How to refinish wooden knife handle


Old 04-27-18, 02:28 AM
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How to refinish wooden knife handle

I have 2 old sharp kitchen knives I'd like to keep rather than toss. But their wooden handles are mostly down to the bare wood. Each handle is 3.5" long, each one with 2 rivets solidly attaching it to its blade.
Is there some sort of colorless shellac I can brush-on which will preserve the wood from further water damage? A "food grade" product would be ideal, so I won't worry about any residue getting onto my fruits & veggies!
PS. Not having---and not really wanting---a dishwasher, I wash all utensils by hand using rubber gloves.
Old 04-27-18, 03:38 AM
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Solvent based finishes aren't completely colorless. A couple of coats of water based poly should do ok although I wouldn't think any finish applied to the handle would make it's way to the food. If the new finish does start to deteriorate - that would be the time to sand it down and apply a fresh coat.

They do make food safe sealers. I don't remember the brand or where I got it but several yrs ago I sprayed a sealer on an old wooden bowl and it's held up well. I think it might be called a salad bowl but it's been used as a popcorn bowl for 60 yrs.
Old 04-27-18, 07:51 AM
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Personally I would only use a food-safe oil finish rather than a top coat poly. "Butcher block finish" is a mix of food-safe oil & beeswax that should give you adequate protection as long as you hand wash & dry immediately.
Rub on & buff off as needed.

I made a batch in 1991 to finish a mahogany briefcase I built and since then use it for cutting boards, knife handles, toddler toys, etc.
Old 04-27-18, 10:52 AM
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Food-Safe Finishes
A summary of non-toxic finishing products ideal for cutting boards, salad bowls, and other food-centric woodwork

By Jonathan Binzen #129–Mar/April 1998 Issue

After scores of conversations with chemists, regulatory agencies, finish manufacturers, finishing experts, and woodworkers, I found that there are a few finishes that everyone agrees are food safe. However, these finishes tend to be the least protective, and the great majority are in a kind of limbo, with many experts saying most are fine for use with food but with others saying they should be avoided because there are some lingering questions about their safety. In the welter of contrary opinions about which finishes are food safe and which are not, a few naturally derived, unblended, no-hidden-ingredients, certainly nontoxic finishes stand out.

Pure tung oil. Extracted from the nut of the china wood tree. Used as a base in many blended finishes. Available from catalogs and hardware stores. Difficult to apply, requires many coats, good water-resistance.

Raw linseed oil. Pressed from flax seeds. Not to be confused with boiled linseed, which contains metallic driers. Listed as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Very long curing time, good looks, low water-resistance, frequent reapplication.

Mineral oil. Although derived from petroleum, it is colorless, odorless, tasteless and entirely inert. Sold as a laxative in drug stores and as a wood finish in hardware and kitchen-supply stores. Simple to apply, low waterresistance, frequent reapplication.

Walnut oil. Pressed from the nuts of the walnut tree. Sold as a salad oil in health food stores and in large grocery stores. Walnut oil dries and won’t go rancid. Easy to apply, frequent reapplication.

Beeswax. The work of the honey bee. Can be mixed with an oil to create a better-smelling, slightly more waterrepellent finish. Sold in woodworking and turning catalogs.

Carnauba wax. Derived from the Brazilian palm tree. Harder than beeswax and more water-resistant. Can be used straight on woodenware as a light protective coating or a topcoat polish. Sold in woodworking and turning catalogs.

Shellac. A secretion from the lac bug. Harvested in India. Super blond shellac in flake form is the most waterresistant variety. A film-forming finish. Sold in woodworking catalogs and hardware and art supply stores.

A recipe for one sweet finish

The food-safe finish that appeals most to me is one recommended by Jim and Jean Lakiotes, West Virginia makers of spoons and other kitchen items, as well as furniture. Their finish is a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax.

To make it, warm the mineral oil in a saucepan over low heat, and melt a chunk of beeswax in it equal to about one-fifth or one-sixth the volume of the oil. (At high heat, there’s a potential for fire. Be sure to keep the heat low, and consider using a double boiler.) As the wax begins to flake apart and dissolve, stir frequently. When the mixture is blended, pour it into a jar to cool and solidify.

To apply, wipe on an excess of the soft paste, let it dry a bit, then wipe it off. If you want to apply it as a liquid, you can reheat it. Like any mineral oil or
wax finish that will take a lot of abuse, this one will need to be reapplied often to afford decent moisture protection. But applying this fragrant finish is such a pleasure that you may find yourself looking forward to the task.

This article is excerpted from Jonathan Binzen’s article “Which Finishes Are Food Safe,” featured in Fine Woodworking #129.

[[There are a number of hotlinks in the source article that might make it more useful]]
Old 04-27-18, 04:00 PM
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I used water base poly by itself, and it turned out fine, though it did not like any long term exposure to water. Tended to peel a bit in some areas that may have been a little thick. I've also used oil based poly with melted paraffin mixed in, and it worked quite well also. I think I've also used Danish and teak oils to good effect. Heck, you can even use mineral oil, but it won't really give you a "finish", more of a treatment.

For a kitchen knife handle, you don't really need food safe or food grade like you would with a salad bowl or cutting board.

Even if you had a dish washer, never put knives (esp wooden handle knives) in it. The water get's far too hot for wood and the type of detergent used can cause pitting and cracking (at the microscopic level) of the cutting edge.

I have almost $1000 invested in my kitchen knives and would NEVER put them in the dishwasher or soak them in water more than a few minutes, if that.
Old 04-28-18, 01:04 AM
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Oil based poly is my go-to finish and I wouldn't hesitate to use it here as well. While I've never used one since the poly has always worked so well for me, I would be hesitant to use any actual oil or wax for a knife handle for fear of it making the handle more likely to slip in my hand when using.
Old 04-28-18, 02:29 AM
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Received 3 Votes on 3 Posts's a logical thought (the slipperiness) but it doesn't seem to work that way. One coat , let it soak in, another coat, wipe it off...protects the wood, yet isn't slippery in the least. Of course you wouldn't use it on handles so finely sanded/polished that the pores are all closed, I imagine thats the difference. I think I used around 150 or so for the fine sanding before finishing.

Some of mine were my parents knives...Old Hickory's that are at least 50 yrs old, probably closer to 60-70. They'll take an edge that will carve a roast into steaks if you just set it on the counter nearby.
Old 04-28-18, 04:50 AM
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I've got a few Old Hickory's too- great knives! Steve

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