More and more people are realizing the benefits of Japanese knives in the kitchen.
That’s led to lots of questions about what the difference is between Japanese brands like Mac and Shun.
In this article, I’m going to tell you the differences between these two brands.
I’ll go in-depth into the details of each, talking about where they are made, what materials are used and the difference in price.
This should be all the information you need to select your perfect knife.
I prefer Shun knives over Mac. Their VG-MAX steel is fantastic, offering immense hardness and very good durability. I also prefer the strong Japanese style of the handle. However; the unique design of Mac’s cutting edge will offer a slightly sharper knife.
|My recommendation||Current price|
|Mac Professional 8-Inch||View on Amazon (opens new tab)|
|Shun Classic 8-Inch||View on Amazon (opens new tab)|
Mac vs Shun – Comparison Table
Here is my summary comparison table for each brand. This is mostly based on their main range of knives; the Mac Professional and the Shun Classic.
For a more in-depth look at each category then check out the rest of the article below.
|Country of Manufacture||Japan||Japan|
|Rockwell hardness||HRC 59-61||HRC 61|
|Factory edge||~15 degrees (double bevel)||16 degrees (double bevel)|
|Handle material||Pakkawood (wood/resin composite)||Pakkawood (wood/resin composite)|
|Price range||$160 – $180 (Professional)||$160 – $180 (Classic)|
|Main benefit||Slightly sharper||More durable|
|My recommendation||8-Inch Professional (view on Amazon)||Shun 8-Inch Classic (view on Amazon)|
Mac vs Shun – Where are they made
|Brand||Country of manufacture|
All Mac knives are manufactured in the Japanese city of Seki. Seki is known as the knife capital of Japan, with a population of only 90,000 it lies around 150 miles from Toyoko but is the central hub for all of Japan’s major knife manufacturers.
Mac has been making knives since 1964, selling over 25 million of their fantastically designed East-meets-West knives.
All Shun knives are manufactured in the Japanese city of Seki.
Shun knives are designed with a Japanese influence but to suit the demands of the Western market, with a larger focus on durability compared with other Japanese brands.
Both of these brands produce their knives in the traditional heartlands of Japan, so they have plenty of heritage.
Mac vs Shun – What steel do they use
The steel used in knives will often change depending on which range you pick.
Here I’m going to focus on the most popular range for both Mac and Shun knives, which are the Mac Professional and Shun Classic.
|Brand||Steel type||Rockwell hardness|
|Mac Professional||VG-5||HRC 59-61|
|Shun Classic||VG-MAX||HRC 61|
The Mac Professional range uses the Japanese steel VG-5. All Mac knives are made from some version of the Takefu V-Gold (VG) steel varieties.
It’s a hard steel and we can see why when we look at VG-5’s levels of Carbon, Vanadium and Chromium.
The Carbon level is much around 0.75%. Higher Carbon levels make the steel harder, allowing for a finer edge, but it also makes it more brittle and prone to chipping.
The Chromium content is around 14%, that’s no super higher but still makes this a quality stainless steel that will be very resistant to rust.
The Shun Classic range uses their own Japanese steel VG-MAX. Not all Shun knives are made from VG-MAX.
It’s their own specially formulated steel with the aim of VG-MAX being an improvement on the (already very good) VG-10 steel.
VG-MAX is a fantastic steel. It’s been made with a Japanese influence in mind but also with a strong focus on appealing Western markets.
That means it’s got a fantastic balance between strength and durability.
We can see why when we look at VG-MAX’s levels of Carbon, Vanadium and Chromium.
This is a high-Carbon steel, with a Carbon content of 1.1%. Often, such a high Carbon steel will be more prone to chips in the blade. As materials become harder they usually become more brittle; however, that’s not quite the case for VG-MAX.
To understand why we’ll look at the Vanadium content first. It’s pretty high, at 0.3%, that’s not as high as many western steel (made specifically for durability) but for a high-Carbon steel it’s very good.
As a result, VG-MAX is more resistant to wear than most other high Carbon steels.
The Chromium content is also very impressive at 16%. That makes VG-MAX one of the best stainless steel on the market at resisting rust.
Those two factors make this a very durable high Carbon steel and it’s the main reason I’m a big fan of Shun knives.
Mac vs Shun – How sharp are they
Once again I’m going to focus on the most popular knives from each brand for this comparison.
You will experience a slightly sharper edge with the Mac over the Shun. The Mac’s Japanese influenced off-center angle increases the sharpness. Ultimately though the difference is quite minimal and both these knives will give you a super-sharp edge with great edge retention.
|Brand||Factory edge||Rockwell hardness|
|Mac Professional||~15 degrees (off-center double bevel)||HRC 59-61|
|Shun Classic||16 degrees (double bevel)||HRC 61|
Sharpness is vital when looking for a knife, but in this case, there’s a bit more to it than just looking at which knife has the smallest angle of its edge.
Usually, the smaller the angle the sharper the blade. However, there are other considerations that are particularly important when comparing these two knives.
Harder knives will hold a sharper edge for longer. Both these knives use steel of similar hardness.
The main difference is in the way Mac designs the edge of their knife.
Whereas most knives use a standard bevel edge, with each side of the knife slanting at the same angle to form a point, Mac knives have an off-center angle to the edge.
That means that one side of the knife has a smaller angle than the other, a technique that results in a sharper blade.
It’s a mix between the Japanese style of a single bevel edge, which are incredibly sharp, and a western double bevel edge.
The combination of this edge design and the hard steel means that you will experience a very sharp edge using Mac knives, even though the steel is of similar hardness to the Shun.
Overall, you’re going to experience a similar, extremely sharp edge with both of these knives, but the Mac will just be slightly sharper.
Mac vs Shun – What are the handles made from
The material used for handles is a vital and often overlooked feature of any knife.
A quality handle is often the sign of a quality overall knife. Handles need to be made from a durable material that can withstand all the heat and moisture fluctuations knives can experience in the kitchen.
Once again we’ll focus on the two main ranges from each brand, the Mac Professional and Shun Classic knives.
|Mac Professional||Pakkawood (wood/resin composite)|
|Shun Classic||Pakkawood (wood/resin composite)|
Both Mac and Shun use a wood/resin composite called Pakkawood for their knife handles.
Pakkawood is extremely common in knife handles for quality Japanese knives, although many non-Japanese knife manufacturers around the world have begun to use it as well.
Pakkawood is a great material for knife handles, it’s more dense and durable than real timber. That means it’s more resistant to wear and tear and won’t crack over time as timber handles might.
The versatility of design also makes it a popular choice, it can be dyed all sorts of colors and will often give the appearance of a true wood finish.
Pakkawood is very resilient to temperature and moisture changes and makes a terrific material of choice, it also adds to the Japanese influence of the knife with Pakkawood being a popular Japanese knife handle material.
Shun handles are designed in the more traditional tapered oval shape whilst Mac knives have a western influenced design with a grooved handle.
Mac vs Shun– How much do they cost
Both these brands have wide ranges of knives all at differing price ranges.
To allow for a fairer comparison I’ve categorized three of their major ranges that represent their highest and lowest cost knives.
I’ve tried to compare similar knives, sticking to 8 Inch Chef’s knives or the closest equivalent they have in the range. E.g. The Mac Ultimate is actually a 9-inch knife.
In brackets next to the general price range you’ll see the name of the range.
These prices are rough estimates. Prices do change over time but this is intended as a rough guide.
|Premium||> $200 (Ultimate)||$200 – $250 (Premier)|
|Standard||$160 – $180 (Professional)||$160 – $180 (Classic)|
|Value||$80 – $100 (Chef’s Series)||$80 – $100 (Sora)|
Both Mac and Shun offer their knives at a very similar set of price ranges.
There is really very little to distinguish to two by looking at the price alone. They both produce top quality Japanese knives and that’s reflected equally in the price.
Mac vs Shun– What is the difference
Now that we have looked at the design, materials, background and price of these brands we can fully understand the difference, and you should be able to make an informed decision on which knife is correct for you.
The main difference between Mac and Shun knives is that Mac knives are slightly sharper but Shun knives are significantly more durable. There is also a large difference in the aesthetic design of the knives.
Both these brands are fantastic and there isn’t a great deal to separate them.
Mac’s unique off-centre angle on the cutting edge does make the knives slightly sharper.
Shun fantastic steel however does make them particularly durable for a high Carbon knives.
There is also a clear aesthetic difference in the design, although that less impacts the practical benefits of the knives and is just a personal choice on which you prefer the look of.
Mac vs Shun – Which is better for you
Unless your only focus is getting the sharpness of the two, I would recommend the Shun knife over the Mac.
Yes, the Mac is slightly sharper, but that difference will be minimal.
I think the other benefits offered by Shun outweigh that small difference, they are more durable and are very unlikely to rust or chip.
I love the design of Shun knives, that of course is a personal opinion but I know that many people find Shun knives particularly attractive.
If sharpness is your one and only concern, go for the Mac, it’s a great knife, otherwise, I would say the Shun wins in most other categories.
My Mac Recommendation
For my Mac recommendation, I’m also going to the mid-range priced Professional Chef’s knife.
With this Japanese knife, you get a hard steel and unique blade design, allowing for a sharper edge.
The side of the knife is also dimpled, which reduces the surface area and thus stops food from sticking to the blade, another clever design touch.
The materials used are all premium quality and, although the Mac’s steel might not be as durable as the Mercer’s steel, for a Japanese knife with a large Carbon content it is actually very durable and at 14% Chromium is a good quality stainless steel too.
Some high-Carbon Japanese knives contain almost no Chromium at all and can begin to rust overnight if left wet, this Mac is a far cry from those.
It may not be as durable as the super-durable western-style knives, but when it comes to Japanese blades this Mac is a great balance between amazing sharpness and durability.
My Shun Recommendation
The Shun Classic 8-Inch is a superb knife and I’d highly recommend it.
The Shun Classic is an absolute masterpiece of merging Japanese and Western influences and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in quality knives that are a bit different.
I don’t think you could be disappointed with this knife.