How to Restore an Old Rusty Cleaver




About: Hi I'm Alex and I love to make stuff! I mainly work with different metals but I also love to explore new (to me) materials and dabble in woodworking, jewelry, knife making, design and many more.

Hi there,

I got this old rusty cleaver for less than $5 from the flea-market a while ago. Last weekend I finally got to get it back into a usable condition.

Step 1: Assessment

I started this project by assessing the cleaver and its parts:


  • The blade itself was covered in a lot of rust and while some of it was mere surface rust other areas seemed to have suffered from deeper pitting.
  • The edge was dull and was chipped out in several spots
  • Some previous owner seemed to have tried to sharpen the blade with some sort of power tool

Brass Bolster:

  • The brass bolster showed some patina but no damages


  • The handle seemed to have been made from oak
  • Apart from dirt and grime no damages or traces of bugs were visible


Although at first glance the cleaver looked pretty bad the actual restoration should be fairly easy.

Step 2: Rust Removal

Usually when removing rust I submerge the pieces in white vinegar for a few days before brushing them off.

In this case however I couldn't use this technique since I couldn't take the cleaver apart.

So I chose a mechanical method to remove the rust from the blade. For large areas I like to use a wire brush on an angle grinder.

Ensure you securely clamp down the blade if you are doing this yourself. Otherwise there is a big risk that the wire brush catches on the blade and launches it towards you.

Step 3: More Rust Removal

For the areas that I couldn't or didn't want to reach with the angle grinder I went to my belt grinder. I have an old scotch brite belt that I exclusively use for rust removal and for non-ferrous metals.

These belts are great as they hardly remove any stock and leave a nice finish.

The downside however is that they are much more likely to grab onto blades and corners and rip them right of your hand. Be very aware of how you you hold your workpiece in relation to the grinder!

Step 4: Regrinding the Edge

Due to the damages to the edge and chipped out areas I had to regrind the blade.

Usually I would start with a very coarse grit (40-80) but in this case this would have caused more work. This is why I started with a 100 Grit belt and went up through the grits progressively. The large mass of the cleaver helped to keep the blade cool but I had to pay attention and avoid overheating the edge.

The blade had a convex geometry an in order to maintain that I had to move the platten back and grind on the slack belt.

The last two shaping steps were done with 3M Trizact "Gator" belts which I used for the first time. I was really impressed with their performance, by that I mean the finish and speed of stock removal.

Step 5: Finishing

The last step on the grinder was using a 3M Trizact A16 belt which would be a 1400 Grit equivalent.

I used this to sharpen the edge and once again this was the first time I used this type of belt for the first time but was really happy with the results.

To finish up the blade I used a fine Surface Conditioning Belt which is basically a scotch brite belt and very similar to those sponges you use to clean your dishes.

These very efficiently remove marks from the previous steps and leave a very nice satin finish.

Step 6: Stropping

The sharpening steps have left a very fine burr which you can see as a bright line in the first picture.

To straighten that line and polish the edge I used a leather strop that had been loaded with a compound. There are specialized stropping compounds but I tend to use the same polishing compound I use on my buffing wheel.

Step 7: Cleaning the Wood and Brass

There were still a few places on the blade, like close to the bolster, that I didn't get to earlier. I removed the rust there with a small brass brush on my rotary tool. The benefit of using a brass brush is that is less likely to damage the brass bolster.

Next I used a mild degreaser to remove dirt and grim from the wooden handle.

Finally I used a scotch brite pad to remove the patina from the brass bolster and polishing it with a special copper/brass compound.

Step 8: Finishing

I finished the handle with two coats of boiled linseed oil and oiled the blade with a mineral oil. I thought about coating the brass as well but decided to leave it and let it form a patina (Again).

Step 9: The Test

This restoration went very smooth and I was very happy with the results. To test the cleaver I used a simple sheet of paper. I try to cut the paper at different angles paying attention to how smooth the blade is cutting through the paper. If the blade rips the paper at any point I would have to go back and sharpen that area some more.

In this case the blade cut perfectly and I didn't have to do any work to it.

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and I hope you subscribe to read about my next projects!

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    10 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Nice work Alex and great detailed write up!
    Its good to see your Multitool Belt Grinder and those professional grinding belts getting a workout :-)
    All the best,

    1 reply
    Alex 2QJonW113

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks a lot Jon! Yeah the Grinder and those belts have been a real game changer for me!



    1 year ago

    Re my comment on most cleavers being basically blunt instruments powered by muscle and weight: Most Oriental cleavers--the real one, not the Chinese ones made to Western patterns--are VEGETABLE cleavers, very light and very sharp. Absolutely not to be used as Western meat cleavers are. By the way, Alex: you might give a class on grinding. Most of us could benefit therefrom.


    1 year ago on Step 8

    Fine-looking tool. But why not stand the cleaver vertically in a milk carton full of vinegar? Can't say for certain that that would have removed all rust but would have made your job easier. I'm dubious about the degree of sharpness you chose. A cleaver is basically a blunt instrument, one that is 'sharp enough' but relies on brute force. Mightn't the paper-slicing edge be damaged if the cleaver meets with bones, as its maker intended? I have an antique cleaver around here somewhere and you have inspired me to look for it and clean it up. (But NOT use it. I abandoned it years ago when I discovered that, for ordinary home use, the smallest Gerber or Fiskars camp hatchet is an excellent substitute.

    2 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    You fancy telling millions of Oriental Chefs that a heavy cleaver is "just a blunt instrument " not a job I'd take on.

    Great job, do more please

    Alex 2Qobillo

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi, thanks a lot for reading! To be honest I wasn't quite sure if I should go as sharp as I did. In the end I thought that I would regret it later if I left the blade dull. Since I do not intend to use it for proper chopping anyways I figured I could give it a go.

    As for the milk carton, that sounds like it could work!

    Make sure you share a pic of your restored cleaver once you're done with it!



    Kink Jarfold

    1 year ago on Step 9

    Amazing how you took a beat up old cleaver and made it shiny and new looking and sliced paper with it. There are a few tools I can use this on.


    HIGH 10.jpg
    1 reply
    Alex 2QKink Jarfold

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks a lot! I really enjoyed this and look forward to some more resto projects! I got plenty of hammers, files etc. to work with so it shouldn't get boring.


    1 year ago

    Nice work on the cleaver. My first thought when I saw the rusty cleaver was "Its the Butcher's Cleaver from Diablo" :)

    "Fresh meat !!!"

    1 reply
    Alex 2Qgladson1976

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks a lot! I actually played with the idea to modify the shape to make something else from it but then decided to keep as original as possible.