Pocket Knife Maintenance: Cleaning and Lubricating

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Introduction: 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.

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: Pick a Lubricant

Your pocket knife is a system with moving parts, and as with any such system must be lubricated, especially mating surfaces such as the pivot, locking surfaces, or slides.

The most popular lubricants are petroleum-based wet lubricants, and are essentially the same as gun lubricants or sewing machine oil, although they will claim attributes which make them superior to their competitors. Two great choices would be Sentry Solutions Tuff Glide or Benchmade Blue Lube, which I use primarily because it is available to me.

Dry lubricants are often PTFE (teflon)-based and tend to attract less pocket lint. They typically come in either an aerosol can for spray-on application or as a grease tube, and dry on the surface leaving a protective, lubricating film. A few examples would be Super Lube, Miltec, or Chris Reeve Fluorinated Grease.

It is important to remember that if your intend to use your pocket knife for food preparation, such as cutting up an apple, you may want to use a food-safe lubricant. You can use simple vegetable oil, but it isn't very stable and may go rancid. Food-safe mineral oils (such as wood block oil) tend to work well. Here's one great choice. Plain jane food-grade mineral oil should be available at your local pharmacy (as suggested by several commenters) for cheap also. Personally, I use the petroleum-based stuff just fine. I apply oil sparingly at the pivot, wipe up any and all excess, and rarely find it escaping out into a pocket or onto the blade where it could come into contact with food stuffs. But to each her own!

Step 3: Apply Your Lubricant

When applying your lubricant, your mantra should be "a little goes a long way." Open the knife and apply a drop or two of oil (or a light spray if using a teflon-based dry lubricant) to your pivot and start rotating or cycling the blade (opening and closing repeatedly) to work the lubricant in. With lockback or midlock knives like my Spyderco, you'll want to target the tang of the blade where it meets the lockbar. With liner locks such as the pictured CRKT, you can apply your lubricant on the underside, again making sure to get the locking faces and working it into the pivot.

Your goal is to use just enough lubricant to spread throughout the target area (usually the pivot or locking surfaces) without seeping out onto the handle or blade. An excess of lubricant, especially oily wet lubricants, will actually attract pocket lint and other material, meaning you'll have to clean your knife more often.

If the blade of your knife is made of a high carbon steel (either a high-carbon stainless or a true carbon steel) you may also want to use a preventative coat of lubricant on the blade itself, especially if you use it in or around water or live in an area with exceptionally high humidity. While the Japanese ZDP-189 used in my Spydercos is about 3% carbon (two-to-three times the carbon content of most stainless steels) it is also about 20% chromium, and since I clean my knives regularly, I don't bother coating the blades.

If your knife has wood handle scales such as a Buck model 110, consider rubbing them down with a wood polish or finishing oil such as Danish or Linseed oil.

Wipe off any excess oil and enjoy your knife! For further reading, check out this article at KnifeCenter.

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    54 Comments

    0
    Denger
    Denger

    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    0
    kennethsime
    kennethsime

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    0
    rodriguezrosemarie457
    rodriguezrosemarie457

    Question 2 months ago

    Can I use the Lucas Oil semi-senthetic assembly lube for pocket knifes

    0
    8steve88
    8steve88

    8 years ago on Step 3

    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.

    0
    greengeorge134
    greengeorge134

    Reply 7 months ago

    Electrical air dust then oil but for food I'd use small fixed blade

    0
    kennethsime
    kennethsime

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

    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!

    0
    sirbill
    sirbill

    8 years ago on Step 2

    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.!

    0
    greengeorge134
    greengeorge134

    Reply 7 months ago

    Any food grade oil goes bad soon yuk

    0
    dog digger
    dog digger

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

    I've heard great things about coconut oil.

    0
    rgmarti
    rgmarti

    8 years ago on Step 2

    Did you know that WD-40 has been approved safe for food prep equipment by the FDA?

    0
    greengeorge134
    greengeorge134

    Reply 7 months ago

    Wd 40 or similar are not good safe and it's cleaner not lube

    0
    greengeorge134
    greengeorge134

    Reply 7 months ago

    My self and many debunked it it poison cleaner ask any knife pro

    0
    rgmarti
    rgmarti

    Reply 7 months ago

    Oh, well if you and many knife pros say it's poison, then it must be so 🙄

    0
    rgmarti
    rgmarti

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 2

    oops sorry that was USDA

    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!

    0
    greengeorge134
    greengeorge134

    Reply 7 months ago

    99 percent of any used knife lubes aren't food safe get fixed blade for food

    0
    kennethsime
    kennethsime

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    C12BK2W_L.jpg
    0
    criggie
    criggie

    8 years ago on Introduction

    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?

    0
    greengeorge134
    greengeorge134

    Reply 7 months ago

    Take it to hardware store or specialty store get sleeve bolt proper length close in size as possible drill size snug use stainless washers each side of blade and have modern blade pivit also lube washers