Knives photo

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Photograph by Cliff Gardiner & John Keller

New pocketknives are shiny and razor-sharp. But old, beat-up knives tell the story of the person who carried them. If you own such a knife, here’s how to clean it up without wiping away all of its history, so you can pass it down.

[1] Start with a thorough cleaning. An old toothbrush and a can of Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber will remove most of the dirt and crud. Reach deep into blade channels with a stiff nylon bristle brush. Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to scrub away years of ground-in gunk in the handle.

[2] Reshape broken tips by removing metal from the back of the blade to regain the original contour. The easiest way to do this is by stroking it over a coarse stone in a circular motion. Avoid grinding wheels or belts, as they can overheat the blade and alter the temper of the metal.

[3] To remove surface rust, dip the blade in CLR Rust Remover and buff it with a rotary tool equipped with a fine brass wire brush.

[4] To polish the blade, switch the wire brush to a felt polishing wheel. Dip the wheel into polishing compound and set to work on the blades until they shine. Finish the blades with a new polishing wheel and a metal paste polish like Flitz.

[5] Add a drop or two of oil to the joints and finish the job by sharpening the blades. If you aren’t one of those gifted folk who can hone a blade on a stone until it’s ­shaving-​sharp, use a kit like those from Lansky or a belt sharpener like the Work Sharp System.

[6] Pass it on. When you are finished with your knife, make sure it goes to a young person who will continue the story.

Note: Collectors like to see knives in “as is” condition. If yours is rare or collectible, consult an expert before restoring.