Restoring a Belknap John Primble 5371 Stockman
by H. Clay Aalders
(Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at The Truth About Knives. Used with permission of author)
It has been a while since I came into a big box of knives. I used some in sharpening tests because they were all excessively dull. There is an Old Hickory that I would like to try my hand at modding. Also included in the lot was a rough looking John Primble 5371 Stockman folder.
A couple of weeks back I shared a post from the Art of Manliness that outlined how to restore a vintage pocketknife. Seemed like an obvious opportunity to actually demonstrate this myself.
The first thing The Art of Manliness (AoM) said to do was to get to know your knife. I was not familiar with Primble knives, but was able to find out a bit about the company. The Belknap Hardware company of Maysville, Kentucky used the John Primble moniker on many of their knives. The name John Primble goes back further, to the John Primble India Steel Works, which was stamped on Belknap knives from 1890-1940.
“All of Belknap’s trademarks are treasured by lovers of old knives and tools. The one most prefer, myself included, is the John Primble India Steel Works, which is probably the oldest, dating around 1890 to 1940. They were made with a high quality steel imported from India. I have owned several of these through the years and I can say they were all quality top of the line knives. Rumor has it the name John Primble was borrowed from one of their top salesmen; hence the stamping John Primble India Steel Works. These early knives showed the best in workmanship, fit, tolerances, finish and steel. The quality was top notch. While their knives were manufactured on contract by other cutlery companies, it was to Belknap’s high standards and specifications, and the main pasterns have provided a good variety for collectors.”
My knife comes from the next era, from 1940-1968. These knives were often sourced from American makers such as Camillus, Shrade, and Case. During this time, they stamped the main blade with “John Primble Belknap HDW. & MFG. Co.” My blade has this stamp, which means that my knife is at a minimum almost 50 years old. There is also a badge on the scale and it is my hope that with enough digging I can narrow the date range or source as these badges changed over time as well.
Belknap Company closed its doors in 1985. The John Primble name lives on however. It was purchased by the Blue Grass Cutlery Corporation and Primble knives are still made (in the USA) today.
Moving onto actually cleaning/restoring the knife, AoM suggests using Hoppes No. 9 cleaner, sandpaper, a wire brush, and polish. I varied this a bit both because I don’t use Hoppes (anymore) and I had my Tormek machine that I could use to polish and buff the blades.
I started by spraying penetrating oil in the mechanism and letting it sit throughout the rest of the process. I then began to sand the corrosion with 400 grit sandpaper and Froglube. For the hard-to-reach places inside the knife or along the plunge lines, I wrapped the sandpaper around a popsicle stick and used quite a few narrow cotton gun-cleaning swabs. I skipped the wire brush since I didn’t want to scratch the celluloid scales.
As I have described before, Froglube is great stuff, and it didn’t disappoint in this application. The knife cleaned up fairly easily with a bit of elbow grease.
Before moving on to polishing, I needed to remove a small chip in the pen blade. There was a small chip near the tip, but I used the stone wheel of the Tormek to free-hand grind the blade. The reshaping is hardly noticeable. Mission accomplished.
Finally, I set about polishing and cleaning the knife.
Polishing the blades and bolsters was easy with a little honing compound and the Tormek’s leather stropping wheel. It restored the blades to a mirror finish. They still show some marks, but the knife is 50 years old. At this point they are “character”.
Finally, a quick session with the Sharpmaker to sharpen and set the edges, and the knife was good to go.
It isn’t the first time I have done something like this, but it is one of the better results. I will be keeping my eye out for more old knives like this when my wife and I go antique browsing. Most old knives I find are overpriced, but from time to time you can find a diamond in the rough. It is better than looking at furniture anyway.
In the end I have a really cool vintage folder that has both family history and an historic pedigree. I carried it in the sporran of my kilt the other night because frankly my sgain dubh is decorative and not a functional blade at all. (I am having Will Woods design and make me a new one that will be both functional and bad-ass, but that will be another post for another day).
Have you ever tried to do something similar? How did it turn out?