Sharpening 2nd-hand knives..great tip!

Jun 22, 1999
I took the suggestion of several posters and checked my local thrift store for some cheap knives on which to practice sharpening.

Most of the knives there were POS grade-D, with blades being nothing more than a piece of stainless sheet metal with a serrated edge between cheap molded plastic handles.

But I found at least two gems... a non-descript utility knive with a thick stainless blade and wood handle ($.25), and a set of 5 Chicago Cutlery steak knives that look like they'd spent the best years of their lives in the dishwasher (handles bleached and dry, but cost was $.99 and included a knife block).

I practiced on the utility knife using a cheap Norton stone and took off the broken tip and damaged serrations, then cleaned the gunk off the handles and blade and can now see "Utica Tungsten" etched on it. Finished the edge to shaving sharp on a fine stone and the result was a very functional and sharp 4" plain-edged, full tanged knife costing only $.25 and a lot of elbow grease.

The Chicago Cutlery steak knives only needed work on the handles which I soaked in olive oil before working on the blades. The edges all had a slight burr to them which, to my surprise, when taken off with a few light strokes of the stone left all of them with fairly sharp edges. No real practice there, but my wife's impressed with the addition of six sharp knives for the price of $1.25.

These were knives bought with the intention of practicing and likely destroying them.

Gotta find more challenges out there. Clearly, a homemaker's POS can turn out to be a KK's (knife-knut) treasure. What's interesting now is the knife perspective I think we all bring with us when we go thru that bin of cheap cutlery... pre-KK saw only a tangle of dirty blades and handles and likely the cleanest was the best. Post-KK sees only the steel in the pile and how firmly it's set in the handle.

In the meantime, anyone know what kind of steel goes into Utica/Tungsten and Chicago Cutlery (103 series)? Thanks.
Welcome to the world of steel collecting. This weekend I picked up 6 knives made from a wide variety of steels and different blade designs. One thing I'm looking for is the best design for a boning knife. I've been testing the knives I get by boning cheap hams.

I've found several of the "tungsten stainless" knives recently. As best I can tell these are the ones they made in the late 60's and early 70's that had a strip of tungsten along one side of the edge. The intent was for the user to only sharpen the non-tungsten side of the blade, but I only found vestiges of the tungsten on some of the knives (the rest had been ground off). I don't know if there is any tungsten in the remainder of the blade alloy. Some of the knives I found looked like they had originally been serrated and the serrations had been ground off. I haven't tried sharpening the one I bought (with no trace left of the tungsten strip).

I like the Chicago Cutlery boning knives. They take a real sharp edge and seem a little harder than some other alloys. I haven't found out what's in the alloy.

As I've said before, look for knives that brag about vanadium, but not molybdenum. Look for Flint Vanadium or Flint Vanadium Stainless (for a while they were owned by Ekco).

PS. Ventura has some of the best thrift stores around. My wife used to come out from the Valley shop for sweaters at the Ventura thrift stores. I once got a brand new suit for $8.00 at one of them. I also got a couple real nice corduroy jackets that way. You might find something really interesting up in Santa Barbara (old money people donate really interesting stuff to Goodwill).

[This message has been edited by Jeff Clark (edited 02 August 1999).]
Jeff: Thanks for that information. Can't see anything that would look like a bimetal strip on the edge of the Utica, tho I can now see more of the etching... and it says something like "Spain F99(?) steel".

Roger on the Ventura thrift shops...gotta be the 2nd-hand capital of the world when added to the swap meets and garage sales. Lots of territory to cover in search of cheap practice knives...sort of makes up for the lack of knife shops locally.

I can't practice by boning cheap hams...everyone else in my family's going veggie on me (well, fish and some chicken also). Maybe I should stand on the street corner with a sign "will sharpen for food"
If you're stuck in vegie land what you need most is an 8" chefs knife. If you don't find one used, buy a new Forschner 8" rosewood handled chefs knife. You also need a reasonably large wooden or plastic cutting board (about the size of a cafeteria tray). Make sure the knife does NOT have any metal reinforcing on the edge next to the handle. You want to be able to smoothly sharpen the knife from tip to heal so that the entire edge on the blade can contact the cutting board (even after sharpening).
If you're stuck in vegie land what you need most is an 8" chefs knife. If you don't find one used, buy a new Forschner 8" rosewood handled chefs knife. You also need a reasonably large wooden or plastic cutting board (about the size of a cafeteria tray). Make sure the knife does NOT have any metal reinforcing on the edge next to the handle. You want to be able to smoothly sharpen the knife from tip to heal so that the entire edge on the blade can contact the cutting board (even after sharpening).
Try for an off-season turkey for practise.

For veggies look for a chef's knife without a built-up heel region (don't want forged). Idea is to be able to rock the blade on cutting board without any gaps, even after sharpening. Forschner are some of the best. Of course you need that cutting board the size of a cafeteria tray.
Maybe I should stand on the street corner with a sign "will sharpen for food"

I held it to a snicker, then I just burst out laughing
That is so obvious why didn't I think of that? Longden, there are six shops here in Anchorage that sharpens everything from scalpals to lawnmower blades. What a living!

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man"
-Nordic proverb

[This message has been edited by David Williams (edited 03 August 1999).]
There you go!

Next time y'all happen to come thru Los Angeles and you see what passes for a homeless vagrant on the street corner with a Norton stone in one hand and a 8" chefs knife in the other... just stop by and shake my hand

Oh... and you can tell me from those other knife wielding guys on the street corner cuz I'll have my distinctive and oh-so-chic blue BF Native on my belt(once I get the money to buy one).
Don't laugh, I've done it. I was in college studying physics when a big aerospace collapse hit the LA area (about 1970). I knew an engineer friend of my dad who went from rocket propulsion engineer to taxi driver that year. (Did you know that 'engineer' was originally a military term for a guy who makes siege engines? It is all to common for the grim spector of peace to throw engineers out of work.) I couldn't find a decent summer job so I started a door-to-door sharpening service.

Clark's Sharpening Service charged 10 cents per inch of blade length if I took the knife to the shop and 20 cents per inch if I did the job on the spot. For tough jobs I had an electric drill with a sanding disk, but mostly I used oilstones. My most popular service was sharpening scissors. I even did a few lawn mowers. I made more money sharpening knives than I did with any of my other summer jobs. I also got lots of good practise. (I sure hate serrations!).

[This message has been edited by Jeff Clark (edited 03 August 1999).]
Hey, small world Jeff. I got my physics degree in 74 and was promptly buried by a collapsing job market. Did some stints in odds and end jobs before the aerospace market resurged and ended up in a defense related job.

Didn't want for a job thru college cuz I had to help at our family restaurant where Dad filed the edges on the Chinese cleavers and used two in unison for chopping meat (quite a sight, and sounded like a machine gun) before bowing to the times and buying a grinder.
My BS was '74 from UCR. Worked for Bob Leighton at Caltech for 4 years. Aerospace for 15 years (GD-Pomona, Litton G&C, Teledyne Systems, Lear Siegler Astro., Bendix Oceanics). I've been commercial since then. Design IC's at LSI in Colorado Springs. Good thing I learned about them new-fangled microprocessors from some Caltech grad students or I might have starved.
My BS was from USC, and I finally ended up as a programmer with McDonnell-Douglas and then Northrop-Grumman... my first real contacts with titanium and graphite composites. Did the aerospace trip for 20 years before the latest peace dividend sent me packing to the software house I'm at now (Candle).

Anyway I digress... back to the topic of sharpening these knives... I practiced on a Norton stone and did a quick job on removing broken serrations and it occurred to me that a typical stone would probably do a much faster job than even the Spyderco triangles. For a 3" stone, on every stroke, any given point on the blade is making contact with 3"-4" of stone (using a diagonal motion across the stone), whereas even on the flats of the Spydie rods, you're only going to grind over maybe 1" of stone per pass, so you're removing much more material on a benchstone owing to its width.

Spyderco rods must have some really aggressive bite to match that kind of contact.

I can see the argument for buying a good benchstone. The other benefit (recapping another thread about losing the point on the blade)... is that rod systems require you to stop the sharpening stroke before the point because raking the point across the rod will wear it blunt.

The same thing goes for a benchstone (ie, if you pull the tip off the edge of the stone, or finish the grind with a motion that cuts the tip), but I could see where you could finish a stroke (or even do the point separately) by pulling the tip edge of the blade across the stone so the motion is parallel to the edge, rather than maintain or even improve the point. Can't really do that on a 1/2" width like the Spydies... certainly not at all on a rod sharpener.

[This message has been edited by Longden (edited 03 August 1999).]
'74 must be a popular year.
I got my B.S. that year as well. State U. of New York, Stony Brook.

Scholarships were for Astrophysics.

Don't ask how I ended up in federal law enforcement!


Live Free or Die

The ceramic rod-type sharpeners work decently because you get high P.S.I. on the narrow rods; otherwise they would be slow (ceramic cuts slower than the equivalent india stone). If you take your aluminum oxide stone and use the side rather than the top it will cut faster; if you use the edge it will cut faster still.

If you want to save your serrations see my comments at:

Since I've been getting dozens of knives from Goodwill I broke down and got a big, coarse, diamond 'stone'. The 8" Norton combination stone with coarse/fine india stone works pretty well. In a pinch you can get a variety pack of 100-600 grit Wet-or-Dry paper and a block of wood or metal to mount it on. Dupont 77 spray adhesive lets you bond it to a good flat backing.

PS. Water stones are supposed to cut faster than carborundum and diamond is the fastest.
The high pressure on the narrow ridge of the rods certainly would result in a better bite, but then the waste blade metal is also spread over a thinner area (than a benchstone), resulting in faster clogging of the rod. This is rectified somewhat by frequently turning the rods, somewhat more of a nuisance than you have to go thru with a benchstone.

Also, as I said earlier, the benchstone seems better suited to help shape and preserve the blade tip (not the serrations).

The main niches I see for rods and triangles are in handling recurves, and as an easy way for doing a consistent final edge bevel. I don't think I'd be using them for re-profiling a blade (takes too long) nor to handle the blade edge around the tip.

Soon's I hit a few more Goodwill stores I can put more theory into practice...also still have to buy some decent sized benchstones... the only one I have is a small coarse Norton (about 2.5" x 4"), plus the india stones I borrowed from my daughter (she sharpens her reed knives). Looking to get a set of 6"-8" fine and coarse stones and then I should be set for any sharpening event.
I use a V-type setup with extra-fine ceramic rods for the final edge on my knife. It's only a few strokes, but the extra-fine grit and the controlled angles are great for puting a shaving edge on a blade. On some blades it seems to work better than stropping.