Chicago Cutlery – Restored.

A set of handles standing upright within a grubby box of kitchen implements caught my eye while poking about a garage sale one day.

knives03

Some of the knives were scattered at the bottom of the box; and everything, including the block, was covered in a generous layer of old grease.  But it was indeed a set of Chicago Cutlery.  Many of the blades were poorly cared for, and some showed signs of active misuse.

But hell, they were One American Dollar™ for the whole set!  I scampered off with them and headed over to the local hardware store.  I don’t know a hell of a lot about knives, but I’ve always wanted to learn more; this seemed like a great opportunity.

The guy at the hardware store was impressed.  He pointed out that the rivets on the knives were brass.  “They stopped making these outta brass in like 1983,” he confided, “so these are great knives, from back when they just sold to butchers.”

I’m not sure he’s right about the latter factoid, but I like the sound of the brass rivets part.  And the timeline matches up well with the style of the logo:

Chicago Cutlery Logo

Honestly, how much more 1980 can you get? I can practically hear Steely Dan playing in the background.

That typeface? The woodburn? It doesn’t take a lot of graphic design research to smell 1979 on that one.

I left the hardware store with the assurance that I had indeed found a badass set of knives, and a bagful of new tools:

  • some steel wool (#00 grade)
  • lemon oil, to restore the handles
  • a whetstone
  • honing solution, to put on the whetstone
  • mineral oil, to restore and polish the blades.

Add to that some fine sandpaper of my own that I already had (220 grit, I think), and I was off to Elbow Grease Alley to sharpen up my new set of knives.

3 hours later:

knives02 knives01The wood turned out really nicely and feels solid in your hand.  And the knives are, for the most part, absolutely deadly sharp.  They cut tomatoes in razor thin slices.

Chicago Cutlery 61S photo

The 61S, kicking ass during my lunch today.

I’d love to learn more about these knives and how to use them.

  • What specific cut is each knife designed for?  What do the designations (61S and so forth) mean?
  • As y’all can see from the photo above, Knife 62S (the second from the bottom in the top photo) is blunted.  The tip was bent when I bought it, and it snapped off while I was trying to straighten it.  It is by far the dullest of the knives, virtually unusable.  I’m just starting to learn how to sharpen knives properly, and I haven’t been able to get this one sharp at all.  It’s beyond my capabilities at this point.  Any suggestions?
  • I’ve done absolutely zero research on Chicago Cutlery as a brand, but it would be fun to do a little logo research; figure out what typeface that is, where it came from, who designed it, etc.

The whole project took about 4 hours (trip to the hardware store included), and, hopefully, will lead to some more interesting learning about cooking, brand design, etc.  I’m looking forward to seeing what opens up.

28 thoughts on “Chicago Cutlery – Restored.

  1. I am looking for the old style 2″ thin blade paring knife. I had one that I purchased probably 35-40 years ago and I have lost it. The model might be 104S. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  2. Thanks for writing, Karen. I’m not sure where to learn more about these blades. Web searches don’t turn up a whole lot, and asking around locally has turned up blanks as well. My next stop is going to be a specialty kitchen store in Chicago that I know of called The Chopping Block. I know they teach classes in knife skills there; if they cannot identify the knives specifically, at least I’ll learn what each is good for.
    Best of luck! If you find anything, let me know.

  3. They look beautiful. I love the old Chicago Cutlery walnut handled knives. I am a chef and I actively use 2 of them, the 61s and the 66s are in my knife bag and go everywhere with me they are half my knife set. I had nearly collected all of the model numbers, I find them at Goodwill and Salvation Army for less than a dollar apiece. I gave a young cook several so he has a set now. I want to restore my handles like yours. I was told how to sharpen the old CC knives, apparently they are pure stainless steel. The best edge for them is to use a very coarse stone, even as low as 200-400 grit. A fine polished edge makes them lose their “bite” due to the steel type. Mine are razor sharp. I really wish there was more info too about them. I have more modern knives also, but these are my favorite. Lol I was born in 1980, yes that block and typeface looks like something that would be in our house when I was a kid and dad would definitely have Steely Dan on the Panasonic woodgrain turntable. Man I miss those days. Thanks for the article great knives and nostalgia.

    • Thanks for posting, John! That tip regarding the coarse whetstone and the type of steel is a good one; I’ve noticed that using the sharpening steel doesn’t really seem to have too much of an effect on the cut. A careful pass over the whetstone would probably be much more effective. How often do you sharpen your knives? Is it something you do every time you use them, or more infrequently?

      • Hi John, I don’t often sharpen my two Chicago Cutlery that I carry, they are special use only knives for me. All I ever cut with the 66s is cooked meat like a large beef or pork for a banquet, and I use it to skin Salmon fillets. These tasks don’t really dull the blades much. I rarely use the 61s at my current job, I keep it as a poultry breakdown knife. I don’t often have whole chickens at work but I keep it with me in case. I do most work with a Victorinox 10″ chef. I would love to use the 44s chef but my example was in real bad shape, I gave it to the young cook and its a great first knife. For your set, go get a good coarse stone, anything 1k or down. You can use the steel later on, but that rougher edge really makes these CC knives perform. I actually got around to polishing my walnut handles today and they look fantastic. I also contacted Chicago Cutlery about getting an old catalogue with all of these “S” series knives in them. I really would like to have all of them, there was a 13″ slicer I’ve seen and don’t know the model #, and a few others. Apparently the era of them we are collecting was marketed only to commercial shops and the like, they were pro tools. The 61s is a boning knife, the 66s a slicer, 44s a chef knife, I have a 10″ scimitar 45s that is a ” breaking” knife for butchers to break down whole carcasses ( it is badass) , and the 75s which I don’t have and really want was an 8″ bullnose butcher knife. I have also a fillet knife at home in a drawer but forget the model number. I hope to collect them all. Thanks for the tips on restoring the handles and let me know about the stone sharpening.

        John

        • Great idea contacting Chicago Cutlery! Dude, if you get that catalog, we should do some scans and put some of the pages up online. I’ll append them to this page as a reference for whoever else wants them.

          I’m definitely going to get a small coarse stone like you suggest and use it instead of the steel. When those blades are on there is nothing like them.

          You know what I would love to get my hands on? A set of Chicago Cutlery steak knives – table knives – from that era. Hopefully you’ll get that catalog and we can see the whole line!

          Cheers!

          • Hello John, I’ve not had any luck with the catalogue yet. I did contact them, but they only sent me the model numbers of their newer walnut handled line. I will keep looking though. They did however produce steak knives, and I do find them at the thrift stores also. I’ve been too busy working to go lately, but I will pick them up next time I see them and hold onto them for you. No worries they cost practically nothing. I was just leaving them in the bins because I don’t need them.About the steel, do use the steel to hone the knives. However, do so after you put them on the coarse stone. The steel won’t sharpen a knife, it instead . straightened the microscopic edge after use. Only use a smooth steel also, serrated ones damage an edge. With a good edge, you don’t need to use the stone but rarely, just touch up with the steel when you notice it getting dull. Just very lightly also and Presto, it’s razor sharp again. I love the old 66s, it literally butchers all the meat that gets cut at our entire hotel. It was like .80 cents and anybody I let use it must think I paid hundreds for it, I’m like wash this and bring it right back lol. I think the old thing is grateful to be useful again and does an extra good job. I’d’ve love to pack the 45s with me but it’s overkill for work and doesn’t fit my knife bag, it is a badass blade though. It’s funny I brought these big old CC blades to work and everybody picks them up admiring them…

  4. Wow – it’d be a fantastic thing to have some of those steak knives. If you see them in thrift stores, please pick them up for me! I’ll gladly cover all the costs, shipping, etc.
    I’ll do some poking about to see if I can find something on Chicago Cutlery’s old catalog. I’m just outside of Chicago (Evanston); maybe some exploration of the Near West Side, with the meat packing district and all its restaurants, will yield some new information.

    • I found a set of 6 vintage steak knives 103s for about $30 plus shipping on ebay, and right after that, I found 4 brand new in boxes still 103s steak knives for $25 plus shipping! Just received both sets today! I am so excited! As I had a great set back in the late 70s only to lose them when we had young children that thought they were tools! Our daughter showed me the 2 last steak knives we gave her from that set when she left home, still sharp as ever! Loved them so much and no rust when used in dishwasher! So asked for ebay gift certificate to get them. Tonight I ordered a large set of vintage CC in a block for misc carving and sharpening! Yay!!!

  5. I just got a 5 piece for Christmas. This was my grandfathers set from when he owned his grocery store. More than likely he used them in the meat market section of the Red Owl he owned. Thank you for your information. Now I know what I on the hunt for…

  6. I have been a collector of Chicago Cutlery since 1980. In my collection that totals 56 individual pieces I have 3 knives that almost the same size as the 103S steak knife. On the handle is of course the Name, however no model number. It is a little shorter than the 103s which is 8 7/16 long. The length of the unmarked knife is 8 7/8.I acquired these in about 1984. These are all original and not knock-offs! Maybe someone has the model name or number? I don’t think you can call it a steak or even a Slicer. Maybe a utility? Regards from Lakewood, California 8 miles from Disneyland.

  7. Hi John, found a Chicago Cutlery knife with the serial # of 72-2. Seems to be old. Any idea as to how old based on the serial #. The knife is now super sharp and a pleasure to use.

  8. Thank you for this blog about CC knives, John.
    Given that there is no place to find the information, it would be really wonderful if “CC Collector” would post a list of model numbers and descriptions of his 56 piece collection. After a day of searching, I have a list of only about 25 knives and forks.
    Then there are curiosities such as the Rosewood handled CC Wine and Cheese set with wooden cheese board that I ran across today. Where does that fit in the history of CC – do you know, “CC Collector”?

  9. About ten years ago I inherited four CC knives from my mother. Dad had bought them for her probably in the 70s to replace the junk she had been using. Dad kept them sharp, but he had been gone for about eight year, so they weren’t in great shape. We really didn’t use them.
    About two years ago I bought a set of Wusthof Ikons, really good quality knives, at least in my book. I keep them sharp, and bought a 14 degree Wsuthof diamond sharpener to make it easy.
    I decided to give the old CCs a try, on the 14* machine. I really figured it was too narrow an edge, but we weren’t using them anyway. Well, we do now! For whatever reason, the 100S doesn’t seem to hold an edge like the others, but the 8″ chef’s knife get a lot of use, and do the 42S and 61S. They hold an edge as well as the Wusthofs, and are just as sharp. Since dad used a pretty flat edge, they weren’t even to hard to bring down to 14*
    One note from what I read above: I disagree about using a sub-1000 grit stone. I go all the way, then strop on (of all things) newspaper! I treat the handles with mineral oil from time to time, and my wife washes them both by hand and in the dish washer (can’t break her of that.) I may start collecting these. They are cheap, and really good quality.

  10. I just came across you posting today. Love it. You did such a Great Job on the set. Wow they are nice. I have one 107S that I love. Trying to fine some more older one. The old sets are stronger and much better. I read they were made in the USA then. Good luck with you set and enjoy using them. You found some GEMS……

  11. In 1972 my wife and I were in a hardware store and kitchen knives caught my eye. We had been married only two years then and did not have any decent cutlery and the Chicago Knives looked pretty decent so we bought a 66S to try the brand at home. It cut so much better than the hand-me-downs we had and my wife mentioned to her mother we were thinking about buying a block set with the steel and five knives. Her mother reminded my wife that my wife’s uncle worked for Chicago Cutlery and that she would talk to him. A week later that set showed up at our house as a gift from her uncle. It’s the same as the set you pictured above but the fillet knife (2nd from the bottom) is not part of the set and we don’t have the fillet but we do have a 2nd 66S because of the one we bought at the hardware store. The knives long ago lost their sharpness and I tried unsuccessfully to sharpen them on flat stones about twenty-five years ago. Six years ago I took them to a handyman who advertised sharpening services but the knives didn’t come back any sharper. Mind you, I had never stopped using these knives in the 45 years we have had them but I needed an old serrated knife if I wanted to cut a tomato. Just last month I started researching sharpening systems for dummies and purchased the Wicked Edge sharpening system. It was expensive, but now I have knives that easily shaves the hair off my arm. I could not believe how the 44S (10″ Chef Knife) sliced through meat or cut tomatoes so thinly as never before. I reprofiled the long gone bevel to a modern 14.5 degrees on each side. I’m thinking the knives originally came with a 20 to 22 degree bevel, but like I said, there was no evidence of a bevel left. Now the knives cut better than they were meant to.

    • Wow – impressive. Thanks for the tip TS! And thank you for sharing that slice-of-life story. I, too, dig the connection to Chicago stories these knives have. It’s fun to hear yours.

  12. I just noticed you have the 42S which is an 8″ chef knife and my chef knife is a 44S, 10″ chef knife. Your other knives are the 100S 3″ paring knife, 61S 6″ utility knife, 66S 8″ slicer/carver and the 65S 7″ boning knife. Your remaining knife is a fillet knife (not sure of the number). Chicago Cutlery was the most common brand used by the butchers at the Chicago Stockyards and by the butchers in the meat stores in Chicago during the first half of the 20th century.

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