SoCal Dave

Rust removal from very old butchering knives

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An old friend has some very old hand made rusty knives for butchering a beef carcass.    They also have a couple of cleavers, and a rusted saw.  They asked me how to remove the rust so they can butcher a cow that has been cut up and has been hanging.  They are concerned about contaminating the meet by using rusted knives.   They thought vinegar could be used and then some steel wool.   

I have not been involved in knife making at all and couldn't advise them.  Any suggestion would be appreciated.  They told me that the knifes and cleavers and saw have not been used for at least a couple of years and that is why they are rusted.  The few knives they showed me appear to be a carbon steel, a low carbon steel and very thin.  

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I am not the professional on these matters, but I would assume that the butcher industry has quality new tools for purchase. Why do they want to use rusty old ones? 

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This is how I would personally try to clean them up. Others may disagree , and I'm not an expert so I could easily be wrong. 

First I would soak them overnight in vinegar rinse off the vinegar and scrub with SOS pads or steel wool. If that doesn't work I'd try sand paper or a wire cup. After they are cleaned you will need to oil them with mineral oil or other food safe oil. 

Pnut (Mike)

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Are they handled and if so with what?  Wooden handles you don't want to get wet especially with acids as it will trap moisture against the tang.

Generally I use silicon carbide paper wrapped around a hard block to clean and smooth.  If heavily pitted I glue a thin layer of glove leather around the block and then the SiC.  If heavy rust start with coarse steel wool and DON"T CUT YOURSELF!!!! If you are not used to handling blades the chainmail butcher's gloves may be a good idea!

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Thanks for the suggestions.  A little info on my friends.  They are 85 years old and have lived most of their lives on a cattle ranch.  So, they use everything as long as possible and then longer.  Using their very old knives is just in their blood.  I haven't seen all the tools they are going to use but assume they all have wood handles.  I will check out Evap-O-Rust.  

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Old wooden handles, neglected on a rusty knife, would most likely have cracks, and gaps between the wood and steel. Gaps that can contaminate the meat. Maybe a new round of epoxy, followed up by sanding, would seal in and keep out contamination, as a final step in the restoration process.

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I'll double evaporust but have no clue what it would do to the wood handles. Probably soak them up to but shy of the handle. They will need cleaned up a little more after, and beware that evaporust darkens steel the higher the carbon content. 

I'd also agree to retreat the wood handles. Epoxy doesn't sound bad in my opinion and it might seal off some of the rust under the handles. Unless you plan to remake the handles or try to disassemble pre treatment then rebuild, (probably not an option on reuse).

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As a user of old simple steel knives, green scotchbrite pads have kept mine in fighting trim, and don’t use the modern ultra fine hard stones as they won’t cut worth a dang, the blades tend to be softer than modern stainless. If you are concerned about contaminants trapped under the scales dip them in hot wax then wipe the excess off. It will penetrate the gaps and seal them with out damaging the scales. 

They will have bit of a patina, and as far as home butchering goes, let’s take a page from your large animal vet who dose surgery in a sunny feild. It’s cleaner than many a surgical suit (no resistant staph living there) so a set of good knives washed with soap and rinsed in good clean water used on one cow are a lot less likely to transmit anything (especialy from a grass fed beef) than a set of power equipment at a slaughter plant that cuts up 500 steers between cleanings...

 

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29 minutes ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

so a set of good knives washed with soap and rinsed in good clean water used on one cow are a lot less likely to transmit anything (especialy from a grass fed beef) than a set of power equipment at a slaughter plant that cuts up 500 steers between cleanings...

What the diet is directly affects the likelihood of E. Coli contamination. It's much less prevelant in beef raised on grass versus corn. The University of Kentucky agricultural studies Dept conducted a study about this very topic.

Pnut (Mike)

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Their is a reason feedlots include antibiotics in the ration, corn fed beef get sick after about 90 days otherwise. Rumisin might be billed as a “digestive aid” but it is a strong antibiotic.

truth is we were all raised on the idea that our ancestors lacked basic hygiene and ait rotten meat, truth was they were adept at preserving food (romans preserved eggs in wood ash and the Norse gave us bacon) infact one of the big complaints about the celts and later the rus (Nordic) mercenaries was their insistence on daily bathes being written into their contracts. 

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If you dip eggs in mineral oil they'll stay good for about a year without refrigeration. Our ancestors forgot more than we'll ever learn about living in synch with our planet

Pnut (Mike)

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I've been amazed at how many people still believe that rotten meat urban legend. When I get hit with it at a medieval demo I usually ask if spices were cheap back then to make it cost effective to use.  "Oh no they were worth their weight in silver and gold" I am often told. "So, they would use many times the cost of buying fresh meat to cover the taste of rotting meat?"   The logic still escapes many. I wonder how many of them have paid a premium for properly aged meat at high end restaurants...

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Aged air dried beef is delicious and pricey for sure. Beef was reserved for the rich during medieval times I thought. Commoners only had game occasionally unless I'm wrong. I'm sure you would know Thomas.

Pnut (Mike)

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It's pretty recently that Beef became the Top of the Meat pile here in the USA; historically pigs were the common meat producers being easy to raise and cheap as well. Not to mention easy to preserve as sausage, bacon, etc. Medievally the cow was generally for milk used for cheese and butter and producing Oxen for traction (plows, wagons, etc).   Peasants usually made use of small game as the large game, like deer were often controlled by rather savage Game Laws reserving them for folks higher on the socioeconomic ladder. (Even small game might be restricted but was easier to poach and hide.)

Note that keeping a pig in the city was still fairly common pre "modern times" and my uncle even kept one in Fort Smith in the 1960's in his small back yard. Feeding them on forrest mast in Medieval times was often a right codified in local laws.

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Mr. Powers,  et al.,

Permit me to add the following 'trivia' to this very informative thread

.Eating beef was prohibitively expensive in Europe until the early 1700's. Feeding livestock during, winter months was reserved for work animals, milking animals etc.

So beef generally were slaughtered in the autumn. These young animals were the size of dogs, and rarely larger.

Viscount, Sir Charles Townshend,  ("Turnip Townshend"),  advocated feeding cows with the addition of turnips, to the standard rotation of  wheat, barley, & clover. This was done during the winter months.

So slaughter animals became larger and turnips were cheap. Beef became less expensive for the commoners, and populations grew.

SLAG.

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An early preservation technique was to cover it in lard, an egg covered with Crisco will last more than a year IF it isn't washed off first. Meat, veggies, etc. last longer kept away from oxygen. Rendered lard is sterile and a good preservative, hence the term "larder."

Frosty The Lucky.

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