A vintage knife restoration

I didn’t think I needed another knife, but when a “diamond in the rough” project knife recently presented itself for a very low price, I just couldn’t say no. While browsing around at a consignment shop, I spotted a vintage Marttiini “Lapp Knife 250″, which is a small leuku or Saami knife with a 16 cm/6.3″ long and 4 mm/0.16” thick blade. I like this style of knife very much to begin with, and when I saw the price tag of 15 Euros/19 Dollars, I had no choice but to snap it up. Based on other older Marttiini knives I’ve seen, I roughly dated this one to the 60s or 70s. Finnman from Scandic Woodsman Blog estimates 70s or 80s, so let’s say it’s from the 70s. 🙂

As you can see, the sheath is roughed up, but still in usable condition. I don’t like the tacky designed-for-tourists motif on these sheaths, but I was able to find a good way to get around that. Some ingenious person had replaced the belt loop with a slit-type loop and cleverly attached it to the sheath with some wire… As great as it looks, the wire had to go. 😉

As for the knife itself, the varnish was coming off the handle, the bolster and pommel cap were a bit beat up and dirty and the blade had lots of sharpening marks and a few nicks in the edge. Overall, though, it seemed like the knife was still pretty solid and usable. Incidentally, I tested the blade to see if it would take a patina, because I was not sure if it was stainless or carbon steel (it proved to be stainless, as it would not take a patina). I later found it to be easy to sharpen and not too hard/brittle, so I’m not concerned about it being stainless.

I started working on the sheath first. I’ve never been a fan of the “fish tail” on sheaths, so I cut it off. I am aware that they serve a purpose (as an aid in withdrawing the knife), but I never use them. The next step was to remove the belt loop and a leather strip glued to the sheath near the top. After this, I sanded the sheath with 240-grit sandpaper to remove the original treatment and to smooth out the roughened spots. To color the sheath and also to hide the touristy design, I decided to use black shoe polish. I realize this is not very “professional”, but it was the easiest solution on short notice. When the sheath and belt loop were dry, I connected them with a piece of strong flat lacing, which I also died black.

Now on to the knife. To get the remaining varnish off, I sanded the handle with 40-grit sandpaper. This was followed by smoothing it out with 100-grit paper. Once the wood was in good shape, I sanded the bolster and pommel cap with 240- and then 400-grit sandpaper to clean and smooth them out. I then rubbed the handle wood with a block of wax and passed the wax-covered handle back and forth over a candle to heat the wood and melt the wax, allowing it to soak into the wood. This was repeated 5 or 6 times. With the handle finished, I turned my attention to the blade. I figured the only way to easily make the blade uniform in appearance throughout would be to sand it, so I started with 100-grit sandpaper and finished with 240. I didn’t feel the need to go any finer than this. The last step was to smooth out the nicks and even out the edge with a diamond rod and then finish it off with a stone. A few minor nicks are still present, but they will disappear over time with continued sharpening.

In all, I worked on this sheath and knife for 4 hours. Here’s the result:

Before and after:

Hopefully, the handle and tang are still structurally sound. I guess I could have checked this out more before I did the restoration work! 🙂 I’ll be using this knife very soon to test it and will let you know how it works out. I may do a little more cosmetic work to clean up a few things, but for the most part I’m happy with how it came out. Yet another great consignment shop find!

UPDATE: I applied some teak oil to the handle to further protect it from water etc. I think it came out pretty good.

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12 comments on “A vintage knife restoration

  1. Chris Major says:

    Beautiful I always enjoy your posts, keep them coming!

  2. Ron says:

    Top job!!

  3. Finnman says:

    Good find with that M. Leuku! After your restoration it looks like new almost. It could be good user if blade is not too soft, but that you will find out only hanging it your belt for your trips.

    • Thanks. 😀 I used it on Sunday (chopping, batoning, slashing and feather stick making). The edge still seems very sharp. I’ll use it a few more times and pay attention to the edge retention.

  4. OZme says:

    Commenting little late, but just wated to say “Nicely done!” And now you have gotten a brand new looking leuku.

  5. […] be subjected to an extreme makeover by your’s truly. The plan is to restore it to match the leuku I fixed up last May. It should serve nicely as a small companion knife to the leuku, and the fact that they’re […]

  6. […] at a consignment shop for €18/$23.50, thinking it would be a perfect small companion to the leuku knife I restored last year. The handle wood is curly birch, the bolster is brass and the blade is, I believe, carbon […]

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