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?

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Niki May 24, 2011 at 6:46 AM

I knew as soon as I read the title as was going to laugh.

No, I would never mess with Babci. Her shiv collection is the envy of all the prisoners.


Sandy L May 24, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Niki – One of my friends got a shiv as a present. He still cherishes it.


101 Centavos May 24, 2011 at 7:38 AM

I must be channeling my inner Babci. I have a couple of machetes for yard work, and have been looking around for a good scythe.
And if I met up with Babci in a dark alley, I’d carefully back up to a safe distance.


Sandy L May 24, 2011 at 7:21 PM

101 – you must have a decent sized yard if you’re looking for those tools.


101 Centavos May 30, 2011 at 12:30 PM

The “farm” is a little under nine acres…. lots of tall pasture grass to practice on.


Nicole May 24, 2011 at 7:56 AM

Not going to mug her!


Linda May 24, 2011 at 10:07 AM

It’s stories like these that make the best reading. Funny, instructive, and sweet.

I’ve made my boyfriend nervous a few times when I’ve commented how I really need to learn how to sharpen knives and tools and tie knots. *gulp* But it’s true that no one really teaches you those things these days. I bought a set of hand files, but I just don’t think I’m sharpening my garden tools very well.

I covet a sickle. I really, really want one and may end up ordering one from Johnny’s before the summer is out. Then I’ll have another tool I’ll need to learn to sharpen.


Sandy L May 24, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Linda – same here. I sharpened some grass shears once and I swear they are duller now than they were before I started monkeying with them. I should have just given them to babci to sharpen for me. No doubt there is definitely a right and a wrong way to sharpen tools.


retirebyforty May 24, 2011 at 12:36 PM

WOW!!! I have two nice knives – a 6″ chef and a santoku. I would love a full set, but they are super expensive. I guess we’ll have to go to more garage sale. We don’t have a grind wheel, but we do have a knife sharpening stone. It’ll take forever to grind down a butter knife. 😉


Sandy L May 24, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Rb40 – my two biggest weaknesses are fancy knives and oriental rugs. I’ve been accumulating them both over the years. I don’t feel bad about it because they seem to last forever.


Money Reasons May 24, 2011 at 10:52 PM

I’ve never see such a griding stone, but my grandfather did have a stone that would fit on a drill that would do the job.

I bet that’s a sight to see, sparks and all… Thanks for sharing, Babci is a frugal goddess!


Sandy L May 30, 2011 at 7:37 AM

Money Reasons – you don’t have a bench grinder? That’s a basic tool in our home.


Moneycone May 25, 2011 at 8:25 AM

Babci is a secret MacGuyver fan!


Sandy L May 30, 2011 at 7:40 AM

Funny you say that because I have actually referred to her as the Polish McGuyver in some of my earlier posts.


Everyday Tips May 26, 2011 at 8:56 PM

I used to use a sickle growing up at our cottage, it was fun! (I am sure ours was more a Kmart sickle than a Babci special sickle.)

This is a great and fun post. I didn’t even know what a shiv was until I read it. I can just picture her at a garage sale, throwing down some pieces of Oneida in disgust.

Thanks for sharing!


Sandy L May 30, 2011 at 7:41 AM

Everyday Tips – I also didn’t know what a shiv was until my friends were accusing babci of having them. It’s okay to not be current on your prison slang.


Molly On Money May 26, 2011 at 9:17 PM

😆 😆 I can’t stop giggling! I think Michael was a little jealous!


Sandy L May 30, 2011 at 7:42 AM

Molly – Oh I totally picture Michael Making Garden tools out of old lawnmower blades or something.


Sandy @ yesiamcheap May 28, 2011 at 11:14 PM

I’m thinking that your husband’s friend hit it right on the nail. Babci is a serious bad ass! 🙂 My grandmother and actually, now that I think of it, my mom too has a machete in the house. In fact they both had them in the kitchen. Not sure what they’re using them for, but it’s like one of those things that every house had…kind of like pots and pans. A basic tool, I guess.


Sandy L May 30, 2011 at 7:44 AM

Sandy – I guess they aren’t as uncommon as one would think…or you are me.


Squirrelers June 1, 2011 at 12:40 AM

Admittedly, I didn’t know what a shiv was until reading this post. Now, I can totally see how teenage friends from back in the day must have thought Babci was tough as nails and not to be messed with!

I agree on knives being better in years gone by vs. today. Some older ones I’ve seen are of high quality and just more sturdy than ones made today. Of course, that could be said for some other things as well…


Methew Ely July 22, 2020 at 1:47 AM

Babci was very tough and not to be messed with haha. Very Interesting post.
Thanks for sharing!


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