October 19, 2022
Even if it's been buried in your backyard for a decade and turned to solid rust, almost any knife made with good steel is salvageable. All it takes are a few key components, the right tools and some elbow grease.
Whether sheath knife or folder, the salvaging process is basically the same: get rid of the rust and gunk, then restore the knife's blade and any corroded parts.
As for rust removal, that presumes there is still some good steel left in the blade and within the handle. Any parts such as screws, spacers, bolster linings or blade that are susceptible to rust should be checked first.
CLEAN IT UP
Let's assume you're resurrecting a knife with a single straight-edge blade. First, thoroughly clean it. This might be as simple as using WD-40 or a soupy baking soda paste with pipe cleaners, steel wool or a small wire brush to scrub all the crevices and rusted surfaces. Additionally, soak the blade overnight in a container of rust remover or white vinegar to remove stubborn grunge.
If the blade is made of an older steel such as 1095, 440C or chrome vanadium, alternately soaking it in vinegar and then going over it with fine-grit sandpaper or steel wool should work.
If the knife blade's rust problem is too much for any cleaning solution to overcome, use an orbital sander, bench grinder with a wire wheel or heavy-duty electric sharpener.
Remember that removing rust from the blade with a sander will cause the steel to heat up exponentially and might adversely affect its temper, so keep a wet sponge handy to wipe and cool the blade occasionally. Once finished, use a good synthetic gun oil to cover the blade and let it soak in before wiping off the excess.
BROKEN OR PITTED BLADE
Lacking a crowbar or screwdriver when one is needed, a hunter often uses a hunting knife as a substitute. Sooner or later, when a knife is used to loosen screws or as a pry bar, the tip is going to break or you'll damage the blade along its length.
Fixing the damage becomes a question of how much of the blade you can salvage and whether the blade's profile will need to be changed to accommodate a broken tip. If the break is fairly perpendicular, you’ve got options. More likely, the point is broken at a slight angle, which requires reshaping the blade to a point with 100-grit sandpaper or a heavy-duty sanding tool.
Start with a bench grinder and/or heavy file. Finish the finer details with a light file, then sandpaper and knife sharpener. If you work by hand, clamp the knife blade-up in a vise lined with leather or thin wood so it doesn't slip during sanding.
Keep the blade bevel even on both sides. For a blade that's also pitted in spots, lighten up on the sanding element (400 to 2,000 grit) and gradually smooth out the spots, alternating the sanding on either side.
The last step is resharpening the knife. Once sharpened with, say, a 10- to 22-degree angle per side (depending on desired bevel and knife manufacturer's recommendation) the blade should be like new, or close enough.
STRAIGHTEN A BLADE
There are a number of ways to straighten a bent knife blade, including applying heat to the blade to make the steel temporarily pliable and subsequently bend it back into shape.
However, the majority of people haven't had to straighten many blades, and the inexperienced do-it-yourselfers run the risk of breaking the blade or weakening the temper. It’s better to have the blade straightened by a knife shop or manufacturer.
Knife Aid (knifeaid.com) and Glen Brooks Knives (glenbrooksknives.com) are two options. Some knife makers, including Case, Benchmade, Spyderco and Buck offer repair and knife-sharpening services for their products.
HONE ON THE GO
What good is a hunting knife that isn't sharp? Whether you're cleaning a mess of crappies or caping out a trophy buck, a dull knife can be maddening.
The Outdoor Edge Edge-X Pro is a compact sharpener ideal for camp or to carry in your pack. The Edge-X Pro has a pivoting base with coarse and medium carbide bits set at 22 degrees, plus medium ceramic and fine ceramic abrasives. There's also a tapered diamond rod for serrated edges, and a groove for sharpening fishing hooks.
The rotating "X" base has four rubber foot pads, and the finger holder is also rubberized for a sure and safe grip. The Edge-X Pro measures just 1.6 by 3.9 by .7 inches and weighs 1.2 ounces. ($20; outdooredge.com)