Instructables

Pocket Knife Maintenance: Cleaning and Lubricating

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Picture of Pocket Knife Maintenance: Cleaning and Lubricating
You've probably heard the old adage "a dull knife is a dangerous knife." I'd like to introduce a new adage: "a dirty knife is a dangerous knife." While the internals of a pocket knife are not overly complicated, the function of the knife can impeded by pocket lint, especially around the pivot and locking areas. In the case of the pivot, the knife may to slower or more difficult to open, and buildup in the area of the lock may prevent the knife from locking open or closed, which could lead to serious injury. Prolonged usage and exposure to gritty materials or salt water can even lead to permanent damage to the knife.

For these reasons, it's a good idea to perform regular maintenance on your pocket knives. I like to clean and lubricate mine once a month or so. This is also a great time to inspect your knife for other potential problems like corrosion on the blade or internal components, as well as checking for loose screws.
 
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Step 1: Cleaning

Picture of Cleaning
As mentioned above, you'll want to focus on the pivot of the knife and the locking surfaces.

If you've just got some light pocket lint, you can usually use a toothpick, screwdriver, or other probe to remove it.

If you've got sand and grit, you'll likely want to use warm, soapy water and wash the knife with a bristle brush (I like to use an old toothbrush). If you do go this route, go ahead and brush down the entire knife including the blade and the handle scales. Often, this is all it takes to restore your handle scales to their original luster. Don't be afraid to get the internals wet or soapy, remember that's the most important area to clean. Just make sure to rinse well.

If the knife has an excess of sticky or grimy buildup that won't come out with either of these methods, try placing the knife in a bowl of warm water, which should help loosen the grime. A comment below from Instructable user Denger mentions that one should be careful or avoid using this method on knives using natural materials such as wood, abalone, or mother-of-pearl, and that even synthetic handles may be damaged if left for too long in water at or close to boiling temperatures. Then try the probing method, followed by the wash method. This should take care of even the toughest residue.

If your knife is still gritty or difficult to open, you may need to disassemble the knife for a more thorough cleaning, which we won't cover in this article. You will likely need specialty tools and the process will vary widely depending on what knife you're working on. Many knife manufacturers will also tell you that disassembling your knife will void your warranty.

If you have used either of the wet methods for cleaning your knife, be sure to wipe up any excess water and allow the knife to air-dry for at least 15 minutes before moving on to lubrication. Even if your knife uses stainless steel, it may still be subject to corrosion.
Well done, you were featured on LifeHacker!
Denger1 year ago
Good 'structable. One note of caution: unless the knife in question is of all-metal construction I would NEVER recommend using boiling (or near boiling) hot water to soak or clean it, no matter how dirty it is. Many knife handles made from synthetic materials will be irreparably damaged by doing so, as will handles made from wood or other organic materials, such as abalone or mother-of pearl.

I've found a moist cotton swab often performs better at removing debris and lint build-up from the knife's channel and crevices than do toothpicks, screwdriver blades, etc. and cotton swabs cause little to no scratching.
kennethsime (author)  Denger1 year ago
Good note on the cotton swab. Especially useful for collector's pieces. My knives are 64 RC so a screwdriver isn't going to scratch anything. :p

I've done some more reading, and edited the note about boiling water. I've used it successfully before without melting polymer handles, in particular Victorinox Swiss Army Knives and Spyderco FRN handles. I think I actually got the suggestion from a Victorinox manual or FAQ page, but the closest I can find now is to place your SAK into a pot of warm water. This is what I've edited it to, with a note about natural materials (and credit to yourself, hope that's ok). I really appreciate the helpful criticism.
jelte12347 months ago

Something that also works to keep a blade from rusting is to use it to slice some dried sausage. it will apply a thin layer of food-safe (duh) fat onto the blade, that will keep it from rusting.

(note: If you leave it for years I cannot guarantee it will not go bad, but I believe it won't)

jelte12347 months ago

Ballistol works great too!

it's disinfectant, (you could use it inside a wound), it's good for your skin, great for wood, keeps metal from rusting, and lubes as well. it's also great as gun oil, and I personally like the smell.

sirbill1 year ago
my EXPERIENCE : use Coconut Oil. It is A wonderful LUBRICATOR! I have found that it works well with EVERYTHING ! I am as serious as a Heart~Attack.!
I've heard great things about coconut oil.
Mattseo11 months ago
Thanks for this. After cleaning I usually try to apply a thin coating of oil to the blade to avoid any future corrosion. Not too much mind. Different knife steels will obviously react differently to corrosion and as you'd expect the more expensive ones resist it better. Here's a good guide I found on the different types of knife steel. I also find the folding knives with open designs are the easiest to clean - i.e. where water can tun through the inner skeleton of the knife.

Anyhow, very nice informative guide so thank you.
Anyone who uses/carries a knife on a regular basis should know (or go now and learn) how to disassemble, clean, and maintain it, if physically possible. All of my Gerbers can be completely taken down; +1 for them. One of my $10 knockoffs is probably the smoothest opening folder I've ever used....absolutely fantastic. I have yet to see anyone who "lubricates" the blade itself...it seems rather pointless unless you're storing it/etc.

(I love it when ignorant people say "a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one" so I can call them out on not knowing beans about what "sharp" really is.)
kennethsime (author)  explosivemaker1 year ago
The downside to taking apart your knives, especially with less expensive ones, is that should you lose or damage a piece (let's say a T6 torx screw) you may or may not be able to replace it readily. With the higher-end production knives like Spyderco, Kershaw, Benchmade, you can bet that he manufacturer has you covered in terms of spare parts, although your warranty will usually be void when you disassemble the knife. On top of this, you can usually get your knife clean without disassembling it, and if that's true, then why bother going through the effort and risk?

With high-carbon knives made in CPM M-4 High Speed Tool Steel, Hitachi's Aogami Super Blue, 1095 High Carbon, or even the Opinel carbon steel blades, it's a good idea to coat the blade in a protective moisture barrier to prevent rust. TuffCloth is a good solution, it comes packaged as a soaked cloth you wipe the blade down with. Alternatively, some people will force a premature patina on the blades, to prevent a more serious, corrosive rust forming. I would do some research before trying this though.

I would argue that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one, at least in the kitchen. With a dull knife you're more likely to be using more force in a less controlled manner which means you're more likely to lose control of the blade. A sharp knife will cut through your material (let's say onion) with ease, allowing very light strokes, and if you do happen to slip there won't be as much force behind it.

The other side is that sharp knives tend to leave smaller, deeper cuts which are cleaner, and heal more quickly than large jagged tears. There are of course many variables at work, but I would stand by "a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one."

In either case, thanks for your comments! It's always fun to talk knives.
So far I have yet to lose any parts after multiple times....but finding out how it's supposed to fit back together is half the fun. You can't really get the dirt that gets around and in between the spacers until you take it apart. Also helps to lubricate them directly before putting it back together.

Apparently Gerber will send replacement pieces as long as they are not from the "inside".


As far as "dull" knives, I would consider that to be something on par with a butter knife. One that will not cut at all for most intents and purposes (jump to moron trying to cut bread with a door stop). IE. it should never get to that point...and isn't going to hurt you unless you stab yourself in the eye . Most people that cut themselves are either not watching their fingers, are using flat out terrible technique, or are using too much force because they haven't properly sharpened it or had it sharpened. As someone who has cut himself more times than he can remember, I can say that an injury from a truly sharp knife can heal faster, but it can also end up being worse depending on how it happens.

Is there a group for knife discussion yet?

RANDOM KNIFE IMAGE!
WAAAAAAAAY EXPENSIVE (but oooh it's so good)
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kennethsime (author)  explosivemaker1 year ago
I used to lubricate all aspects of my Stretch2 when I disassembled it, including the phosphor bronze washers, and it was pretty smooth. But the downside was that even after wiping up all the excess I could, I ended up attracting far more grit and lint than before, so had to disassemble it more frequently. Now I don't bother disassembling it 99% of the time, just add a drop or two of lubricant every month or so; I'm pretty happy with the results.

I'm fairly careful, and I've been working on/with this particular knife for about two years, but I ended up stripping out two clip screws and one body screw over that time period. In fact it's currently sitting with two clip screws instead of three because I took the clip off to polish it recently and dropped one onto the carpet. Lucky for me, Spyderco sells replacement parts; I've ordered two clip/screw sets and one full parts kit so far. I must congratulate you if you've managed not to lose anything from your many knives after disassembling them so frequently.

We have slightly different ideas of what constitutes a dull knife, for me it's when the knife won't cut lightweight paper (such as phone book paper) without tearing. But I'm a little OCD, and have access to a professional knife sharpener who likes me.
Hmmm. I try to make sure they don't get too dusty; limit the breakdowns for when I can feel or hear a difference with the blade movement. Most do pretty well with opening except when they get a bit loose (playing with them too much). But when you get it to just the right spot....mmmmm.


Touching up with paper wheel?
kennethsime (author)  explosivemaker1 year ago
I know the sweet spot! I adjust my pivot more than I ought to to keep it just perfect. I hear loctite helps, but I haven't used that on anything but clip screws.

The guy who sharpens for me uses a number of things, but I think mostly he sharpens on slack sanding belts and finishes on ceramic for a nice toothy edge. I'll touch 'em up in the mean time with a Spyderco Sharpmaker.
criggie1 year ago
Semi-related question.... I have an ancient folding knife which was my grandads, and the hinge pin has worn and snapped with age.

I've punched out the old pieces and they're too far gone. What should I use as a new pin? Any other suggestions?
kennethsime (author)  criggie1 year ago
Hi criggie,

My experience with restoration, and in old-timer style pocket knives in general is pretty limited. I know that it takes a lot more precision to pin/rivet a knife together than it does to screw it together.

I would suggest reading up on BladeForums or asking a custom knife maker for advice. As far as a new pin, you should be able to pick one up from one of the knife making supplies websites, such as texasknife.com or knifemaking.com
My Lube of choice is Ballistol. Germany's wonder oil!
kennethsime (author)  hornbadoing1 year ago
I've heard some really good things about Ballistol, but haven't gotten ahold of it myself.
I already know all this but i just had to check it out. I've been bitten by the steel bug lol.
Samw1 year ago
Nice spydercos you have there. Have you ever used graphite as a lubricant? I tried it out on my Lonewolf Defender which sports the Paul Pohlman lock (patent recently purchased by Benchmade and now called an Axial lock). The Pohlman lock is a closed button locking system and so whenever I put a liquid/grease lubricant it usually makes a mess on my clothes while carrying or doesn't fully penetrate the lock.
With graphite I found that at first it feels like you've done something terribly wrong and it grinds in the lock, but after the powder has broken down it is quite smooth. I'd suggest using graphite if you have a gentleman's pocket knife and want to keep the suit grease free.
kennethsime (author)  Samw1 year ago
I haven't used graphite, but heard some people really like it. Maybe the few negative comments I've heard were from people who didn't try it long enough, or used a low-quality graphite. I didn't list it above because I've never used it, but it's a great way to go by most accounts.

The Paul knives are gorgeous, congratulations on it. I've handled a couple and the locks are super easy to use once you get used to it, makes a lot of sense. I don't know if Benchmade will ever start using the design, I've heard their tolerances weren't tight enough to reproduce it successfully on a commercial scale, explaining why we haven't seen them put one out yet. One can hope!
LoneWolf actually had the locks made in the town next over from me (Canada). Benchmade tried making the Paul lock but I think they used an overseas manufacturer and weren't having great success. You can find a couple of them around and even a few LoneWolf ones too.
kennethsime (author)  Samw1 year ago
Yea a lot of the other LoneWolfs are made overseas now. Their few US-made knives are still pretty nice!
Nice ible, but personally i would add 2 steps, 'cleaning' the blade with oil, doesn't really matter much what oil (tho i wouldn't use cooking oil since i dont rate that much of a quality oil) and actually pulling the thing apart to clean it.

The reason i buff mine with a bit of oil is that dirt will have a harder time sticking for the first few uses, and if u just store it, it will be somewhat protected against moisture, even stainless steel doesn't like water.

And in my experience its not much use cleaning it if you leave the stuff between the parts of the handle, it'll just dirty up in a few uses again. Looks like you can take yours apart too (as with most modern 'hunter style' pocketknifes)

And finally, maybe consider making a "Pocket Knife Maintenance: Sharpening" ible, possibly including sharpening non-standard type blades (with teeth, hooks, etc) :)

Despite my comments, great ible!
kennethsime (author)  suicidal.banana1 year ago
Hi SB, thanks for the comments! I won't shy away from constructive criticism and appreciate you speaking up.

I do take my Spydercos apart periodically (when I feel I need to), but decided it would be best not to try to tackle that in this article, for a few reasons:
- Most knife manufacturers will tell you that taking apart your knife will void your warranty.
- It takes a bit more skill to successfully strip down and reassemble a pocket knife.
Covering everything from Spyderco lockbacks to Benchmade Axis locks and everything in between, especially when you consider assisted-opening folders and autos, is a much more daunting task.
- The chances of damaging your knife (especially stripping a torx screw) increase dramatically, and not all knife companies will offer you replacement parts. Some in fact (Smith & Wesson, United, Frost Cutlery, other real cheapies) are never intended to be taken apart, or even sharpened, but instead sold at a price point that they're really intended as disposable knives. My Stretch (larger Spyderco pictured) recently got a whole new set of torx screws, D bolts, washers, and a clip, because Spyderco understands that many of their customers take their knives apart and want us to be able to put them back together again when we mess up. But this is not a luxury ever knife maker offers.
- While sometimes our first instinct is to take stuff apart and mess around with it, when it comes to higher-quality pocket knives, often there's no need to. Cleaning while still assembled will work for most people most of the time.
- I would like to do this, but it will be a separate article.

Buffing down the blade, especially if you intend to store the knife long-term, or if it's a high-carbon steel, is definitely a good idea. I would like to do a sharpening article (or articles). I may have to get a bit more experience with serrations, hawkbills, or recurve blades first. Gonna pick up a new Spydie next week, this one should give me some good practice.
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rgmarti1 year ago
Did you know that WD-40 has been approved safe for food prep equipment by the FDA?
oops sorry that was USDA
We have a pressure washing cabinet at work that I use to clean my knives. Works great! I then re-lube with Tri-Flow.
nickso1 year ago
Goof info, if you want another suggestion for a great lubricant look up Tuf-Glide from Sentry Solutions. Best lube I have ever found for knives and pistols/rifles. Goes on wet so it can get in all areas, but then it dries and a dry lubricant/rust preventer is left behind.
kennethsime (author)  nickso1 year ago
Tuf-Glide is great, I actually linked it in the post (and pictured, lol). Thanks for the comment!
8steve881 year ago
I agree with you entirely but go about the cleaning process in a slightly different way.
Contact cleaner sold in spray cans cleans and lubricates electrical contacts but is good for cleaning the "bits" out of a folding knife, I'm not so keen on the soapy water route.
A drying off with an "Air Duster" spray, the type sold for cleaning out dusty and dirty computers is the next step for me followed by a couple of drops of the product you mentioned, Sentry Solutions Tuff-Glide to the pivot.
On knives with an Axis type lock, Benchmade mostly but there are some very good cheap Chinese knives that borrow the Axis lock as well, these have the rounded blade "tang" in contact with the lock pin as the blade opens and closes and I find that Sentry Solutions Hi-Slip grease works well to reduce the friction and make opening and closing easier. Another grease that works amazingly well is the nasty black grease with Molybdenum Disulphide, Carlube Moly Grease in the U.K. it works if anything slightly better than the Hi-Slip grease and it's £4.50 for 500g a lot cheaper than Hi-Slip.
The downside to using grease is that it picks up dust and lint but I find that if you work it well in then wipe most of it off then it's not too bad.
One point I must raise is that I don't lube a knife until it has fully bedded in and become smooth, if you lube a new knife too much it will never wear in completely.
It's also a good idea to fully strip down your knife occasionally if possible. If you are a bit wary of doing so there are stacks of videos on YouTube showing you how to do it. The only ones that I'd not strip down are the fully automatic knives that fire out the front and retract on a button press or slide. These would probably be best shipped to the factory for a service if needed.
I collect and use knives so naturally there are some that go into storage and are rotated out into use as and when needed. Before storing I give the blades and scales a cleaning and protecting with one of the most amazing products that I've come across - Renaissance Wax or RenWax is widely available, Amazon, Ebay etc. It was created by a team of renovators and conservators working at the British Museum, if you google it or look it up on Wiki then you'll want some. It's ideal for wood and leather, steel - Stainless or carbon all the stuff that you need to protect on a fixed or folding knive. It leaves a microscopic coating that protects but it can be removed with white spirit if needed.
kennethsime (author)  8steve881 year ago
I Steve, thanks for the detailed comment! I appreciate the extra lube suggestions, and especially the notes about breaking knives in before you lube them up, and the Renwax suggestion for storage.

I do strip down my Spydercos every few months, or after camping trips, work in the garden, etc. I feel comfortable with it now, although my Stretch now has a completely new set of screws etc. after two years of using less-than-perfect torx drivers. The Husky one is nice, no more problems there.

Compressed air or works great too like you mention. With most stainless steels I think the soap and water method is pretty harmless, if you wipe up excess and allow them to air dry before putting them away. It's also cheap, easy, and doesn't require a special trip to the hardware store (or Amazon), which is nice. I understand not wanting to use excess water on collector's pieces though, or real high end folders.

Anyway one more time, great comment! Thanks!
Yeah the good clean is a real issue... plenty of ideas here on the subject, such as self lubricating bearings, and things that ought not be boiled.. etc.

For the plain knives, I dislike grit getting into the mechanism, so I wash mine out in turpentine / kerosene / petrol etc., and move the mechanism, in the solution to wash the grit out.

And if it's going back into a reasonably clean pocket, then perhaps a drop of new motor oil in the mechanism and a wipe over with a tissue...

Then a wipe clean before use.....

Simple.
seolfor1 year ago
Great information, especially for something that many people overlook. By the way, if you want an inexpensive food-grade mineral oil, pick it up in the pharmacy area of your local store. It will be in the laxative section. I use it for my knives, as my father and grand-father did.
Denger seolfor1 year ago
I also recommend using a food -grade oil such as the mineral oil you recommend, seolfor. One never knows when one might need one's pocket knife to open a packet of food or to slice food items, dress games, etc. and you don't want teflon, graphite, WD-40 or the like coming in contact with foodstuffs and contaminating them. Many modern folding knives priced in the mid-range and above are now constructed with "self-lubricating" pivot bearings, so you may not even need to lube it at all.
kennethsime (author)  seolfor1 year ago
Thanks seolfor, and great suggestion. I've never used mineral oil, but I've heard the pharmacy suggestion before. Thanks for sharing!
frenzy1 year ago
This is really useful! i now have to get a proper knife to sharpen :)
kennethsime (author)  frenzy1 year ago
Thanks Frenzy! I'll be running publishing a few more on pocket knife maintenance shortly as a sort of introduction to Instructables. Let me know if you want any recommendations! :p