UPDATE, MAY 2021
In our original review, we named both the Kershaw Taskmaster Shears and the Shun Multi-Purpose Shears as winners, since both are made by the parent company Kai and were identical in design and performance. We recently learned that Kai made changes to the design of the Kershaw shears, so we retested the Shun and Kershaw shears and found a few key differences between the two. The Kershaw blades have slightly less tension and shorter, shallower serrations; they’re also not as sharp as the Shun shears. As a result, we don’t recommend them as highly as the Shun shears, which remain our top pick.
Test initial sharpness by cutting paper
Cut parchment rounds
Cut kitchen twine
Trim rosemary branches
Trim pie crust
Cut whole head of cauliflower into florets
Cut 3 whole chickens into parts; trim parts
Test with users of different hand sizes and dominant hands
Test sharpness again by cutting paper
Kitchen shears are an essential component of any cook's knife kit. We use them for a wide range of tasks—cutting twine and parchment, snipping herbs, trimming pie dough, cutting florets from heads of cauliflower and broccoli, and butterflying chickens, to name just a few. In our last testing, the Kershaw Taskmaster Shears ($26.30), also known as the Shun Multi-Purpose Shears, outperformed all competitors—and at a fairly low price. So we knew we didn't have to spend a lot to get a great tool. Curious to see whether our former favorite reigned supreme among all inexpensive shears, we decided to pit it against five other models priced from $12.99 to $39.95.
All the shears sailed through the lighter tasks, ably snipping twine and chives, cutting parchment rounds, and trimming pie dough. But when we challenged them to cut tougher, denser, or more slippery foods, some shears faltered. Several slipped on the woody stems of rosemary branches, failing to bite through them. Others just couldn't find purchase on the slick skin of raw chicken—never mind the hard, smooth bone—when we cut whole chickens into parts.
Blade Design Is Key
Blade design was primarily to blame for these failures. Each pair of shears has two blades: a cutter blade, which has a smooth edge and is responsible for most of the cutting action, and an “anvil” blade, which is usually serrated and a bit thicker, the better to help grip and secure the food being cut. Cutter blades are similar to the blades found on chef's knives in that they sport a bevel—the slim strip on either side of the blade that narrows to form the cutting edge—that's sharpened to a specific angle. While cutter blades are generally sharpened to a wide edge angle (traditionally 50 to 70 degrees), we found that, as with chef's knives, the narrower the angle on the blade, the sharper it felt and the more easily it sliced through the food; blades with thicker edge angles tended to wedge themselves into the food instead of cutting it. Not all manufacturers were willing to disclose edge angles, but our favorite model had an unusually acute angle of 25 degrees, providing an almost knife-like sharpness (for comparison, chef's knives are typically sharpened to about 15 to 20 degrees). And although narrower edge angles can make some blades more vulnerable to chipping or scratching, we're pleased to say that our favorite suffered no such loss of integrity over the course of testing.
The type and placement of the serrations on the anvil blade mattered, too. For the serrations to truly bite into and stabilize the food, they had to be on the edge of the blade or at least on the bevel. And the deeper and sharper the serrations, the more securely they held the food. The shears that struggled most on tough and slippery food didn't have proper serrations at all but rather rounded, granton-like indentations on the side of the anvil blade, away from the edge and bevel and thus adding little, if any, gripping power.
A few general blade characteristics also helped some shears succeed better than others. The blades on the models we tested ranged from 3 to 4 inches long, and while it's a seemingly small difference, the extra length helped; we preferred blades of at least 3.5 inches, which made longer, smoother strokes through the food. Narrower blades felt more agile and were easier to maneuver around food, allowing us to get into a head of cauliflower to snip off florets. In addition, we liked blades that could be used by both lefties and righties. Only one pair of shears failed here; it claimed to be ambidextrous but simply wouldn't cut for our left-handed testers.
We liked shears that were not too light (sacrificing power) or too heavy (taxing hands): 4 to 5 ounces was ideal. And we preferred shears whose pivot (the central screw, or fulcrum) held the blades together with a medium level of tension. If the tension was too tight, the blades were hard to open and close; too loose and it was difficult to summon the requisite shearing force to help cut the food. In a few cases, the tension loosened over the course of testing; since none of the models can be adjusted, we preferred those that maintained their tension.
Finally, we preferred models with blades that could be separated from each other for cleaning. Unlike models with fixed blades, take-apart models allow the user to get rid of any chicken or herb bits that might get stuck at the pivot, making it easy to sanitize and reuse the shears. And although some users were concerned that these models would come apart when opened wide, we didn't find this to be an issue during testing.
Getting a Grip
The handles of the shears were also important. We liked those with finger bows (holes) roomy enough for large hands but not so big that smaller hands struggled to find position. Handles with small bows were uncomfortable for most testers to use, as they generally cramped hands and limited the grip options. We also preferred handles made of grippy plastic as opposed to slick metal; these were more comfortable and easier to hold securely, especially when dealing with wet, slippery chicken.
An Enduring Winner
In the end, our old favorite triumphed yet again. The ambidextrous, take-apart Kershaw Taskmaster Shears ($26.30) had the longest blades in our testing, ensuring smooth, continuous cuts on parchment rounds and chicken parts, and they're narrow enough to maneuver nimbly through even the most intricate foods. Fitted with deep, angular serrations, the anvil blade securely gripped every type of food we threw at it. And with a cutter blade sharpened to a fairly acute angle—the smallest in our lineup—these shears felt razor-sharp and stayed that way throughout testing. A moderate amount of tension between the blades provided excellent shearing force without taxing our hands too much, and good-size finger bows made of grippy plastic were comfortable for hands of all sizes to hold.