Need help on polishing knives, not sharpening
l have a great number of collectible knives, both kitchen and
folders. Many should not be sharpened as they lose value
They are all carbon steel. Short of buying a polishing wheel,
how do l get them polished ? l have had great difficulty
finding people who do this regardless of the venue it has
been sought . Hopefully Cowboyardee and ChemKin will
weigh in here.
As far as I know, a sharpened knife does not diminish the value, but a polished one, removing generations of "patina" does in most circumstances. A buffing wheel is the quickest way to go...if you prefer to work by hand, start with 0000 steel wool, then polish with increasingly finer rubbing compounds...Mother's makes some fine products, along with Griot's.
Agree with BiscuitBoy.
Unless there is red rust, carbon steel should be left alone. Rust is metal cancer and has to be removed.
Many times old knives need the wood nourished more than the steel.
I have a Robinson Knife Company 8" carbon steel chef that is probably 40's- 50's and it cleaned up great. I'm working on an Old File meat cleaver that had severe rust and needed a total strip down to remove the rust and pits and then will need heavy sharpening. Collector value may be shot but a useless knife has no value to me.
A light sharpening should not diminish the value of a knife. If you want to polish the side of the blade, there are all sort of levels you can do. If all you want to do is to just clean up the blade a bit (not really polishing), then you can just put some Bar Keeper Friend's with water and brush it up with a soft brush (even an old toothbrush). If you really want to polish the blade, then a buffing wheel is certainly an option. You can also start with a steel wool as Biscuit Boy has suggested. I would also suggest that you can start with a sharpening stone. Lay the knife blade flat on a stone and just push the knife back and forth, and you should able to remove whatever is on the blade. Then, you can move toward finer and finer abrasive.
I do agree with knifesaver that you have to remove red rust. Red rust will eventually destroy the knife. Patina or any black and blue oxide is fine to keep.
Any reputable sharpener or bladesmith will have the buffers, wheels and compounds you need and should not charge much. I recently paid $20 for a restoration of a Kramer hunter.
If you want to do it yourself but not invest in the equipment, you can use progressively finer grades of automotive sandpaper and a pushstick. This is a LOT of work. Whatever you do by hand, you have to work at right angles to the previous (coarser) grit, or you'll never get the deeper scratches out. A Dremel with a buffing wheel and some rouges would be helpful for corners and tight spots.
However you do it, when you're done, I would put a coat or 2 of pure Carnauba wax all over and give it a light buff by hand. Store UNSHEATHED in a humidity-controlled place (gunsafe or closet with lightbulb burning).
Hope this helps.
Regular cylindrical felt wheels would be the mainstay, but you might also want a couple of the pointy felt-tipped shafts, too. For the wood and a final buff, maybe there's a "loose muslin" wheel made for Dremel. Be careful about getting the felt wheels onto wood handles--the friction at high Dremel speeds can mar and melt the finish if you're too slow or heavy with the tool.
Frankly, if you're not removing scratches or rust, I'd just hit the steel with the Dremel and maybe a little Flitz or Simichrome metal polish.
I don't have any real experience with a polishing wheel, so I won't be of much help to you there. I also couldn't tell you with any certainty that polishing a knife (aside from removing red rust, which as others pointed out, is a necessity) won't hurt the value of your knives. On the other hand, polishing a knife to just shy of a mirror finish makes it look nice, makes food release from it well (usually) and makes the patina it eventually takes look cool.
Polishing by hand is a bit of a hassle, but it's not super expensive. A good pro might be a fine option, but I'd look for one who knows a thing or two about restoration. If you go the by-hand route, your best bet is automotive wet-dry sandpaper in a succession of finer and finer grits. Start around 220 and move up to desired finish. For you final grit, use strokes in only one direction. Micromesh film also work Or if you have waterstones, even notebook paper loaded with slurry from your stones can do the trick, though it can be a bit slower.
A few considerations - ideally you remove the handles before polishing. Thing is, removing the handles on a vintage Western knife is a different kind of proposition from removing the handle on a Japanese knife. So you might just want to tape the handle up to protect it. Likewise, you might want to tape the extreme edge, both to protect it and protect you. Using a vice clamp can make this job go a little easier and faster in general. You can make a padded stick wrapped in abrasive help prevent injury to your hands if you like - basically wrap the end of a dowel with leather, and then wrap that with sandpaper.
It's not an expensive or even altogether unpleasant job to polish by hand. But it can take a while.