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Thread: restoring an old knife

  1. #1

    Default restoring an old knife

    My grandfather was a butcher, he recently gave me one of his old knives, it is a big heavy cleaver, I don't have a knife like it, and still pretty sharp.

    It has some significant corrosion on it, not rust so much as like a black carbon. The wood grip (full tang, 2 pins) is in poor condition tool.

    I would like to restore it. The reason he gave me the knife is because he is getting on in years and is starting to give away his possessions. We just smile and say thank you but obviously we know he is thinking about his own mortality. I think it'd be nice if I could refinish the knife and show it to him so that he'll know that I will keep it for a long time.

    I am a bit lost, I've never done this before, and I probably don't even have the best tools for it (no grinder, no belt sander, no planer, I don't even own a vise).

    Firstly, how do I clean up the blade? I have tried some metal polishes and abrasives I have, and they've gotten off the minor surface damage, but the big black spots (I'll post a picture tommorow) it isn't really making a dent on. I was going to try sanding it with my oscillating sander unless someone tells me that is a really bad idea.

    Then, the grip, how do I remove it? Any trick or just kind of chisel it off?

    I want to use african blackwood for the grip. It is extremely dense so should resist staining (I do plan to use the knife in the kitchen) and very (very) heavy, so should help balance the huge weight of the blade. I know I can buy some online.

    What I guess I was thinking to do was cut it to the right thickness on my table saw, use my jig saw I guess to cut the shape of the grip out (I wish I had a bandsaw... so much), router the edges to round them off, drill two holes for the pins, and sand (wish I had a belt sander - one day when I have more room I'll have a full workshop).

    I'm not sure what the pins are. Do I make them from a rod or dowel of some sort? Are they a special part you buy from like a knife maker supply store? Any tricks to getting a secure fit?

    Then I guess epoxy and clamps because I don't have a vise, right?

    Then... I cut the excess of the pins off and sand it to make it smooth. What is the best tool for that... especially to avoid marring the wood grip while you do it?


  2. #2

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    Oh... and do you think I shouldn't be trying to make a family heirloom as my first attempt at this sort of thing and instead just find someone more experienced to do it? I'd hate to mess it up.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Chris - if the cleaver has any historical significance, I would not try to polish the patina from the blade. If you do decide to restore it, you'll probably want to remove the existing handles first (agian, if there is any historical significance, you may not want to). To remove the handles, you'll probably need to drill out the existing pins and then you should be able to separate the handle from the tang with a chisel and some light tapping with a hammer. Hand sanding with will remove any imperfections in the blade (but take some time). Start with a 220 (120 may be too aggressive if there is not pitting) then progress to 320, 400, 600, etc. When hand sanding I finish with a 1500 grit or higher. Before you start working on the handle, cover up the blade with paper and masking tape (you'd hate to scratch it after all that work). Cut it as close as you can with your jigsaw then glue and pin them to the tang. Use files and sand paper to finish. Camp10 just posted a video on stabalizing wooden handles. The process he uses is pretty simple, and I highly recommend using stabilized wood. If not, there are other treatments that can be applied.
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  4. #4

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    Also no drill press, not to tough to drill out the pins with a hand power drill? I imagine that is going to be pretty difficult judging from my previous experience drilling into metals. Unless pins are typically made of a soft metal (I assume its steel I guess).

    I don't think there is any historical significance to the knife, other than to me, and I want it functional so I can use it.

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    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    Also no drill press, not to tough to drill out the pins with a hand power drill? I imagine that is going to be pretty difficult judging from my previous experience drilling into metals. Unless pins are typically made of a soft metal (I assume its steel I guess).

    I don't think there is any historical significance to the knife, other than to me, and I want it functional so I can use it.
    I'd have to see a picture. A lot of old cleavers used brass pins or screws (pretty soft). If it's not something you want to tackle, I'd be happy to give it a go - but it might be a few more months before I get enough use out of my right arm to get back to working on knives.
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  6. #6

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    Chris while you might not think it has Historical importance, You still might want to ask him of his history of it. I mean if he got it from HIS Grand Dad, it Could be older than you think.

    As for the tools you have available, you might want to get a 4 in 1 wood rasp, just to speed the shaping of the handle. Power tools are NOT necessary. Some people use NO Power tools in making a knife and they are Pure ART! Nothing but hand tools touch them, hacksaw,files,and sandpaper. It just takes longer,but gives you more control over what you do as it is slower.

    I also agree with Crash about a photo to see it better.
    Because a survival situation carries an aura of timelessness, a survivor cannot allow himself to be overcome by it's duration or quality. A survivor accepts the situation as it is and improves it from that standpoint. Prologue from Outdoor Survival Skills by Larry Dean Olsen

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    man your making me tear up.
    just clean it up maybe, but don't change it.
    those old family heriloms CANNOT be replaced. keep them as they are and remember where they came from.

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    Senior Member Winter's Avatar
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    A cleaver gives you tons of room.

    An Heirloom is something handed to you and you are inform of it's heirloomness, lol.
    I had a compass, but without a map, it's just a cool toy to show you where oceans and ice are.

  9. #9

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    It isn't a heirloom yet, I merely mean it to be. I think the best way to honor an item is to continue to use it, and right now its just not in condition to be used. If I can restore it and then take care of it and pass it on to my son or grandson, then it can be a heirloom.

    Anyways, its a Foster Bros 290, looks like that company went out of business in 1954 so it is at least that old.

    I might try to save the wood handle if I can clean it up, but it is pretty stained, and even looks like someone scrawled on it with a green marker in one part, it is going to take a lot of sanding. It would certainly be less work for me if I don't have to take it off and replace it.

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    First thing I would do is take some medium grit sand paper to the wood handle. See if the stains are only in the surface. If you can get those out, then take a lighter grit sand paper to the blade. It might all clean up and you luck out.

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    well, if that is the case---pics man pics---
    it is unfair to all, without knowing the true subject of which you speak

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    Chris, I also do some work on things around here, and when I was re-doing the handle on my late Father-in-Law's Ka-Bar I used a "C" clamp to clamp it down to an old wood TV tray table. I make padded, velvet covered table tops I sell to my fellow magicians at my "Magic" club & I don't have a workshop. I use an old wash tub in my yard for a work bench, an electric hand drill, and a circular saw for cutting. I have found ways to be resourceful when I have to be as I'm sure you will. Can't wait to see the pics!
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    The handles are most likely held in place with rivets, just going by the age of it..you need to post a picture. If this is the case, you wont have to drill very deep (just through the head) to get the scales off the steel. With the wood off, take your oscillating sander and go over the entire piece of steel. The oscillating sander gives a nice, satin finish to the steel and you wont have to work through so many grits to make a nice finish. Start with 150 and work to about 400. If you want more shine, go to 1000 or 1500 grit.

    Shaping a hard wood like blackwood will be a slow process without power tools but not impossible. I would put the new scales on with Chicago screws and epoxy. The chicago screws will give a more traditional look and you arent trying to shape pins by hand. Like Crash said, cover the metal with low tack tape before you mess with the handle and try to not use to much epoxy.
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    Here you go. Have you tried 0000 steel wool on the blade?

    http://www.sotherden.net/FOSTER_KNIVES1.htm

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    Those are in great shape IMO. I did some searching of auction sites, and you may actually have something of value there. Some old cleavers were going for a few hundred dollars (some were going for about fifteen dollars as well). Personally, I would not touch the blade or handle until you are sure. Once you decide if you want to re-finish things or not, it looks like a fairly easy restoration.
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    Senior Member Camp10's Avatar
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    Well, thats not that bad at all Chris. I'd just steel wool it, sand and seal the handle (I use tung oil) and put it to work.
    "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits." - Albert Einstein

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    Senior Member Camp10's Avatar
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    Just as a reference, Chris..this is mine from my G grandfather and I think it is in great shape!! The handle is tight and it keeps sharp forever! I use it as it is.

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  19. #19

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    Oh I've already started sanding it... even if it was worth $500 I wouldn't sell it. I found those auctions last night as well.

  20. #20
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Chris, Here is a small one that I picked up at a yard sale that I plan on restoring. I consider this one to be in good shape, and yours looked much nicer (yours was much higher quality as well).

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