the edge of the blade help prevent food from sticking.
It has a full pliers, no support, and the wooden handle is triple riveted.
You can trust that any Japanese brand is good and therefore a must-have in the kitchen.
Shun, a trusted brand, is easy to like.
They are one of the few that offer free resuscitation services for life!
But for a Japanese magazine, it’s pretty heavy. And many have regretted that it is a bit too expensive.
Many people love the Mac because it is surprisingly light and easy to use.
Some may nod that these are stamped, and while that is a fair critique, it does not matter in this particular case because of the hard work that craftsmen put in grinding and polishing each piece before it is delivered.
Last updated on February 13, 2021 by Andy Wang