There are five basic steps to restoring an old knife:

  • Find a Knife worth Restoring
  • Remove Rust
  • Refinish the Blade
  • Refinish the Handle
  • Sharpen

I like old knives because the quality is there, and they're cheap. They were made before the time when plastic and stainless steel was par, so instead of mediocrity, you'll find high carbon steel and wooden handles. Higher end knives will have brass rivets, and are just beautiful. If you're the type to put a knife away wet, or leave it in the kitchen sink, then older knives aren't for you. The blade will rust, the handles will split from being wet, and you'll ruin a 50 year old knife in a month.

But if you're looking for a quick project, restoring an old knife is really worthwhile. Rust can be removed, handles can be restored or replaced, and as long as there is life left in the blade, you can have a razor sharp knife that will make chopping and cooking at least 3 times as fun.

If you're feeling ambitious and want to make your own knife instead of restoring, check out these Instructables:

Step 1: Finding Quality Knives

The most important step is to find a good knife. Search local flea markets first, then try second hand stores or craigslist, and then antique shops or ebay.

What to look for:

I basically look for rusty blades and wooden handles. If the knife has a decent weight to it and feels balanced when you pick it up, that's good.

If the handle is a dark wood (walnut, rosewood, ebony, etc.), this usually indicates that it wasn't the cheapest knife when it was new.

Anything old (50+ years) and with a stamped maker's mark should be decent. If someone hasn't thrown it away in 50 years, there's probably a good reason.

The Tang Style will tell you more about the knife. The blade of a full tang knife will have metal that extends to the back of the handle, usually with brass rivets holding the wood scales in place. This is great. Japanese knives may be half tang, but they have laminated steel blades, and are amazing knives. Grab every cheap one you can find.

A magic combination is an old knife with surface rust but no deep pitting (especially near the edge), with wood handles that aren't split, and with a blade that still has some life left in it.

What to avoid:

I avoid plastic handles and stainless steel, but that's my preference. Anything that's badly bent (looking down the edge) or cracked, pass it up. Many old knives will have been sharpened so much that there's not much life left in the blade. You can still get them sharp, but they turn into thin fillet knives, not the chef's knife they were intended to be. If the knife is worn down, but it's from a well known manufacturer (like the Henckel knife in the photos), it might be worth getting anyway.

Don't be too worried if the blade isn't sharp or if the edge has small nicks. Cracks in wood handles can be repaired, and even re-handling a knife isn't that difficult if you have basic tools.

Styles and Stamps:

There are many different types of knives for different purposes. There are small paring knives, steak knives for the table, serrated bread knives, versatile chef knives of different sizes, butcher knives, thin fillet knives, and sashimi knives with a flat side to the blade, and then there are more specialized knives of all shapes and sizes. For a good and quick overview of different knife types, check out this Instructable: The Knife Box, for Culinary students, Chefs, and Avid Cooks! by dustinbikes.

If there is a stamping on the blade, or an etching, or any logo on the handle, you will be able to identify the knife and see if it's worth anything. On a knife from the east, you may not be able to read the characters, but chances are it's worth grabbing if it's cheap.

I recommend buying a few of these knives to practice sharpening, the rest or the restoration process is pretty straightforward.

I just bought a copy paper box full of old kitchen knives for $15 at a local estate sale. I found knives in the box with used values over $100 each! I am very excited by this wonderful find...included were 8 Case XX knives plus a huge assortment of other marked knives of even greater value. But now I have over 80 knives to choose from. I need to decide which ones to keep and use and which ones I should restore and sell or just sell them as is. I bought them because I need some good kitchen knives but I don't know how to choose which I should keep. Any suggestions? I also have some marked stainless steel and some that don't specify the type of blade. How can I tell if they are carbon steel blades before I begin the cleaning process?
<p>If they turn black or a little rusty on the surface, they are not stainless. They take an edge fast enough and loose it fast as well. Practice on the cheap knives first.</p>
<p>Very good. I have been buying old knives at flea markets auctions etc. I have been putting antler handles on them. But never knew about the citric acid so I am anxious to try it. If I can find it. Someone said its found around canning stuff so will check that out. Thank You very good post </p>
<p>EXCELLENT instructable! tons of pictures and plenty of documentation </p>
Excellent. I've been doing a boy of the same and dressing some plastic-handled models with antler, bone, or hardwood. One question: you recommend beginning re grinding by cutting into the coarse stone. I use a file. I want to know if you have a reason for eschewing the file because those stones are way too expensive to use for the first regrind, at least too expensive for me.
<p>Great Instructable! I have citric acid in the cabinet (purchased from the grocery store in the canning section) and had never heard of using it for rust removal. We have a great set of knives we've had for years, but I'm always on the lookout for good quality additions to our collection. Can't wait to check out the local thrift stores and flea markets after reading this! </p>
<p>Very good instructable. I've been fooling with knives for most of my 50 years now. You are very right when you say to practice, practice, practice when learning to sharpen. I was very lucky to have an older brother that was an expert at sharpening anything. he could make a credit card shave you. One of the very best things I have ever come across for beginner sharpeners is something called crock sticks. It's a little wooden block that holds two different sets of ceramic sticks at different angles. One set for thinning and one for sharpening. It's pretty cheap as far as most rocks go and is extremely easy to use. And for getting the rust off of the blades, would vinegar work for that?? I know it works great for rust removal but I don't know if it would be as gentle as the citric acid. The only reason I mention that is that citric acid isn't that available around here. Thanks for letting me chime in.</p>
<p>Hey thanks for the comment! Nice suggestion about the crock sticks. I'll have to try them out some day. </p><p>White vinegar should also work to get the rust off. You might dilute it with water as it can be used to darken steel (similar to citric acid). I don't think it's too aggressive when diluted. I'd test it on a knife first, let it sit for maybe 30 minutes and then scrub. Clean and neutralize with baking soda.</p><p>One of the ingredients in Kool Aid is citric acid, so if you can't find citric acid powder you might try that!</p>
Yeah you're right about it darkening the metal some. I had a very unique spring from some old sheers that had rusted close. I put it in pure vinegar and let it sit on my window sill. I would check it and try to work it every day to loosen it up for a while but then forgot about it for about two weeks. When I thought about it and got it out it was thinner than a piece of paper and very black. So much for the &quot;unique&quot; spring. I just threw away. Maybe I'll find another one, one day. I'll do a little research about the citric acid and see what I can come up with.
<p>nice instructable. I really like the rust removal idea</p>
<p>Very nice!! I have a bunch of my Mother's and they look just like that second one from the left there in your pic. I will try that citric acid trick, asap. The handles are very greasy, though. Will sanding get the grease off? It seems to go very deep into the wood, but maybe it just looks that way.</p><p>And -- a dull knife is the most dangerous tool you can use. You push really hard and then you get a ragged, deep cut. With a sharp knife you can finesse your work and not get cut as often nor as deep, and when you do get cut it is a clean cut and hurts less and heals better and faster. Cooking for 50 years and I know from experience.</p>
<p>If you're talking about the last pic, the second from the left is made by Forgecraft. The handles on these are oak, which is very porous, so they have probably soaked up that grease. If you sand them way down, you will still see some blackness in the pores. My advice is to get the rust off, hit the handles with #0000 steel wool until you're happy and get them sharp again. They're good knives!</p>
<p>Awesome Instructable, thank you! I appreciate good knives &amp; old things - reading this makes me want to go on Garage Sale Patrol this weekend! =)</p><p>I've never been very good with sharpening stones. I got a Spyderco Tri-Angle SharpMaker sharpening kit for Christmas a couple years ago, I'm very happy with it - so is my Mom and my Mother-in-law, who both always have notoriously dull knives. I take the Spyderco kit with me every time I visit. =)</p>
<p>It's a great sunday project for me. Go to the flea market early, pick up a cheap knife, restore it a bit, and have it good and sharp by the afternoon.</p>
<p>I would suggest checking out using walnut oil for the handle. I have had good luck with it on hand crafted wooden spoons and bowls and it is completely food safe and smells nice.</p>
<p>Good suggestion! Walnut oil smells great.</p><p>I've made a walnut oil / beeswax finish (1:5) and like it a lot. Use a double boiler to melt the beeswax, then add in 1 part of walnut oil and stir. Let it cool and you have a paste that smells really nice and isn't as oily as straight walnut oil. Apply it with a clean cloth and buff it off. It won't soak in like straight oil, so you might oil the piece first and then use the walnut oil / beeswax paste on top.</p><p>This recipe is adapted from the one at the end of this Fine Woodworking article about food safe finishes:</p><p>http://www.finewoodworking.com/how-to/article/food-safe-finishes.aspx</p>
<p>Beer nut oil works better.</p>
<p>I have heard women argue a knife should not be really sharp because the user is more likely to be cut. I have tried to explain that a careful user does not pull the edge toward oneself. I sharpened some knives of various qualities for a church kitchen. I made cardboard sheaths for them to protect the edges from other metal objects stored in a drawer with them. To drive home the point they were sharp I taped a band aid to the cardboard sheath of each. </p>
<p>Actually Phil, I have heard that more cuts are caused by dull blades. The sharp blades go right through the food as intended by the cutter. Dull blades require more pressure and won't always go straight through the food. In the last case, the blade will wonder off the intended path and accidentally cut the user.</p>
Yes. I tried for a long time to convince my wife of that. She pulls a knife toward her fingers, etc. That is the problem. But, she blames me for cutting herself because I sharpened the knife. With a dull knife her pressure would not have been enough to cut. Do you see my problem?
<p>A dull knife is far more dangerous to the user than a sharp knife. A dull knife requires a lot of force in order to cut, and if it slips, it goes out of control and can cause a lot of damage. A sharp knife needs minimal force when used in the kitchen, and it's easy to keep under control. The trouble is, too many people have never used a really sharp knife and they have no idea of the difference in feel. </p><p>Of course there are always basic safety rules to follow. Don't cut toward yourself or with your hands or fingers in the path of the blade. And, of course, never hold a bagel or roll in your hand while trying to slice it. </p>
<p>Love the bandaid reminder! A dull knife needs more pressure to make a cut, which can result in more slip ups and loss of control. Even if you cut yourself with a sharp knife, the cut will be clean, while a dull knife tends to tear things up. The clean cuts will heal up more quickly. A very sharp knife will cut deep, but I still think they're safer. This is true for kitchen knives, hunting knives, and especially for woodworking chisels and knives. </p><p>A good test for a kitchen knife is to slice a tomato. If it can't slice through the skin without ripping it up, it should be sharpened. Deliberate, controlled cuts and a respect for that edge are really important in keeping accidents to a minimum. </p>
You are very correct. I nice read a book on sharpening. The book suggested a helpful test for checking how sharp a knife is, or is not. Drag the edge of the knife sideways across the top surface of a thumbnail. If the knife is sharp a curl will form in front of the edge. If the knife is not sharp enough, dust will form in front of the edge. If the knife is really dull, nothing will form in front of the edge.
<p> ~( :-})={ &gt; --- ] Thank You.</p>
Great crafting on your instructable. I like old stuff for their quality too. I'm favoriting this one. :-)
<p>The real challenge is in restoring an old knife which has corroded tang. Usually, the back end is corroded and would have lost the rivet holes. Putting a rivet hole is difficult because the metal is hardened. If at least one hole is available, the knife can be saved, by restricting the blade turning about the single rivet, someway or other. I also agree that the old carbon steel knifes are better than the new stainless steel, they are more amenable to resharpening </p>
<p>Some to add, NEVER put knives in the dishwasher. Even if they have plastic handles, don't do it. Dishwasher detergents are very abrasive and will beat up a knife.<br><br>I've had good luck clear coating wooden handles. They always stay shiney and repel water very well.</p>
<p>I'm so glad you sugested knife users should store knives with the blade up in a knife block. It annoys me that people can't see how they are damaging the block and the blade if they don't store them properly. Great Instrubtable!</p>
<p>A used, rusty knife is often the best there is. I found a rusty old Imperial (made in the US) pocketknife at a local antique market for $4. In addition to being rusty, the brown coloring on the handle was peeling of, so I stripped that off with Blue Wolf. Then, I removed the rust with sandpaper. The black rust stains still remain though. Finally, i sharpened it. It is sharper than my Swiss Army knife, and now I regularly carry it. </p><p>You may never know what you'll find in the kitchen drawer. My grandma's uncle was in WWII, and I found his old pilot's knife in the utensil drawer. It had been abused quite a bit, and the tip is broken off, the handle was replaced with crudely carved wood (repairing knives was the original owner's hobby), and is rusty. I think I need to do this with that one, but I'm pretty sure this would be a hard to replace knife if I screw up. I also have a US Navy Knife I found outside a shed that I need a new handle on that I need to do this with. </p>
<p>I have an old knife I got at a thrift store, this has inspired me to dig it out and fix it up</p>
<p>Excellent writeup, I think I've found myself a new weekend project!</p>
<p>Using a grinder to sharpen not only removes material scarily fast, but it also heats the blade up quickly. This can lead to softening of the blade edge in a process called annealing. Clearly a softened blade is not going to keep its edge as long, and soon it is back to dull again. I stick to a honing rod for occasional dressing and a whetstone with oil for servicing. I hate dull knives! If I can't shave with them I don't want to cook with them ;)</p>
This is a competition level 'ible. Very nice work. And really interesting to boot. I like how you've woven in lots of other helpful' ibles. I'm going to be renovating my kitchen later this year and have been collecting lots of old pottery etc. Now I have something else to look out for. :)
<p>Thank you. Part of the fun for me is finding an old knife and then researching the maker and learning about them. Sometimes there's not much to learn, but other times there's some interesting history to read. It's probably the same with the pottery you're collecting!</p><p>One knife I have is marked Sabatier Jeune. I found photos of other knives from the maker online, but what was crazy is that I found an old ebay listing with the <em>exact</em> same knife, being sold from san francisco, which is where I found mine in the flea market. Maybe those two knives were sold alongside each other in some store a few decades ago, maybe not, but it's funny to think about.</p>
<p>I have 4 Old Hickory knives that were my great-grandfathers(I am 62)to give you an idea of the age.Anyhow I refinished them years ago and use them to this day,sure wish I'd known about citric acid and water back then,sure would have made things alot easier.Thanks for that tip and very nice job on your 'ible.Congrats </p>
<p>This reminds me that the first place you should look for a good old knife is to your family! It's great that you're still able to use your great-grandfather's knives. Knives with a history like that are very special and can't be bought or replaced.</p><p>I have slowly pieced together a set of Forgecraft knives, probably similar to your Old Hickory knives. They have oak handles and horizontal grooves that help keep sliced things from sticking to the sides of the blades. They're easy to get quite sharp, and I really like the size of the chef's knife I have, it's one of my favorites.</p>

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