Frugal Knives: Babci Loves Shivs

by Sandy L on May 24, 2011

Yesterday, my husband reminded me that I should write about one of his favorite topics, Babci’s Shiv collection.   Back when we were still dating, my husband and a few of our friends liked to make up stories about babci’s past based on their observations about her and her surroundings.  For example, they were convinced she was some Polish Mafia boss in a past life.  They claimed that her lost finger wasn’t due to a factory accident but payment for some deal gone wrong.   The justification? She makes shivs out of butter knives.  She uses the bench grinder in her basement to sharpen them like some sinister cartoon character.

Br'er Fox Image Courtesy of

Knife Shopping: Know your Steel

As most of the regular readers know, Babci grew up on a farm during WW2 with no running water, or electricity.   It should be no surprise then to know she didn’t have access to a tractor either. Instead, if you wanted to make hay, you used a sickle or skythe.  If you don’t know what a skythe is, it’s that thing the grim reaper carries around. Of course, babci owning these things was further proof to my gang of cuckoo friends that babci was a bad ass with a checkered past. Why? Because most people don’t have machetes and sickle’s in their garden shed.

Anyway, back in the old country, when you needed to get a new skythe, you had to know if you were getting a good one or if someone was trying to pass off some cheap Russian steel on you.  Someone in Babci’s family taught her how to differentiate good steel from bad steel without the use of any fancy analysis equipment.

Very simply, if you’re trying to find good steel, it has a different sound that bad steel.  Good Steel has a characteristic ring to it when hit against a hard surface.  Babci’s ideal surface is a rock but any hard surface will do.  Bad Steel and or aluminum and lead have a much duller flatter sound. There is no ringing to it.

When I go yard saling with Babci, I’m sure people think she’s nuts when she goes around banging butter knives on pots and pans and then holding them up to her ear to listen to them. It used to be a little embarrassing, but now I only get embarrassed when she throws them down and says “JUNK.”  That’s totally uncalled for, especially if someone’s just trying to get rid of their extra flatware set for 10c each.

Frugal Knives: Making a Shiv

Although Babci loves to cook and loves a good sharp knife, there’s no way she’d ever fork out $100 on a Henckel or Wusthof knife (although I have and love them).  Instead she takes her “good steel” butter knives that she’s rummaged through and found at yard sales and sharpens them to a point on her bench grinder…..much like Br’er fox but without the sinister grin.

Babci's Shiv Collection

So, here’s yet another example of how my mom’s old world knowledge and ingenuity has allowed her to have her cake and eat it too. She has some very sharp knives to use in the kitchen that cost her under $1 to make.  She’s had some of these knives for as long as I can remember and they’re still going strong.  Unfortunately, these days most of the flatware out there is cheap crap, so usually you’ll only find the good stuff at estate sales but it’s still out there.

Is Babci not the frugal extremist goddess of the world?  If you ran into Babci in a dark alley, would you be stupid enough to try and mug her?

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