Knifemaking: past things made present and a restoration project

An acquaintance brought me three knives to be restored: three beautiful old kitchen knives, a trifecta of culinary efficiency.  There is a massive cleaver, a 10″ German style chef’s knife, and a 6″ French style utility knife:

They have been through the paces.

Everything breaks down at some point.  As someone who will push himself to the point of exhaustion I find this to be a strangely comforting and, paradoxically, terrifying idea.  There are times in life when the only way to get to the beauty that once was is to go through the worn out parts.

Wait…how did these things get worn out in the first place?

I’ve found that there are seasons of life when it feels as if the universe is screaming at you to make something happen, to make changes, to do better, and to seize opportunity.  And suddenly inside yourself you can see a path to these things.  You begin to feel a sense of urgency so strong that it feels like the whips are being cracked.

And so whatever your task at hand is becomes an insatiable vixen.  At least this is what it can feel like.

In these moments we often neglect to take care of ourselves and then wonder why things aren’t working as they should.  But still we keep pushing.  And in our zeal to accomplish we can end up depleted- physically, emotionally, and spiritually, appear as shells of the amazing things that we are.

Sort of like these knives…

Restorative processes are not always pretty.  Sometimes they hurt a little or a even a lot.  They can be alienating to the people we care most about.  And they come with the moments of hesitation and questioning and reluctance.  These things are still functioning so why mess with them?  Is it worth the time and work?  Maybe it’s ok the way it is.  Maybe if I pretend that there isn’t an issue it will all be fine.  These are healthy things to ask.  But are they working at their best?  Are they past their prime?  Are they getting any better?  Absolutely not. And in this life, leaving something better than you found it is one of the sweeter things we can experience.

So you strip away the layers of rust that came from daily exposure to the elements.  The wood that has become cracked from moisture exposure after years of washings has to come off.  New wood is put on and sanded and finished with the deepest of love.  The dull edges are honed sharp again.  Everything thing is oiled and brought back to life.  When you start these processes, and they are processes which can take awhile, it requires a commitment and a degree of tenacity to stick to it.

These knives were out of commission for a bit but it was necessary in order for them to function at their best.  Similar things happen in us when we take the time to look after ourselves.  It’s always a process and there isn’t necessarily a discernable timetable.  In this particular instance the restoration took me several days.

I started by removing two of the handles:

I soaked the small French knife in vinegar for about two days.  The vinegar eats away rust and corrosion but doesn’t harm the integrity of the blade.  It does create a reaction with the steel that leaves this residue on the blade.

She gets a sanding with high grit paper to make sure all the corrosion is gone.

Ready for a handle:

Glued and clamped:

Ready for shaping:


On the initial sanding I stopped at 220 grit and applied a liberal coat of oil and let it dry overnight.  Doing this makes for a more pronounced, nuanced, and beautiful grain pattern.

Working through the grits, up to 2000.  I think this is 600:

Our friend the cleaver:

A vinegar bath for a couple of days:

The spine was pretty roughed up:

So I smoothed and deburred it:

Quarter sawn white oak:

The customer asked to keep the original handle for the 10″ chef’s knife.  Here it is at about 120 grit:

Here it is at 2000 grit.  I believe it is Mahogany:

Oiled, of the Tung variety:



Past things made present.  All restoration does is enhance the beauty within.  These are ready for the kitchen:

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