Out! Out! Damn spots.
November 20, 2007 8:50 AM   Subscribe

How do I clean and/or polish a carving set very similar to this?

The set I have is also by "Landers, Frary, & Clark", and is presumably an antique since my folks have had it forever. It may have been a wedding gift; it may have been my grandfather's. Mom always told me they were ivory handles, but I always doubted it--ivory wouldn't have seams, would it?--and within the last hour have identified the material as probably celluloid.

Anyway, I ended up with the set because the knife is dull, and Dad couldn't get it sharp enough to suit with his steel. I have a very nice knife sharpener, and I managed to get a good edge with minimal effort.

Dad has always fussed about carving knives because he can never find one thin enough to suit his taste. Now that it's sharp, this knife is probably his dream come true. So I want to give it back, and preferably like new.

The problem, though, is that it's got black/gray spots I can't seem to get rid of. I've tried Brasso and knock-offs, Wright's copper cream, and that weird curly stuff that passes for steel wool these days. It's very clean and shiny...except for the spots.

I don't know nothin' 'bout antiques, so if I've ruined its value by cleaning it as much as I have, I don't really care. It's a tool to me, not a decoration.

posted by phrits to Food & Drink (8 answers total)
Oh no! Not steel wool!

If it truly is an expensive antique, you should have left the original patina on it and kept it locked away. You don't want to use these for carving any more. Is there any way you can post a pic so that I can see what state they're currently in? A close-up of the new edge would help out a lot as well.
posted by Demogorgon at 8:59 AM on November 20, 2007

If you really want it looking good you may want to find a silversmith to restore it. Another option is jeweler's rouge and a dremel or similar tool, but if you do much to it yourself you do risk decreasing the value.
posted by TedW at 9:08 AM on November 20, 2007

so if I've ruined its value by cleaning it as much as I have, I don't really care. It's a tool to me, not a decoration.

Uh, did you folks read this part?

phrits, it is hard to 'diagnose' the spots without a photo. And how large/unsightly are the spots? It may be best to just leave them be rather than remove them. If you get into using a dremel and jeweler's rouge, you will likely have to then refinish the entire blade for it to look even, which can be a pain to do well.

A good kitchen store that sharpens knives may be able to advise you better, though.
posted by desuetude at 9:28 AM on November 20, 2007

It's very clean and shiny...except for the spots.

Those spots are probably deep oxidation (the kind that eventually lead to pitting). If you are interested in functionality, then I recommend the advice above about rouge + buffing wheel. Make sure you don't nick the bone though...rouge + bone = bad.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:46 AM on November 20, 2007

Old knives are generally carbon steel. Carbon steel can hold an edge for longer than stainless steel, which makes it superior for commercial use. However, it stains and food inspectors can't tell by a visual examination if the knives are dirty so they're generally frowned upon.
Googling "how to clean carbon steel" I found this forum that seems to have some ideas. Nice gift, by the way.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:49 AM on November 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I think for now I'll just consider the spots to be "character". Based on the one I linked I'm still figuring stainless rather than carbon steel, but I know the metallurgy behind "stainless" has come a long way in the past few decades. (desuetude, the spots aren't very big at all, and perfection--picture a brand shiny new Oneida steak knife or something--may simply be beyond reasonable reach.)

I'll also look around for a professional to see if there's someone who can get it from pretty good to like new.

Happy Thanksgiving! one and all.
posted by phrits at 11:36 AM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: You don't need to take your knives to a smith to have them refinished, you can do it yourself.

Yes those are oxidation spots on them, which are probably already dirty and pitted, but that's no problem with the right set of tools.

You will need:

1. Oil - Preferably something heavy duty like Zep 3-in-1, but WD-40 will also work.

2. A fine wire brush - You can use this to clean out all of the dirt from the pits that have formed. If you have a Dremel or the like, you can buy one of the attachments for cheap. Set the tool on medium speed if you do.
Otherwise you can buy a hand wire brush at the hardware store for around $5. It's a lot harder this way, and I recommend borrowing someone's Dremel (this might be a great time to get one too, they're invaluable).

3. A Scotch Brite pad - Again, you can buy these as Dremel discs for a lot cheaper (and if you do, buy one with a wide edge as opposed to a thin edge), but usually the hardware store offers hand-held ones as well. Also, keep in mind that the type of Scotch Brite pad we're talking about here is very dense and thick, not the type you use on the dishes.

What you're going to do first is oil the steel. Drench that sucker, and give it a minute to soak in. Oil a rag or paper towel and then wipe the excess off of the blade with it. You should see a lot of dirt and grime come off, or otherwise just some red rust.
Next you want to wire brush it. If you have detailed ornaments up near the grip like the set in the picture you'll probably want to clean those up with the wire brush too. The reason Dremels work best for this is because you can get a more uniform finish on the surface. If you have a hand-held one, just make sure all your lines are going the same direction. Just start brushing across the surface. don't be afraid to be aggressive - you won't take any steel off, but you will start to see the rust and dirt coming away. There will probably be some unevenness in the finish from where oxidation has corroded the steel.
That's what the Scotch Brite is for! First make sure the blade is dried of most of the oil otherwise your Scotch Brite pad will get a little gummy. Start up near the grip and run the Scotch Brite perpendicular to it. You should see the rough areas from the pitting beginning to look less dramatic. With a few more passes they should disappear entirely. Be careful if you're doing this part with a Dremel as the steel is likely to heat up. Just make sure you don't hold the blade.

After that you're pretty much done. You may notice that the Scotch Brite pad has lightly eroded some trails onto the surface, and if it doesn't look right, you can just wire brush the whole thing again for uniformity.
You'll probably want to resharpen after all is said and done, since wire brushes have a tendency to catch the edge of the blade and dull them there. For this I suggest a whetstone, as those conventional sharpeners tend to produce somewhat of an 'artificial' modern-looking edge. They cut fine and all, I just think that putting an edge on your antique carving set with a modern sharpener is akin to putting Yosemite Sam mudflaps on your Bentley.
posted by Demogorgon at 12:03 PM on November 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Damn, should have previewed. Anyway, good luck with that.
posted by Demogorgon at 12:04 PM on November 20, 2007

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