Q. Forty-three years ago we got a lovely set of Sheffield steak knives with horn handles as a wedding present. Not being very wise, we did not treat them well in the beginning and put them in the dishwasher. Now several handles are loose and several metal taps on the bottom have disappeared. We tried gluing the handles without much success. The blades are still in great shape. Is there someone in the area who might be able to repair them?
A. Across the country, there are many practitioners of the craft of making knives by hand, a task that includes everything from shaping the blades at a forge to carving and attaching the scales, the technical term for the part of a knife handle that’s made of wood, plastic, bone or, on your knives, horn. The scales often come as pairs so that the knife’s tang, an extension of the blade, can fit between them. Glue or rivets or both hold the assembly together.
Knifemaking suppliers such as Texas Knife sell scales made of camel bones, water buffalo horns and plenty of other exotic materials. People who have a home shop and are handy can sometimes replace scales themselves. But finding someone to do it for you isn’t as easy as it seems, because most knifemakers apparently enjoy making their own pieces more than fixing knives made by others.
If that doesn’t work, try a few people farther afield.
Jay Maines at Sunrise River Custom Knives in Minnesota (651-462-5301) happily replaces knife handles because he finds it boring to grind out the same blade parts day after day. Although each repair is a little different, he finds that handles made of natural materials such as wood, bone and horn often are damaged in the same way: by being run through a dishwasher.
“The high heat in the drying cycle of the dishwasher pulls all the moisture out of the handle material, and over time they crack,” he explained in an e-mail. “Even worse, some dishwasher detergents have bleach in them, and it will pull the beautiful brown color right out of an expensive stag handle, leaving it looking like bleached bone.” His price for replacing scales depends partly on the material you choose — water buffalo horn blanks cost $40, while impala horns are $60, for example — and the time it takes to do the work. For steak knives, that’s usually about $50, though for bigger kitchen knives it can be $100-$150.
Brian Huegel at Country Knives in Intercourse, Pa., (717-768-3818) also installs new scales for about the same price. He cautioned that jobs sometimes take four to six months.
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The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in August, such as upgrading locks.