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Handle Rehydration - Before/After

Discussion in 'Custom & Handmade Knives' started by HTMD, May 13, 2008.

  1. HTMD


    Feb 15, 2002
    I'll add this to the maintenance thread eventually but thought I'd post it here first. It's so dry out here in Colorado that your nose bleeds in the winter (no lie). Winter is also much dryer than summer and summer is definitely dry compared to where I grew up in North Carolina. Organic handle material of all kinds will shrink, sometimes with disasterous results. I decided to experiment with a rehydration method and by gawd it works!

    I've done this with several knives now. The results have been excellent with zero complications. People have asked, "Will it rust the blade etc.?" Uhhh.... no.

    A picture is worth a thousand words so see for yourself:


    Ricardo Vilar's sheep horn handle shrunk badly, to say the least. It is now almost exactly like it was when I bought it from him in Atlanta at BLADE about three years ago. You may not be able to fully tell by the picture but the pins are now flush with the handle and there is no gap at the front of the handle. There remains a small gap on the lower half of handle/butt cap junction that admits a very thin piece of paper. I will return this knife to my hydration chamber for another month and see if that goes away too. I bet it will.

    Here's a crude drawing of my rehydration chamber:


    My experience is that sheep horn takes longer than ivory of any type. Wood is variable with softer, more open grain woods being faster to rehydrate than denser tight grain woods. Bone rehydrates relatively quickly too.

    My strategy has been to rehydrate a handle in need, then apply Butcher's (bowling alley) Wax to retard shrinkage. I can't say if this will make a difference long term since I have also attempted to add a bit of humidity to areas in my home where knives are displayed or stored. But to my way of thinking wax offers more protection than say, mineral oil. I could be wrong but as long as I'm able to control handle shrinkage I probably won't worry about which product is better.
  2. peterinct


    Dec 13, 1999
    Interesting. I know the dryness of the air from many ski trips to CO and UT.

    I have had a stag handle pull away from the pommel and have had it soaking in mineral oil for almost a week now with no results?

    Perhaps I will need to fabricate one of those.

  3. bozack


    Nov 8, 2005
    Interesting method. Is it just water that you use to rehydrate with? How long does it take? Was the louvered door wood or metal and will it make a difference? I know, alot of questions but I am interested in doing this to some of my knives. Thanks.
  4. HTMD


    Feb 15, 2002
    Peter - Like you, I also got no results at all from submerging handles in mineral oil for days and even weeks at a time. That's part of what drove me to this experiment. In some cases I know the handle took mineral oil into natural cracks (fossil ivory) or joints because upon rehydrating them using this method the mineral oil would be slowly squeezed out and collect on the surface of the handle!! Every couple of days I'd wipe down the handles and marvel at what was going on.

    bozack - Yes, it's just regular tap water. According to the dates I included in the before/after photo above, it took 74 days to get the results you see there. That's the longest of the ones I've tried. The louvered door was enamel painted wood - metal might scratch the finish. Other than that I don't see a problem with metal.
    Last edited: May 14, 2008
  5. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    Thanks, this is definitely valuable information.
  6. Joss

    Joss Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Nov 20, 2001
    Very interesting. This set up is not very different from some I've seen described for russeting iron pieces (though they use a much more aggressive medium since the goal is actually to induce rust).
  7. Kevin Jones

    Kevin Jones Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 28, 2006
    How do you protect from rust and corrosion forming?
    As above, it seems this process will also promote rust.

    Peter, mineral oil and such will deter cracking, however I don't think it will reverse it unless the handle was left submerged for a very long period of time.
  8. HTMD


    Feb 15, 2002
    When I first realized I'd been in denial about the risk to some of my knife handles, and that the problem had gotten completely out of hand, it made me kind of crazy for a few days. I'd lie in bed at night and imagine I could hear my ivory handles cracking!

    Here's one thing I hadn't contemplated until it actually happened: Imagine a beautiful folding knife with creamy ivory scales and perfect black-lip MOP escutcheons (one on either side) sitting inside it's fleece-lined "Bill's custom case" inside my safe. Now, imagine the ivory slowly shrinking over a period of 8-12 months, tightening around the non-shrinkable MOP. The MOP escutcheons begin to bulge and then one day they crack! Now imagine the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you go to the safe.... You get the picture. (May God bless the maker, who took pity on me and fixed everything, including a new stabilization treatment for the ivory!)

    Well, I'm a lot wiser now, and I think I've found a way to reverse some of the shrinkage I've experienced and go forward from there with an aggressive prevention routine.
  9. Geode


    May 12, 2001
    A most excellent thread, and timely too!

    Thanks, Buddy.
  10. Anjin


    Mar 30, 2007
    I am sure that many have noticed that in museums, it is common to see a small glass of water off to the side in many exhibits. Clearly it is to keep the humidity up.
  11. Michael Lovett

    Michael Lovett

    May 25, 2007
    very good thread! Thanks you so much for for taking the time and trouble to post it. I'm finishing up a beautiful NY Special tonight. (If these storms ever stop.) What worries me is that it is so damp right now. This could have a long term effect if going to a dry climate. Luckily it is going to the Islands.

    I will be sure to seal the scales with a good multiple coat of Renaissance Wax. It has always worked well for us.

    Once again, thank you for your post.

    Mike and Manuela Lovett
  12. gator68


    Oct 1, 2002
    Instead of putting the knife over a bucket of water, would a humidifier work? Or is this too aggressive?
  13. Jon Brand

    Jon Brand Gold Member Gold Member

    May 28, 2007
    How about your carbon blades? How do you keep them so that they can withstand the humidity? If its oil, do you leave the blades coated?
  14. Starkman1


    Feb 3, 2006
    Would you mind sharing your routine in detail? You mentioned applying bowlers wax. So, do you soak, then apply wax, and how often. Arkansas is a god awful humid place, but I keep my knives stored in a gun safe with a heating rod to minimize moisture as I also store guns.

    Mike Ruth had mentioned to me at a show that he treats his sheephorn with lanolin. Rational being that sheephorn is composed of the same proteins that is found in hide, hair and horn.....makes sense to me, but never tried it.

    Is it possible to over hydrate a material where it swells too much?

  15. HTMD


    Feb 15, 2002
    I'm thinking we should now move this discussion over the the 'sticky' knife collection maintenance thread: http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=534526
    Some of the questions raised may already have been addressed there or might be better asked and addressed there. I will collect the information here specifically having to do with rehydration and put it in that thread as a reply. Thanks!
  16. HTMD


    Feb 15, 2002
    Thread condensed and moved... Thanks everybody for your interest and participation.
  17. jayinhk


    Apr 25, 2006
    I thought about doing something like this today--after applying mineral oil to a balisong with rare Filipino stag inserts. The oil darkened the stag, and I'm hoping it goes back to the way it was as the oil seeps out! I didn't soak it, but I did apply it liberally.
  18. 2knife


    Mar 13, 2002
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2010
  19. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 6, 2000
    Handle materials don't naturally contain mineral oil, so why does everyone try to "rehydrate" with it? It darkens most material, and softens it.
    Rennaisance Wax is meant for items that won't be handled. It wears off quickly.
    Regular paste wax or neutral shoe polish work better, and are a lot less expensive.
  20. gormandu


    Mar 26, 2008
    Because it's cheap and universally available, and it won't rust your knife.
    If bone or stag darkens a bit, it doesn't bother me. I'd rather just reverse the shrinkage.

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