Why I don’t restore blades

This is a question I get from time to time: I have this antique razor / heirloom knife / … and it needs to restoration / fixing. Can you do it?

No. My answer to such requests from customers is always no.

I could say that I refuse because I like to focus on working steel. Or that I like to pursue my own designs, or that I have a long backlog. Or any of a number of equally legitimate excuses. But the REAL reason is that I do not want the responsibility. I learned this the hard way.

Right after starting my business, I was talking with a local florist and I noticed that he had trouble cutting some rose stems. His garden shears looked like they hadn’t been maintained for a long time. And still in possession of my naive enthusiasm, I said ‘why don’t you give them to me, I’ll fix them up and bring them back in the evening. I got this. I’m a knife maker!’.

He thanked me, handed them over, and said ‘that would be great. These are really special to me. My parents gave them to me 30 years ago and I’ve used it ever since. They’re no longer with me but this way I always think of them.

You can see where this is going, right?

I get to my workshop, and discover quickly that this thing has not been cleaned for many years, let alone received a drop of oil. It had gunk and rust all over. That should have been my cue to just douse it in WD40, give the edge a quick run on my belt sander and call it good. But no. I wanted to ‘do things right’.

My plan was to take it apart, clean up all individual parts, sharpen it properly, adjust the blade in relation to the beak, and go back to the shop, beaming with pride over a job well done. Like Mike Tyson said: everyone has a plan, until they get hit in the face.

I doused the bolt with WD-40, clamped it in a vise, and gently applied torque with the wrench. It refused at first. More WD-40, and it started to move. And then the head broke clean off. It had been so badly maintained that the bolt had rusted locked in the frame.

So there I was, standing with the parts of a heirloom, given to the owner by his dead parents. The bolt had broken off in the frame and was rusted locked. The bolt itself was one of those special ones with indentations along the length to lock things in place. It was irreplaceable, and even if I had a spare, the other part was still in there. Blind panic is the best description. After the initial scream of rage, I left things where they were and had a cup of coffee.

After looking at the parts in detail, I did the only thing I could think of. I identified the center of the bolt in the frame, carefully drilled it out, in a slightly larger diameter than the original threads and tapped new thread. I then sanded all moving parts flush again, took a stainless hex head bolt, and very carefully used a dremel to shape the indentations like the original bolt. Then I carefully filed everything the bolt had to go through to size because the bolt had a bigger diameter. And in the end, I assembled everything, cut the bolt to size, worked the hex head to the shape of the original head, adjusted the shearing action, sharpened the blade, and oiled it.

The entire process took a full day instead of 15 minutes, and I nearly ruined an irreplaceable heirloom which would have devastated the owner.

And that is why I don’t ever do restoration work.

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