by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
I love old knives because they are – generally – of high quality, and today on flea-markets and such like they can be had for little money, as some people, thankfully, do not know what they are selling there by way of quality.
Many were made before the time when plastic and stainless steel was the norm, so instead of mediocrity, you will find high carbon steel and wooden handles. Higher end knives will have brass rivets, and are often also rather beautiful.
Let me put it this way: If you're the type of person who puts a knife away wet, or leave it in the kitchen sink, then older knives are definitely not for you. The blade will rust, the handles will split from being wet, and you will ruin a 50-year-old knife or older in a month, or less. Such knives, and in fact that goes for all knives – other than cutlery – do not belong into the dishwasher either.
That is not to say that the old stainless steel, Firth Stainless, from Sheffield is something to be sniffed at. Firth Stainless was the first stainless steel invented and produced and many of the blades made from that steel are very good indeed. Other older (and sometimes not so old stainless steel) kitchen knives (chef's knives) that one sometimes can find in the “junk” boxes at flea-markets are also good candidates, at times, for restoration and reworking.
The picture at the top shows such a box with junk knives of which quite a few could be candidates for restoring and reworking, including the cleavers.
Restoring an old knife is definitely 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 and not just for the kitchen.
While many of us, myself included, prefer to rework old carbon steel knives those made from good quality stainless steel, as said already, should not be rejected either as they too can be worth the rescue attempt. Just beware that you know your steel and your maker.
When I was a child it was one of the jobs that we did as a family, refurbishing and reworking old knives for resale on the markets, aside from also making knives from scratch. The refurbishing and reworking, however, of old knives that we found tossed out, on house-clearances and other such ways, was probably the greater part of our knife-making business that the making from scratch.
Depending on the original knife it can become anything from a kitchen knife again to a small knife for a variety of uses to a hunting knife, a knife for wood carving, and much else.
In some cases, as indicated, even a “modern” knife that has been abused or been tossed out can be worth reconditioning and reusing even if it is of stainless steel for there are some good types of that steel about also.
The knife in the photo is one of those examples. It was found tossed after a picnic in a park and I decided to rescue it as it, in fact, is not a cheap knife though not an all too expensive one either. It is intended to become an “outdoors knife” with fighter capability and thus it still requires a sheath too be made for it. Some outlets in the USA in fact sell a knife of this kind – with sheath – as a fighting knife for well over $50. So finding and reusing here, even though I still have to make a sheath for it, is rather a great win situation.
Being able to rework and restore a knife old a much older vintage is, obviously, much more rewarding still as the workmanship is more often than not so much higher and thus the quality of the work and also of the steel and I have reworked and restored my fair share of those for sure and made them into all kinds of knives, from small neck knives to large hunters, and everything in between, including, well, knives for the kitchen.
So, just do it and give those old neglected blades a new life...