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How to Clean and Maintain a Pocket Knife

With proper care and attention, any pocket knife — even the cheap ones — can become a generational heirloom.

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Chase Pellerin

Pocket knives, like quality leather boots and cast iron pans, possess inherent longevity. That goes for cheap knives too — even a $15 folder purchased at a hardware store can become a multi-generational hand-me-down, but only if it’s properly cared for. Neglect a blade for too long, and it’ll be vulnerable to rust, and possibly fail when needed most.

Luckily, pocket knife care and maintenance is simple. Ryan Coulter of the James Brand sums up the methodology best: “Keep it sharp, keep it clean, keep it lubed, keep it tight.” Here’s how to do all four.

Keep It Sharp

There are many different methods and tools for sharpening knives. You don’t have to get overly scientific about it to achieve a fine blade edge though. Most knife sharpeners come with a variety of surfaces — the general rule here is to start the coarsest surface, like a diamond plate, and work your way down to finer surfaces like a ceramic rod (or a leather strop to finish). If the DIY method is too intimidating, professional sharpening services aren’t too difficult to find — some, like Knife Aid, will even do it through the mail.

CRKT Knife Maintenance Tool

This keychain-sized tool includes a tungsten carbide sharpener and a ceramic honing edge. It also comes with T6 and T8 Torx drivers that work with the most widely-used screws in pocket knives.

Price: $20


Work Sharp Field Sharpener

The Work Sharp Field Sharpener includes a coarse diamond plate, a fine diamond plate, a large ceramic rod, a small ceramic rod (which is good for working on serrated blades) and a leather strop, all in a small package.

Price: $30


Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker

Spyderco’s Sharpmaker is one of the most popular small-sized sharpening devices (Sal Glesser, the company’s founder, started with sharpeners before making knives). It uses a base and various sets of ceramic and stone rods.

Price: $74


Keep It Clean

Folding knives inevitably collect small bits of debris on the blade and in the pivot from use and storing in a pocket or elsewhere. This can prevent the knife from opening, closing or locking correctly and make for a potentially dangerous tool. The best way to keep a knife clean is to wipe it down after every use, but for the less-diligent, periodic cleanings will suffice.

Note: Don’t take apart your knife — it might void the manufacturer’s warranty.

Remove Grime

Start by removing any visible bits of dirt or other detritus from the knife’s nooks and crannies, paying particular attention to the pivot and handle. Toothpicks are particularly good at this task.

Wash the Knife

Use warm water and mild dish soap to thoroughly wash the knife. You can submerge your knife but will have to be sure that it dries completely before lubricating and storing it again. Once wet, use a toothpick, Q-tip and toothbrush to collect leftover bits and scrub away dirt.

Dry the Knife

Dry the knife with a rag or better yet, compressed air (like the kind used to clean keyboards). Leave it out to air dry completely before lubing and storing.

Keep It Lubed

Once it’s clean and dry, lubricate the knife. If you use the knife to cut food, make sure the lubricant is food-safe (like mineral oil). Use lubricant sparingly — put a drop or two on the pivot and blade and wipe it down with a microfiber cloth.

EDCi Knife Formula

EDCi was explicitly created for knives. It’s non-toxic, non-flammable and guards against corrosion.

Price: $5


Keep It Tight

Screws might come loose as you use a knife over time, so it’s a good idea to make sure all are secure regularly, and cleaning is an excellent time to do so. Nearly all pocket knives use Torx 6 and Torx 8 screws, so you’ll need a driver and bits for those (your local hardware store will have both). Apply Blue Loctite, below, to any screws that you remove to create a firm seal and prevent corrosion.

ORIA Screwdriver Set

Torx driver sets are widely available and affordable. This one comes with a complete set of bits.

Price: $16


Scout Leather Co. Hex Bit Driver

For a tool to match the quality of your blade, look to the Hex Bit Driver from Scout Leather Co. It’s made of solid machined brass or copper and includes a magnet to hold bits in place.

Price: $65


Loctite Threadlocker Blue 242

Blue Loctite creates a seal that can be easily broken the next time you need to adjust a screw or replace a part. Other sealants are made to produce a permanent seal, and if you need to adjust a screw you could end up stripping it in the effort.

Price: $6


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