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Cleaning a vintage knife


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#1 Ryan 3000

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 09:55 PM

I recently found a vintage Boy Scout knife, fixed blade, made by Western Knives. It's over 50 years old. If you're a connoisseur, it's Settler style. It was covered in food, and had a rust spot. I searched online, how to clean a stainless steel knife (I assumed it was stainless steel since it had not rusted for 50 years). It recommended soaking the blade in vinegar, which I did. To my agony, I pulled the knife out of the vinegar to find a dark gray, rubber-like coating on the entire blade. I tried to scrub it off, with slight success, but its silvery finish was ruined. I then pulled out the silver polish/tarnish remover, hoping to get off this tarnish-like coating. When I wiped off the liquid of the silver polish, I was unhappy to find that the gray layer had not been lifted, instead the silver polish had added darker-gray spots to the knife. Now it looks like a leopard! I did not imagine that vinegar and tarnish-remover would ruin such a hardy knife, but here I am, completely stumped. I want to use something to clean this up, but the next thing I use will cover it in rainbows and rust away half the blade. I have NO idea what the blade's made of. Can you help me clean this knife?
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#2 boopme

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 10:37 PM

Hello Ryan. My experience ( Tho no expert ) is that some of that discoloring is normal. These are most likely Carbon Steel not Stainless.
Look at these pix of that knife. That effect is a natural occurance. I believe it's called black oxide.
http://www.jaysknives.com/boyscoutknives.htm

I asked a friend of mine who teaches sword fighting about blades. He said in many cases a carbon blade should be made grey a prorective " patina."
He showed me this link.

http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?p=4358889
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#3 Ryan 3000

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 10:46 PM

This is very interesting, glad to know it's a different kind of blade. I am disappointed though, it was a beautiful knife when it was shiny. Now it looks old. And on your first link, that's almost the exact knife, though there were a couple tiny discrepancies. But watevs. You hit the nail on the head, thanks a lot. Now I just need to find out if it's save to remove the patina.
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#4 boopme

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 10:50 PM

Well go with carbon Steel
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#5 Ryan 3000

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 10:50 PM

Carbon steel is reactive. Good carbon steel darkens in reaction to acids and oxidizers in food. Rust of course is an oxidation process too, but in the first case you get FeO3, a "black rust" and in the second case you get FeO2, a "red rust."

Black rust is stable and durable. also, if oiled (cooking oil or grease from meats will do fine) black oxide "sets" and stabilizes the surface of the steel -- helping to prevent further rust.

A fine carbon steel knife will and rightly should develop a fine, blue/grey/black patina. You don't want to remove this surface. It's a desirable trait of a fine carbon steel blade.

Nonetheless, carbon steel blades discolor some foods -- eggs for example. I've never had a problem with fish, but I suppose fish might discolor from a reactive carbon blade.

Daphne duLibre is an online name -- It's a pun on a classic European bike race, the Dauphine du Libre. I'm a guy. My knife knowledge comes from a huge collection of hunting, utility, pocket knives, tool steel, and firearms finishes.

I have an old Case 8" French, and a Sabbatier with carbon blades, as well as a sizable collection of carbon blade pocket, hunting, utility knives.


I stand corrected. Thanks boopme.
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#6 rayj0054

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 10:59 PM

a bench grinder with a buffing wheel and jewelers rouge will make it shine like the original blade did other wise you will probably get more chemical reactions with other compounds

#7 Ryan 3000

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 11:02 PM

Thanks! I was wary of using any buffing tools, my mom almost Brillo'd the thing before I stopped her! But you're pretty much right, that knife's a portable chemistry set. Need to keep that in mind.
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#8 dribdrab

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 11:08 PM

You could try baking soda with just enough water to make a paste, apply let set some time (hours?)and rub with a very fine steel wool. This worked for me with a brass ceiling light.

#2 try lemon juice. let set for some time, may remove stains.This has worked for me on many things such as the sticky labels they put on your new computer etc. removes glue without digging or scratching

#3 try Barkeepers Friend

#9 Ryan 3000

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 11:12 PM

Well I gotta say I'm going to avoid #2. I've read up on the subject, and apparently a ghetto way to get the patina we talked about is to cut fruit and forget to clean the knife. Additionally, the white vinegar I used to get the initial gray ugliness was an acid. Think I'll look for a non-acidic solution. If I apply a base, will it do that 'invert' thing they have in Photoshop? Cuz a spotted white blade would look really cool!
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#10 Queen-Evie

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 12:36 AM

Try using a very fine grit sandpaper. Lightly rub it and see if it helps at all. I have a favorite kitchen knife that tends to rust, and 220 sandpaper is what I use to de-rust it.

#11 ThunderZ

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 10:58 AM

Toothpaste, not gel, and a worn out tooth brush. Non-fluoride if you can find it.

#12 garmanma

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 12:07 PM

Collectors prefer to have the patina
Watch the Antique Roadshow. When someone cleans up a Civil War bayonet, the curators freak out
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