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Carbon Steel Knives -- Keep or Give Away?

I have two old carbon steel knives, a 10" chef's knife and a paring knife, that appear to be in good condition except that they are severely spotted and discolored. What can I do to bring their appearance back? Assuming that's even possible, how should they be maintained? And, is the effort worth it? I'm tempted to give them to someone who has more patience than I with these kinds of things.

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  1. IMHO I wouldn't worry so much about the discoloration and I would certainly keep the knives. This will happen to carbon steel blades but they are my preferred kitchen tools. I find that some discoloration is improved by cleaning with vinegar and salt - for soaking and as a scrub...

    1. Do the knives have a full tang and are they in good condition? If so, there is no reason to discard them. Having shiny knives is akin to having shiny tires on your car -- the minute you use it, they get dirty.

      These knives are a joy because they are easy to keep sharp and do exactly what a knife is supposed to do. After cutting something, wash and dry your knife. It will cut down on the discoloration and spotting. If you are cutting acidic food like lemons, you'll notice the spotting immediately. Just wash & dry your knife.
      Edit: never, ever put these in a dishwasher.

      If you still don't like these sharp, sturdy, ever-lasting babies, ship them to me.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        The Edit function isn't working.
        Edit: never, ever put these in a dishwasher.

        Some of my carbon steel knives are more than 40 years old and going strong. These are my favorite kitchen tool and I'd grab them first in a fire.

        Teaching a cooking class many years ago, one of the unprofessional students "borrowed" my small chef's knife to open a soda can. She should be up, taking liquid nourishment someday soon!

        1. re: Sherri

          These knives are, I'm guessing, at least 30 years old. If I were to guess, I'd say I bought these years a long time ago at a restaurant supply store. They have full tangs and they look like they're in very good shape -- sharp and straight with no chips. They both have wooden handles.

          I can't decipher the brand names of these knives. The smaller one has a name "engraved" into the wood handle, but I can't make it out. The larger one has a worn label on the handle with a logo I don't recognize; the graphic on the label looks like it might be an axe on a block of wood.

          I never put my knives into the dishwasher. I think I'll take chuckl's advice and bring them in for sharpening, then I'll try that vinegar/salt cleaning technique. Now that I'm thinking about it, I believe I stopped using them because when I was cutting lettuce, it turned the lettuce brown. I guess it's time to revisit these knives before I decide to retire them.

          1. re: Sherri

            I have 6"-8" Thiers Issard chefs knives that are my favorite pieces of cutlery. My daughter is afraid of it because it is so sharp, and my little sister still has a facial tick that she received after she attempted to put it in the dishwasher when she was visiting.

            I keep mine wrapped in a cotton cloth impregnated with mineral oil, and then stored in a plastic knife sheath.

            LOL on taking liquid nourishment soon. I would have screamed if someone tried to open a can with my knives.

            If Sherri and Biscuit Boy don't want them I'll pay you to fed-Ex them to me.

        2. it's natural for carbon steel knives to look spotted and discolored, unlike stainless steel. The important thing is whether they are full tang and straight. Generally carbon steel knives can be sharpened very well and are meant to last a lifetime. What kind of knives do you have? Are they sharp, without chips in the blade? Before you do anything, take them to a professional knife sharpener (someone who doesn't also sharpen gardening equipment) and have them sharpened.

          1. What Sherri said...You can ship'em to me too!

            1. The discoloration is actually protective. Acidic foods, specifically onions will pick up off flavors when cut with carbon steel knives if this layer of oxidation is removed.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rockfish42

                One note on my original post. If your blades are grey or grey-blue this is the protective tarnish that rockfish describes. I would only use the vinegar and salt if you have found rust other discoloration on knives that may have been left unused in less than optimal conditions - i.e. when I occasionally find them at yard sales or, in once case, a neighbors damp basement...