Restore an Old Knife




Introduction: Restore an Old Knife

I turned an old crappy knife into an old nice knife!

My boss told me that an old widow brought this knife into the shop and gave it to him, saying that it was her husband's - who was a butcher and that she wanted the knife to stay in the butcher business. It's an old Dexter 8" boning knife - it's not terribly nice, rare, or exotic, and you can see that this thing has been used a lot (I'm sure that the blade started it's life as wide as the handle, but after years of sharpening it's been worn down). My boss offered it to me, and mostly because I wanted a boning knife bigger than my existing 6" and I like high carbon steel (all of the rust/corrosion on the blade is clear evidence that this has a high carbon blade) I took it.

One of my co-workers commented on seeing it "holy [explicative], if the Health Inspector saw that in this shop they'd shut us down." Suffice it to say, it looked like crap.

Step 1: Sand Blast

First thing I did was sand blast this thing. I was a little reluctant because I didn't know how the rosewood handle would stand up to sandblasting, but I figured what the heck.

As you can see from the picture, the results were good. It left a pretty typical sand-blast finish on the blade: clean, but a very dull luster.

I was pleased that the handle was just fine in the sandblaster. I don't really know the properties of rosewood - perhaps a different wood wouldn't fare so well, but at any rate the sandblasting worked wonders on the handle: took the gunk and crap off and left nice, clean wood. Plus it left a good finish (good for a knife, that is): not too smooth - textured for grip, and certainly not too rough.

Step 2: Start Polishing.... Steel Wool First

As I mentioned, high carbon steel is notorious for corroding, and typical high carbon steel has a naturally dull finish to it.

But I'm like a raccoon - I like shiny objects. I wanted a shiny knife. So I started shining it, first with coarse steel wool, then fine steel wool. It may be difficult to see from this pic, but the steel wool worked a bit, but certainly didn't put a high luster on it. I probably worked for 10 or 20 mins with the steel wool to get the results that you see.

Step 3: Keep Polishing....wet/dry Sandpaper

After the steel wool, I used some 400 grit, then 600 grit sandpaper (both with water). I probably spent 20 mins with each grit of sandpaper. You can start to see some good luster.

Step 4: Then Buff

Then I spent about 30 mins buffing with a clean cotton terrycloth towel that was slightly damp. This was incredibly dangerous - although the blade wasn't sharp, this knife did have a rather pointy end that would've easily pierced my hand. I emerged unscathed, but I wouldn't recommend doing what I did. Prolly much safer, easier, and better results using a polishing wheel on a bench grinder.

At any rate, I put a pretty high luster on it - not quite a mirror shine, but approaching that.

Step 5: Sharpen

Clearly a butcher's knife needs to be sharp. I prefer mine razor sharp.

I'm not going to get into any details of sharpening a knife - there are plenty of instructables, videos, and such with instructions and explanations.

Step 6: Done

Look at that thing shine!

I made it at [restored it at] TechShop - check it out:


It's a pretty good knife, it glides through meat, cuts through silverskin like it's nothing. As far as the patina on the blade goes, after about a week of use it oxidized as I kinda figured would happen. You can see from the pictures that it's not too bad, but it's certainly not as shiny as when I was immediately done with the restoration.



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    17 Discussions

    As it is a high carbon steel and not a stainless steel the blade should be treated properly to minimize rust. There are many ways to do that but it is the same idea as a rifle barrel. Blue it, which is a controlled way of rusting it in a fine finish so that the large red rust has a harder time getting started. Having a bright silver blade is a stainless blade fad.

    1 reply

    Incorrect. At least as far back as the Viking Era, blades were either polished bright or left to patinate.

    The chemicals used for bluing are toxic and should never be used on a blade meant for food.

    And you can still get rust through bluing. The phosphate or oxide (depending on chemicals) only works to slow corrosion slightly, and as a retention surface for oil.

    I'm 98% sure that's walnut, not rosewood, especially if that's US or European made.

    You made a good knife clean and functional again. Well done.

    That's good enough for a using knife with no historical value, but I hope no one ever takes a sandblaster or paper to a valuable antique.

    Is it for survival or what?

    Anyone want me to make one of my home aid knife? Please comment

    Wow, does that look great! Last year, when I took my 30-plus year old "Old Hickory" s in for new edges, the gentleman told me he had a pair as well, and to just wipe them dry after using them and use a bit of vegetable oil before putting them back in their sheaths.

    Thank you for sharing your knife tale. It is awesome to imagine, as you said, how wide the blade probably was when you started. I wouldn't have thought as sandblasting as a means of reconditioning (perhaps because I don't have access to one--sigh). The rosewood handle lasted the blasting, but it looks considerably smaller. For future adventures, perhaps wrapping the handle in masking tape (to protect from sandblasting) and using varying grades of steel wool/sandpaper (as you did for the blade) would achieve restoration with less loss to the source material.

    Mineral oil (NOT the smelly baby oil kind) would help preserve the wood. Would mineral oil help keep the knife from oxidizing? I bought some food-grade mineral oil in the pharmacy section of my local big grocery store for this purpose. (Much cheaper than at the regular pharmacy around here.) It's sold as a laxative but it is 99.9% mineral oil with 0.1% of tocopherols (vitamin E?) added for stabilization. So far it has worked very smoothly (pun intended). :)

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    1 reply

    Must be the camera angles and/or lighting that make the handle look smaller post sandblasting; it didn't shrink (save perhaps a 64th or thereabout of an inch).

    Yeah, actually, I did contemplate doing something to the blade to keep it shiny, but I figured it's a high carbon steel knife - they oxidize, it's just what they do. Especially one that's used on a daily basis. Smart thought on the mineral oil though!

    wow, I can't believe it! I just restored the exact same knife! as well as 3 others. I used a vinegar bath to remove the rust, and then a lot of sanding with different grits. I was wondering what the wood was, Thanks!

    1 reply

    Smart move on the vinegar! Yeah, rosewood is a rad material for knife grips, super durable (it can withstand sandblasting) and doesn't get too slippery, even when caked with fat.

    The handle's kinda big and clunky, I feel like I'm holding a 2x4 when using the knife; I'm contemplating putting some contour on the handle, grooves for my fingers. Sand the wood and grind the metal. I don't suppose you did anything like this?

    great piece. Did you do anything to the handle, it looks darker by the end.