How to Choose and Take Care of a Pocket Knife

Though pocket knife carry used to be common place, the practice has died out somewhat in today’s world. However, the wealth of budget, intermediate, and high-end knife options has exploded due to the popularity of online pocket knife enthusiast communities, and this has led to a resurgence of men and women carrying knives or multi-tools every day.

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Step 1: Step 1- Do You Need to Carry a Knife?

All it takes is a few days carrying a knife to find out how useful one can be. A knife can be used to do a myriad of tasks like:

· Open difficult packaging

· Trim excess threads from clothing

· Break down cardboard boxes to fit in trash cans

· Sharpen pencils

· Cut up and peel apples and other fruits

· Open envelopes and boxes

Plus tons more. The list could go on forever, and that’s just what you can do with a knife blade itself. Many people choose to carry multi-tools or Swiss army style knives that include tools like screwdrivers, tweezers, awls, pliers, etc., which can greatly expand the uses you’ll find for your knife every day.

If you run into small problems like clam shell packaging, zip ties, poor pencil sharpeners, or dull kitchen knives often, you’ll likely benefit greatly from carrying some kind of knife or multi-tool. So, now that you’re interested, what’s the next step?

Step 2: Step 2- Check Local Laws

Knife laws can vary wildly from on country or state to another, and it’s very important that you understand what you’re allowed to carry in your area before you begin to narrow down which knife or multi-tool is best for you. Types of knives that are commonly banned include automatic or “switch blade” knives (knives where a spring propels the blade out), balisong/butterfly knives, knives above a certain length, locking knives, gravity knives (knives where the blade is deployed downward by gravity), or fixed-blades. Visit websites like Knife Up or American Knife and Tool Institute for information on local laws within the United States.

Step 3: Step 3- Narrow Down Your Price Range

The first thing to determine when narrowing down your choices is price. To start with, here’s a basic run-down of various price tiers you might look at for single-blade knives.

· $5-10:

By and large, knives in this tier aren’t worth the money. Not only do they have poor steel that will rust, fail to stay sharp, and chip easily, but they often have weak locks that are prone to failure. These knives are not only poorly constructed and limited in their usefulness, but they can be actively dangerous to the user. Try your best to avoid knives like this if you can.

Features of Knives in this Price Tier:

o Typically “gas-station” knives that are made to look eye catching with bright colors and fantasy, tactical, or ninja design motifs.

o Brands like Tac-Force, M-Tech, Z-Hunter, etc.

o Poor steels that dull/rust easily.

o Poor lock strength.

· $10-15:

The beginning of the budget tiers, knives in this category are usually low-end budget brand knives like Kershaw, CRKT, Buck, etc. Most of these will do well for most people. The steels used will be higher quality, and usually named on the knife somewhere (you might see steel designations like 8Cr13MoV, 420/440c, or Aus8).

A good rule of thumb is that if a knife in this price range doesn’t have any information on steel type listed on the knife or the packaging, it isn’t worth buying. Named steels in this category will keep an edge for a decent amount of time, though knives in higher categories will do better in this aspect.

Features of Knives in this Price Tier:

o Locks you can trust in light daily use.

o Named steels that will perform better than cheaper steels.

o Trusted brands like Buck, CRKT, Kershaw, etc.

o Decent warranties.

· $15-30:

The mid-tier of budget knives. Here, you’ll find similar steel quality, but an increase in what’s called “fit and finish”. Fit is how well the pieces of the knife are machined, how well they’re fitted together, the quality of the materials (composite handles instead of plastic, for example), and the quality of the hardware (screws and pocket clips). Finish is the quality control.

Questions you might ask in this price range might be, is the knife smooth where it needs to be and textured where it needs to be (to keep the knife secure in your hand)? Is the blade centered (meaning that it doesn’t lean towards one handle or the other when closed)? Is the grind well done, or is it crooked? Is any part of the knife sharp, causing friction points with use (called “hotspots”)?

Features of Knives in this Price Tier:

o Better fit and finish compared to previous tiers.

o Knives that look, feel, and perform better than previous tiers.

o Knives with good action, that deploy reliably.

o Slightly better materials like G-10 (a composite material that provides good grip, durability, and machining verses plastic).

o Good warranties.

· $30-50:

This tier could be considered the last true budget tier (although, like most things, this is hotly debated among online knife communities). This is also the last tier you want if you’re looking for a pure upgrade in function versus previous tiers. Knives in this tier will start to dip into the lower priced knives from more premium brands like Spyderco. These knives are most likely devoid of minor fit and finish problems, have great lock-ups and ergonomics (how a knife feels in your hand as you use it), and get you to some better steels.

Features of Knives in this Price Tier:

o Good-great ergonomics

o Better steels like D2, VG-10, Sandvik (mostly in European knives), or 154-CM.

o Features geared for more than just function like good/great actions or multiple color options.

o Higher-end brands like Spyderco, and higher-end knives within budget brands like Kershaw, CRKT, Buck, etc.

o Good warranties.

· $50-100:

Knives in this tier are meant either for people with extremely demanding “hard-use” jobs like construction, or for knife enthusiasts who are looking for better fit and finish, action, or steel. This tier includes knives from companies like Spyderco and Benchmade, and puts the buyer at a much higher range of options. Here, you’ll find very good steels that start to get into a category called “super-steels”. These are steels like s30v, s35vn, CTS-XHP, and above. In normal use, super-steels won’t easily dull, corrode, or wear at all, and can go months without sharpening.

You also get much more attention to action, with actions that are mostly unassisted or “manual”, and fine-tuned for sound, speed, and reliability. Up until this point, most of the knives ran on cheap washers in their pivots. Knives in this category will have higher end washers made of phosphor bronze, or small bearings for extreme smoothness.

Features of Knives in this Price Tier:

o Great fit and finish.

o Super-steels that hold an edge for months at a time.

o Better materials like G-10 or Carbon Fiber.

o Great warranties.

· $100-300:

Knives in this tier are for mostly for enthusiasts. Everything from the previous tier is taken up a notch. Here, you begin to get into high-end knives from American (Spyderco, Benchmade, Zero Tolerance), Chinese (WE, Kizer, Bestech, Reate), and European companies (Lionsteel, Fox, Viper).

Beyond this, you get into custom knives and mid-techs (knives mass produced by something like a CNC machine, but finished by hand), which can run from 300 or 400 dollars into the 800 or 900 range. Full customs may even run into the thousands. These are purely for hobbyists chasing the highest of high end, and are beyond the scope of this article.

Step 4: Step 4- Figure Out What You Need a Knife for Day-to-Day

Now that you know how much you’re paying for your knife, begin thinking about what you’ll actually use a knife for in your day-to-day. Some questions you might ask yourself include, what problems have you ran into recently that you needed a knife to fix? Do you need a full-on multi-tool, or just a single blade knife? Are you doing tasks that would require a larger blade like construction work or food prep, or do you need a smaller, more utility oriented blade? The answers to these questions will be key to determining the size and style of knife you want.

Step 5: Step 5- Narrow Down Your Size Range

Typically, the size of a knife is best represented by it’s blade length. This is also the main factor in terms of legality, so make sure to find out what the largest knife you can carry is and work backwards from there. Below is a list of various size ranges and their applications.

· Under 2 inches:

Mostly key-chain or box cutter knives. These work well if you only need a knife for really small tasks and want to be as minimal as possible. In the case of box cutters, the replaceable blades might be ideal for you if you can’t sharpen knives, and the size of below 2 inch blades is ideal for opening packages without the fear of cutting too deep.

Use If:

  • You want to go minimalist.
  • You only open boxes or do other small jobs.
  • You don’t want to make anyone at your workplace uncomfortable.

Avoid If:

  • You do any kind of food prep.
  • You do any kind of medium-sized jobs (break down boxes, carve wood, sharpen pencils, etc.)
  • You want to feel prepared, and have a knife with a more comfortably sized handle.

· 2-3 Inches:

Good for most small-medium jobs. Knives in this range will usually feel good to use if you have small-medium hands, and will get the job done in most every day cases. Remember, this is the size of knife your grandfather likely carried back in the day. Just what you need and nothing you don’t.

Use If:

  • You want a good all-around blade for most small-medium jobs.
  • You want to lean minimalist, but still feel prepared.
  • You have small-medium hands and want something ergonomic.

Avoid If:

  • You have slightly larger hands.
  • You need slightly more blade for food prep or breaking down boxes.

· 3-3.5 Inches

Medium to large knives in this category are mainly good if you have larger hands, you want to feel like you have enough blade for almost anything, or you’re doing hard-use work like construction.

Use If:

  • You have large hands that need more handle length.
  • You work a tough job that requires a lot of usable edge.

Avoid If:

  • You don’t need a hard-use knife.
  • Your use is geared more towards small daily jobs.
  • You don’t want an increase in bulk and weight.

Step 6: Step 6- Knife Care

You’ve got a knife in a good price range, with a good blade length for you. Now what do you do when it goes dull or gets dirty?

Sharpening

Sharpening a knife is something that, no matter the steel, you’re going to have to do at some point. There are several methods for sharpening.

· Pull-Through Sharpeners:

These are the little ceramic sharpeners at a fixed angle that you drag the edge of your knife through. Do not use these if you can possibly get away with it. They remove way too much material, they don’t get the knife very sharp anyway, and they scratch your knife up. Plus, it isn’t even guaranteed that your edge angle will match the set angle they come with. Basically, these are the gas station knives of sharpeners.

· Sharpening Stones:

An effective way to sharpen, but you have to get the technique down. It takes fine motor skills and lots of practice, but you can learn the age-old technique of sharpening freehand with time. There are plenty of online resources that show how to sharpen. Stones themselves are cheap, and only need water or oil to work.

· Guided Systems:

A little pricey, but well worth it if you aren’t interested in learning to freehand sharpen. These systems guide your edge into a certain angle so that, with minimal technique, you can get a good working edge or better with much less headache and learning curve. The Spyderco Sharpmaker is a good entry level system, but many higher-end system exist over the hundred dollar range like the Lansky, the KME, and the Worksharp.

Cleaning

Cleaning is important to keeping the knife from getting gunked up. This can cause slow, gritty action, dulling of the blade (from repeated brushes with sand or course dirt), and even lock failure in some cases.

Cleaning is best done without disassembling the knife. This is a bit of a controversial opinion, as many knife enthusiasts enjoy taking apart their knives. That’s absolutely fine, and can be an interesting process, but it’s not recommended for beginners. Disassembly can damage the knife if the user isn’t careful, and it can void warranties. For most of folding knife history, knives couldn’t be taken apart anyway, so it’s best to make do with other methods unless you are experienced.

Instead, knives can be cleaned easily by running water through the inside, provided the steel isn’t corrosion-prone. In cheaper steels as well as old-fashioned pocket knives, this isn’t such a good idea because of rust. In cases like this, a cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol will get rid of thin coatings of dust and dirt. Also, cans of compressed air are good for blowing grit out of hard-to-reach crevasses in the knife.

Oil can be used on the pivot to get the knife’s action properly dialed in. Oil should be some form of mineral oil meant for knives or guns. Don’t use WD-40 because though it will initially improve your action, it will eventually dry and flake, leaving your action gritty and causing the parts of your pivot to scrape together.

Step 7: Step 7- Knife Etiquette

One reason knives aren’t carried much is because of the fear that they can be used as weapons. This article is not geared towards self-defense knife use, which is an entirely different subject from pocket knives as tools. It is important that, if you decide to start carrying a knife, you respect people’s fears about your tool being a weapon.

You know it’s just for opening boxes and cutting apples, and it may seem silly to be afraid of a small knife, but keep in mind that you are representing knife users when you choose to carry a knife. The people who are afraid of knives because of their use as weapons often have valid reasons for being so and, though their fears are often irrational, it’s your responsibility as a knife owner to act in a safe manner with your tool and not further their fears.

Just as a quick refresher, here are the things that you shouldn’t do with a pocket knife.

· Point it at someone, even jokingly. Treat the edge/tip with the reverence of a loaded gun.

· Make fun of someone for their fear that you will use it as a weapon. If you carry the knife for self-defense, calmly explain your reasoning. If not, explain that you carry it as a tool and list some reasons why.

· Cut towards yourself.

· Use the knife erratically. Don’t jerk it forward, and don’t try to exert more pressure on it if it’s stuck in something. This can hurt you and those around you, and damage your edge.

· Do anything with it you wouldn’t do in front of a police officer.

Step 8: Conclusion

Knives have existed for almost as long as mankind has,and they remain one of the most remarkably relevant and useful tools man has ever devised. Though they may look different from the carefully crafted stone blades used by early man, the iron ones used by ancient civilizations, or the small, elegant slip-joints carried throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, knives remain the most useful and versatile tool that a person can use in his/her everyday life.
If you treat a knife well and use it responsibly, you will find that it helps you tremendously almost every day of your life. It will be a constant companion that you can feel proud to carry, and one that will give you a peace of mind that only comes from true preparedness.

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