Ever since man first crawled out of a cave, and banged two rocks together, he has been in love with knives. Who could forget that first knife you get as a child, if you are lucky enough to have cool parents. Of course the memory may be fleeting, because if you are like me, ownership was but a few short hours, until I either needed stitches or engraved my name of some piece of furniture.
As an adult it’s only slightly better for some of us, a trip down the knife aisle at the local club mart, could easily put an end to marital bliss if we have control of the check book.
But dang it’s so hard not to crave the sharp steel that dreams are made of. Who hasn’t watched a favorite TV chef, work his magic with the name brand chrome moly, polished, powder coated slice O-Matic 2000, And thought, if only I had that beauty, then I could really cook! But of course the price tag of that custom beauty is generally enough to crash land our dreams back to reality. Are good knives always out of reach? Do I have to sell the first born offspring just to get a decent chef’s knife?
Not at all, and I’m going to tell you a few ways to make that happen.
Make a List of Knives You Actually Need
The very first thing to do is to make a list of what knives you would like to have in your set. If you never prepare fish, then a filet knife might be a waste of money, or if you never bake bread, the same with a bread knife.
As an example for this, we are going to pick a Chef’s Knife. Having a good chef’s knife is just about paramount if you are going to be any sort of home cook or chef. So now that we have decided on the type of knife, now we need to pick material and size.
Now we can start looking at knives.
Do Not Spend a Fortune on Your Next Knife
Unless money is no object, and unless you make a living by cooking full time, and even then I question it, there is no reason to run out and buy something like a Gentak Makara Japanese chef’s knife for $10,000.00.
Chances are, I couldn’t cut any better with it than a could a 13.00 Knife from Wally World. Now that I have my head out of the clouds, let’s talk about better options. There are plenty of knives on the new market that are of great quality… however, since this is building a set on a budget…
Think Vintage: Where To Find Vintage Kitchen Knives
For a quality, affordable Chef’s Knife… think vintage.
As we all know, things tend to be made better in years past, and generally speaking, this holds true for kitchen cutlery. Brands like Case, Old Hickory, Dexter, Utica, make super knives. These were the professional knives of yesteryear, and they will serve you well today.
- Ebay. When you first start looking, it is easy to be overwhelmed for the simple fact, there are so many choices. But if you use the search, entering in Carbon steel, and Chef’s and even 12”, it will start to whittle the selection down to size. I have picked up dozens of fantastic blades on eBay.
- Estate Sales. A good estate sale is like a gold mine for vintage knives. Often it is the residence of a older person, who may have passed away, or being moved into a smaller place. Those homes often yield real bargains. Not long ago, I picked up a set of 3 vintage, French Sabatier’s Chef’s up to 14” long.. well worth the 5.00 I paid for them.
- Church Garage Sales. Nothing special about the church sales, except it tends to be groups of people bringing stuff together and selling, thus increasing the odds of some good knives.
- Family Garage Sales. Not much to say, we have all been there. Just one point, just because you don’t see any knives, don’t be afraid to ask.. that often leads to a jackpot.
- Facebook Knife Groups. If you want nothing but knives, join a vintage Carbon steel cutlery group on Facebook. You will normally find better quality and better condition knives. And as it is a knife group, you can glean a lot of information with the knife, age, value etc..
- Knife & Cooking Forums. There are also some good deals to be found posted in some of the forums online. It can be a little harder, since you most forums are pretty broad in topics, new knives, old knives, custom knives etc.. and the price tends to be a little higher.
So now that you have located a gem, let’s talk about condition.
Vintage Knives Aren’t Always Perfect…
You can have several issues with any knife, but especially a vintage knife.
Dull or chipped edge. This isn’t a issue really, unless it is horrible, a edge is pretty straight forward to restore. Look elsewhere on this site for information on how to sharpen knives.
Rust. Since we have been talking about Carbon steel, rust could be on the blade. If the rust is severe and deep, you may wind up with some pitting in the blade, but that will not affect the function of the knife. It will be up to you to decide if the look is too bad for you to deal with.
To remove rust from a carbon steel blade, steel wool and vinegar works wonders. Perhaps if it is bad, some wet sandpaper and vinegar, or you can send it to someone who does knife restoration work.
Handle/scales. one of the most common problems with a vintage knife is loose, cracked or missing scales. Over the years as the knife has been washed repeatedly, things can work loose.
Replacing or repairing scales is not too difficult. In a upcoming article, we will be doing a scale replacement restoration. Changing the scales out, is a way to make a good old knife into a treasure heirloom. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, ask around for someone that does it.
It isn’t hard to pick up a knife for a song, that’s every bit as good as some of the high end knives on the market.