Before refinishing your knife, it's worth knowing how it was finished in the first place. This context will allow you to make more informed decisions when redressing it in the future.
Your handle has gone through 6 finishing stages to reach a high quality, durable, high gloss finish. All of which are detailed below, including the products I use in each step.
I sand the handles to 600 grit to unlock the clarity in the wood grain, specifically in the highly figured timbers such as Snakewood. I also finish by sanding along the grain to ensure there are no horizontal scratches across the grain as a result of sanding on the lathe.
I use abrasive mesh to sand on the lathe as it doesn't clog as easily and works well for large batches due to it's long lasting properties.
After sanding, the wood is sealed using Cellulose Sanding Sealer to provide a hard wearing finish that acts as a base for the following layers of finish. In simple terms, sanding sealer is essentially a lacquer. But with properties that make it easier to sand between coats as it doesn't clog abrasives as easily. I do two layers of sealer on my knives and lightly sand with 600 grit sandpaper between coats.
I like using Chestnut Cellulose Sanding Sealer to do this. Their products are usually easy to find and their instructions are clear.
The sanding sealer leaves a reasonably good finish after 2 coats. Although I like to take it a step further by applying a coat of Friction Polish after sealing. This is applied on the lathe at a high speed and produces a beautiful high gloss finish that really makes the grain pop on certain highly figured timbers.
I use Chestnut Friction Polish to do this as it is incredibly easy to find and use.
Once the handle has been sealed and polished, the metal components are now ready to be buffed. I choose to do this after finishing the handle as it prevents metal dust from bedding itself into the open, unfinished grain of certain timbers. This causes an unsightly grey stain around the ferrule. To further protect against staining, and damage of the finish, I wrap the wooden components of the handle in Tesa Low Tack Masking Tape.
I use a satin mop to do this as it produces a flat looking finish that doesn't show dings or dents as easily. Perfect for a working tool!
The final step to finishing the knives is two coats of micro-crystalline wax. This provides a hard wearing finish that resists fingerprints and moisture. As an added benefit, it can be used on both the wood and metal parts of the knifes. This reduces the likelihood of the metal components tarnishing prematurely during transit, storage or use.
I use Axminster Microcrystalline Restoration Wax to do this as it comes in a large tin at a good price.
Before packaging, I put a small amount of machine wax into the slot of the knife and spread it around by inserting and removing the blade a few times, as well as screwing the grub screw in and out. This stops hard clumps of wax from forming within the slot.
This wax will stop the metal tarnishing and keeps everything running smoothly.
I use a small dab of Axminster Machine Wax to do this as it's something I use to protect my machines on a weekly basis.
Maintenance and Re-Finishing
At some point in the future, your knife is doing to eventually need refinishing. This is the sad truth of a tool that you are likely to use day in day out, have rolling around your bench, and god forbid drop on the floor from time to time!
Refinishing can be daunting as there is a risk you can completely botch it and make it worse than it was before! But with regaular maintenance, you should be able to keep it in a condition that prevents it from requiring a full blown refinish.
Fading of Timbers
Before we start, it's worth noting that the vibrant colours of some timbers such as Purpleheart and Paduak will fade over time due to UV exposure. Unfortunately, there is no finish that will prevent this from happening, they will only slow down the process.
The only method to prevent this is to keep the blade stored in a dark place when not in use and keep it out of direct sunlight. Doing this will keep the colour vibrant for a number of years before needing a refinish.
Read more on colour changes in wood here:
Maintenance of the Wooden Handle
The best method of re-finishing your knife is to avoid the whole process together! This means you have to keep it maintained regularly to prevent the finish excessively breaking down to the point it needs refinishing.
The easiest way to do this is to periodically top it up with Micro-Crystalline wax. This is easy to apply, doesn't require any special equipment, and can be used elsewhere around the workshop.
To do this, use a rag to scoop up some wax and generously apply it to the handle. Leave it to dry for 5-10 minutes and buff off the excess with a clean rag. Leaving it to harden for a few minutes before buffing it off will produce a glossier finish. If you buff it off immediately, it will be more of a satin shine.
I usually refinish my knives once every month or so. And I use them regularly. It doesn't take a lot of wax and only take a few seconds to apply and buff. Staying on top of the maintenance will save you a lot of effort later!
Maintenance of the Metal Components
It's highly likely that your ferrule will tarnish over time, particularly if you opted for copper. To bring this back to its original shine, I would recommend using Maroon Webrax or a Fine Garryflex Abrasive Rubber. These are the equivalent of 360 grit sandpaper and will easily cut through surface rust. Alternatively, 0000 wire wool works well.
Before doing this, it's worth taping off the handle with Tesa Low Tack masking tape to prevent metal dust from contaminating the grain. As shown in Step #4 above.
You can of course take this to a high gloss finish if you have the equipment available. But keep in mind that this will make scratches and dents more prominent.
After cleaning and polishing the ferrule, I recommend applying a coat or two of Micro-Crystalline Wax.
If your handle breaks down to the point of needing a complete re-finish, follow the steps below to strip off the finish. Then follow the instructions at the top of this article to get it back to its original condition.
Alternatively, you can send your knife back to me for a service and I will strip off the existing finish, re-apply the sealer, polish and wax, and clean up the metal too. You can purchase this service from my store.
To remove the exisiting finish, I recommend using Liberon Wax and Polish Remover. It's nasty smelling stuff but it cuts through the various finishes brilliantly. While not essential, it's recommended you use latex gloves while using this product.
Apply the solution to 0000 steel wool, and scrub away at the handle with medium pressure. You may need to do this 2 times to ensure everything has been removed. Then rub the handle down for a third and final time but apply the solution to a rag as opposed to the steel wool.
Finally, once the wax and polish remover has evaporated, wrap the ferrule in tape and sand the handle along the grain with 240 grit sandpaper. Take care around the thumb hold as you may round it off and loose the crisp edges. Then sand up the grits until you get to 600. This is a high as you need to go.
After sanding, you can follow the steps at the beginning of this article to get your handle back to its original condition. Or use another finish of your choice if you don't have the equipment available to follow my process exactly.
Products I Recommend:
This is a compilation of all the products I recommended in this article from sandpaper, to finishes, to solvents.