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Woo HOO! Girl’s Guide to Knife Renovation!

It worked. It worked, it worked, IT WORKED!!! After moping online about the scratches and gouges induced by past misguided knife-sharpening ventures, I found a guy on YouTube who describes renovation by ladies’ manicure supply!


No kidding. The man trots out his wife’s nail file gear — the kind of stuff you use for acrylics, not for real fingernails — and demonstrates how to polish up a stainless steel knife.

Well. I figure nothing ventured nothing gained. The knives are already a mess: they couldn’t get much worse. Plus if I f*ck them up some more, it’ll give me an excuse to go out and diddle away $200 on a whole giant set of fancy German knives.


So…fortunately, back in the Day I used to wear bionic nails all the time. In an old disused drawer, what should I still have but a stash of files, abrasive pads, and assorted doodads.

Bear in mind, gents, that all a nail file is is sandpaper affixed to a stiff board. And it comes in many grades. The board makes the stuff highly and easily maneuverable. From the male point of view, the only problem with it is that it too often comes in pink. The way around this, of course, is simply to regard pink as “light red.”

Here we have the entire set of fine tools — slightly used, as I didn’t think about writing this project up until I got pretty far into it.

As you can see, this gear comes in a variety of forms and shapes. The acrylic gunk applied to women’s nails to create fake fingernails dries into a hard surface that is first shaped and then polished to a high sheen with various grades of sandpaper….uhm, nail files. You can get blocks of stuff — that butter-shaped thing, for example — that have a coarse surface applied over a sponge-rubber interior, allowing a great deal of versatility. Some files come with two functional surfaces, one coarser than the other. And that one that’s half pink and half white actually has three grits: a medium and medium fine on the pink-&-white side, and on the reverse side a very fine grade suitable for polishing to a high sheen. Other files, such as that square-cornered number near the top of the board, are very coarse, indeed. But noteworthy: no other products are needed to accomplish this polishing effect.

Well, I had my doubts that this scheme would do much, since steel wool hadn’t done much in the past. But nothing ventured, eh?

So here’s an expensive little fiasco: a badly scratched La Guiole steak knife. Stainless; when new, it was highly polished:

You can see why I’ve been so disgusted that I’m willing to pony up a month’s budget savings to replace my knife collection, eh?

Okay, here’s what we get after a bit of polishing, going from coarsest to finest-grit sandpaper…uhm, nail polish tools.

Hot DAYUM! Not a gouge to be seen!!!

Are they shiny new-as-fresh-out-of-the-box? No. Of course not. They’re a good dozen years old. But neither are they all gouged up. The coarser grade nail file scoured off the scratches from the ill-applied whetstone, and the series of increasingly finer grades polished the blades back up pretty darned well.

When you first apply this technique, you get an alarmingly scratchy surface — final effect is a kind of coarse satin, not a high stainless-steel gloss. Like this:

This Henckels blade, too, was tragically gouged up, with deep scratches running all the way the length of the blade, from tip to hilt. The coarser sandpaper that you start with will seem to make things worse (if that’s possible), even as it buffs off the scratches. But persist: as you apply finer and finer gauges of manicure products — i.e., sandpaper — you get a better and better result. Like these:

I hafta tell you: I am thrilled with the result. Virtually all of the scratches on these things are GONE.

Then we had the issue of the steak knives’ handles.

Those amazingly, mind-bogglingly expensive LaGuiole knives are the real goddamn thing. They are NOT a knock-off. And those handles? Those aren’t plastic. Those are made of horn. The real thing. And trust me, I did not pay a low-rent Sur la Table price for that set.

So you can imagine how charmed I was on the morning after I’d had a half-dozen friends over to dinner, one of whom volunteered to help clean up afterward. Being three sheets to the wind by 11 at night, I failed to pay much attention to what she was merrily dropping into the dishwasher. While I was washing several of the knives by hand, she was tossing the rest of them into the washer with the silverware!


Needless to say, come sunrise I found the handles were wrecked. This was why I haven’t done much or cared much about the scratches, which came later. Trashed handles, gouged blades…why didn’t I just throw them directly into the garbage?

Well, I didn’t because I couldn’t bring myself to do that. And after I got laid off my job, of course I couldn’t afford to buy any other steak knives. So these have had to do.

Seeing that the nail-file treatment removed most of the scratches from the blades, I decided to soak the handles in mineral oil. What the Hell: nothing ventured, nothing gained. While I was at it, I also soaked the walnut handle of that Chicago knife in the center of the above photo, and the sort of maybe-wood handle of the Henckel paring knife on the far left.

Drenched the handles with mineral oil, wrapped them in paper towels, and left them sitting for a couple of hours.

It definitely helped the Chicago knife’s walnut handle. A lot. Don’t think it made much difference for the other ones, though. I’m thinking, however, that it’s possible a coat or two of bowling-alley wax (you remember: Johnson’s wax? do they still make it?) might approximate the original finish on the LaGuiole knives.

At any rate, I account this whole project to be a major success. And now I feel exactly zero craving to buy any new fancy knives.

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