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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.

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<p>Lots of great info here. Thanks!</p><p>Question about the wood conditioning, though. You suggest mineral oil or boiled linseed. You mention that you prefer food-safe, but don't specify which ones are or are not food safe. Could you clarify please? Pretty sure mineral oil is. Is boiled linseed? Tung oil and varnish are not, correct?</p>
<p>Nice info, I will be reading all you files in depth. I am pretty good at sharpening but I always want to get better. I may just get some bargain knives just to practice your methods.</p><p>Stainless steel is good but requires a great deal more work. I find a power tool helps to get real close and then finish with the stone.</p><p>TNX</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>I am sad to say I am responsible for more than one girlfriend cutting themselves after I sharpened their knives. They were so used to bludgeoning their food and being able to let the knife bounce off their fingers. I did not realize their bad habits until the blood was flowing. They became more adept knife wielders after me. Lessons learned the hard way on both sides. </p><p>P.S. Love the bandage idea.</p>
<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>Also, should one cut themselves and require sutres (stitches), a sharp knife will leave a smooth slice that is easier to sew up and it will also heal faster and with little to no scar.</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>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.
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>
My friend used to sell Cutco knives which came with plastic handles and are some of the best kitchen knives out there, so if you find any Cutco knives keep them. Depending on what type of knife you have depends on the thickness of the blade. If your is a thin blade then the edge will be a narrow edge, possibly 17 degrees. The more narrow the angle, the more fragile the edge, but a higher degree of sharpness can be obtained. If your blade is a little thicker, then the chances are that it could be a 20 degree edge, even thicker blades will hold a wider edge of 25 degrees. Rule of thumb is the wider the angle the more durable the edge will be. Hunting and outdoor knives along with most pocket knives will have a 25 degree angle for durability. Kitchen knives will more than likely be 20 degrees, but butcher knives will carry a 25 degree angle for greater endurance. One of the best things you can do while you're sharpening your knives is to carry a Sharpie or something similar to mark the edge, that way you can tell if you're sharpening at the correct angle, and it will help you define the edge. You did a great job with your ible and the attention to detail was appreciated. Keep up the great work.
<p>KaBar recommend sharpening the edge of a knife to 20' for the best durability to sharpness ratio. </p><p>I don't care how classy they look, NEVER use glass chopping boards. You might as well be beating your knife-edge against a rock! Wood ones are gentle on the blade and naturally anti-biotic, unlike plastic, which'll let germs breed in the scratches. </p><p>And one further note, if you're sharpening Japanese knives, check whether or not it's already beveled on both sides. Many Japanese knives are only sharpened on one side as this affords an EXTREMELY sharp edge suitable for preparing thinly sliced meats and fish. Sharpening the left (under) side of the blade will effectively ruin it.</p>
<p>Great instructable!</p><p>It might be worth mentioning that not all plastic handled cuttlery is of poor quality.</p><p>The old carbon Sabattier have plastic handles and are really fine knives, as are many of Wusthoff's professional knives, and Henkels as well...</p><p>If we are lucky enough to find such quality cast aside.</p><p>When dealing with really grimy, wooden handles crusted in old grease and food particles, a pot of simmering TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate), a soft bronze wire brush.</p><p>Thank you for the citric acid info, I'll be giving that a go in lieu of wet sanding with 1,500 to freshen up some of the old knives.</p><p>Wishing everyone a great season!</p>
<p>Great advice throughout! I agree with the comment that Barkeeper's Friend is a good choice for brightening blades. It's also fine enough to be used as a polish, which is a nice timesaver.</p>
<p>I really like this. Not only this well written 'ible even the letters are great, so a BIG thanks for sharing this with us.</p>
<p>I restore old knives and hand tools such as planes chisels and other bladed hand tools. Citric acid is the best thing I have found for rust removal,it is a biodegradable vegetable product so guilt free for disposal.. I am convinced that the for me overpriced Evapo-Rust product is citric acid and water. Get the cosmetic grade citric acid it is cheaper than the food grade. You can find it in craft stores or on eBay. I tend to look for Chicago Cutlery knives which have bleached white handles, it tells me they have been subjected to dishwashers and probaly never resharpened.</p>
<p>Don't overlook a great food safe and inexpensive drying oil: Walnut Oil. I also use it to wipe a coating on all my carbon steel blades after cleaning them.</p>
<p>To thoroughly and SAFELY clean a blade, simply wet a wine cork and dip it into kitchen scouring powder (Ajax, Comet, etc.), then use it to scour the blade. Your fingers are well above the blade so they are safe and it does a fantastic job. No steel wool necessary or even desirable as it leaves iron particles in the blade which will cause rust.</p>
<p>Forgot to add this. To get rust from the blade, just substitute ZUD or Barkeepers Friend (both contain oxalic acid) for the normal kitchen scouring powder and it will both remove rust and corrosion from the blade using the wine cork.</p><p>Incidentally, here is a listing of what is contained in various cleaning compounds that is worth a read: </p><p>http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/113006</p>
<p>Love knife (and other tool) restoration. Many of my old kitchen knives have become badass throwing knives for the old backyard tree. It's something fun to do with them before you sort out how to refurbish.</p>
<p>First class Instructable! There are so many good tips and references and good detailed instructions. I still have my grandfather's Chicago Cutlery restaurant kitchen knives and they need a cleaning and sharpening. This is an inspiration to do so.</p><p>Some thoughts based on my experience:</p><p>I never thought of using citric acid to remove rust but I'm pretty sure white vinegar would work as well as or better than citric acid. Easier to find. I buy citric acid from Asian supermarkets. It is cheap and useful as a natural food preservative. But not everyone has access to Asian stores. Of course you could probably get it on eBay.</p><p>To shape a ruined edge, use a mill bastard file and save your precious stones. It is fast and can take a beating. Put the knife in a vise and file in a forward direction only. Clean the file with a stainless steel brush, brushing with the 'grain'.</p><p>Sharpening with a raw stone takes years of practice. I never mastered it. I use a Lansky sharpening system I have had for years. It keeps the correct angles for the edge. You could never do that by hand.</p><p>For restoring wood handles, #0000 steel wool is the way to go. You only want to clean up the handle, not refinish it, as with any antique wood surface. You can scrub the wood scales with a little mineral spirits or paint thinner. This will remove the layers of accumulated grease and grime and prep the surface for an oil finish. I think boiled linseed oil is better than mineral oil because it polymerizes like a varnish. Mineral oil would have to be replenished from time to time. For a really durable and water-resistant finish, a wiping penetrating oil mixture of equal parts mineral spirits or paint thinner, boiled linseed oil or (expensive) tung oil, and spar or urethane varnish would be optimal. Apply with the #0000 steel wool, let penetrate a few hours, adding more to keep the surface wet, and then wipe off the excess and let dry a day. Two coats is better than one. This would be permanent as it does penetrate into the wood. You could also apply a coat of wax but it is not necessary.</p>
<p>No, you do actually want to refinish the wood t because an old grimy handle tends to have expanded grain wood and nicks in it, and because the original coating may be a lacquer that's delaminating off and needs the top wood fibers taken with it.</p><p>You are doing the oiling wrong too. Do not apply, wipe off excess, then let dry for a day. Apply, apply again, do NOT wipe off excess either time, let SOAK IN for a day, THEN wipe off excess, THEN let dry for another day or more. NEVER wipe off excess before letting it sit, which completely defeats the purpose of getting it deep into the wood grains. Mineral spirits or paint thinner are not needed and should not be used because they decrease the density of the oil that penetrates the surface, and leave you with toxic fumes to deal with till it surface dries, and even then it stinks from them for days if not weeks later as the mixture still in the wood out-gasses.</p>
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> ~( :-})={ &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>

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