Knives become extensions of our body; those of us who carry them will come to rely on them daily. We feel useless, unnecessarily dependent on others, or even naked without them in our possession and at the ready. Just as we take care of our other bodily “tools” such as our teeth, arms, legs, hands, and feet, we also need to take regular care of our everyday carry knives. However, one of the often most overlooked aspects of knife ownership is proper care and maintenance. As is often heard, we are creatures of habit. Creating a routine of proper maintenance for your EDC knife will allow you to ensure your knife works when it is needed the way you intend for it too.
What Type of Knives Do I Have?
There are two basic types of EDC knives: fixed blade knives (which typically have a sheath) and folding knives (which could be a slip joint, assisted opening/quick release, and locking). While care for fixed blade knives is a bit more straightforward, pocket knives are more complex.
Traditionally, folding pocket knives were slipped joint (non-locking blade) with a fingernail notch, until the introduction of tactical folding knives with assisted opening mechanisms such as small thumb studs or levers near the rear side of the blade to allow for one-handed opening operation.
It is important for knife owners to know which type of knife they have so that they can properly care for them.
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How Do I Clean and Care for My Knife?
Before you begin to care for or clean your knife, it is important to remember the most important rule of working with any sharp instrument or small weapon: safety comes first! Getting into a hurry, becoming distracted, or dropping the knife while you are trying to return it to an ideal condition can result in accident cuts, stabs, or dented sharpening edges or blade points. Take your time, use the proper equipment, and be diligent in your cleaning processes to avoid unnecessary and unwanted injury.
Everyday carry knife care can be classified into seven basic categories, as follows:
This should be the first step before you do anything else. Begin by opening and closing your knife (or unsheathing it) to ensure there is no obstruction, all mechanisms work as intended, the blade edge and point don’t have any noticeable damage and any dirt, debris, “gunk” or trash can be identified.
Although this step initially sounds like the easiest, it can also cause the most damage to your knife if not done correctly. When cleaning any knife, it is important to work patiently and slowly. If you work too fast or clean too much, you may damage the knife and reduce its value. Regular use of your knife will result in various types of “gunk’ or residue from what you used your knife on adhering to the blade. Many small particles, from dirt to lint from your pocket, can also become trapped in the opening and enclosure inside the handle of a folding knife or enclosure of a sheath. It is important to regularly clean your knife (and sheath) in order to avoid having these materials harden, making them difficult to remove from your knife. Read More: Best EDC Knife Under $200
While your blade is opened using a toothpick to remove any stubborn particles (such as small rocks or dirt) and then use a small q-tip or cotton swab by gently moving it back and forth while simultaneously twisting it along the handle enclosure (for pocket knives, where the blade rests when folded) or within the sheath (if your knife is a fixed blade).
Warm running water and basic liquid dish soap are universally considered the best mixture to accomplish the job. You may also use a soft toothbrush to “scrub” the knife and handle the surface. Using a brisk toothbrush can potentially damage any finished are create fine scratches in shiny metal surfaces. Lightly scrubbing with a soft-bristle toothbrush will allow you to remove any stubborn dirt or residue. Many blades have a special finish (such as satin) or coating applied (such as DLC, Diamond-Like Coating). By following the procedures noted above and avoiding the use of cleaning chemicals, you can preserve the finish or coating, as well as ensure your knife operates the way it was originally intended. Before drying, it is worthwhile to repeat the q-tip or cotton swab step again.
However, once you are finished with these steps, thoroughly rinse all soap and then promptly dry your knife with a hairdryer. Do not set your knife out to dry on its own. While the knife blade may be stainless steel, the small inner components may not be. Rust is one of the greatest enemies to the knife, and it loves to find metal that is located in a dark, warm and damp area such as a storage container or dump pocket.
Once the basic cleaning step is complete, it is important to turn your attention to the inner works of a folding knife. The metal-on-metal friction that occurs in the inner workings of a folding knife can quickly decrease the functionality and ease of operation. Using a drop or two of high-quality lubricants into the knife’s inner workings, especially pivot areas, will ensure the knife continues to operate and decrease the chance of rust or foreign debris from collecting in the mechanism. Be sure to wipe away any excess oil to avoid staining or the oil getting on unwanted surfaces other than your knife.
The proper method for sharpening a knife blade is perhaps one of the most discussed, debated, and theorized topics among those who own and maintain EDC knives. There’s no single best way to sharpen a blade, but it is an important skill to master because a dull blade can be dangerous and will likely not produce the results you intend when you begin to use it. Those who do not have the time or patience to sharpen a knife correctly can find many options for knife sharpening services including the original manufacturer, certain hardware shops or sporting goods shops with hunting gear, or a significant knife selection. Regardless, a quick search on the internet can reveal a few options for consideration. You might consider making a call prior to taking your knife to service to understand the amount of time it will take, as well as the cost.
For those who decide to sharpen the knives themselves, the first step to correct sharpening is to find the best knife sharpening system. There are many categories, types, and roughness of sharpening stones or rods. Roughness broadly falls across categories of course (for extremely dull or jagged blades), medium (for typical sharpening needs), and fine (for final honing or to achieve a razor-sharp finish). Bench stones can be a great choice for beginner pocket knife users. They provide stability and typically have a large sharpening surface area. Oils made specifically for blade honing are also advised in order to achieve consistency in the blade’s sharpness and may be required for certain stones. Whatever sharpening stone(s) you choose to use, it is advisable to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and, if possible, watch an instructional video or two on the manufacturer’s website or other internet sites, such as YouTube.
Fixed blade knives like a machete, bowie knife, hunting knife, tactical knife, survival knife, combat knife that has a thicker blade, and may leave the factory with a cutting-edge angle up to 30 to 35 degrees. Other smaller pocket knives with thin blades could have angles of only 10 to 15 degrees. The key to sharpening any blade is to maintain the edge angles as you apply to sharpen motions. If using a bench stone, it is good practice to use two hands to control the blade, holding the (opened) knife handle with a loose grip and applying more pressure between your thumb and forefinger, while using the other hade to controllably “push” the blade away from your body. The sharpening motion should begin with the blade slightly angles by perpendicular to the end of the stone closest to your body, working the blade in a motion as if slicing butter, ending with the blade being sharpened at its point across the far end of the stone. Again, the most important aspect of this process is that you maintain constant pressure and angles as you “slice a thin layer” from the front to the beginning to the end of the stone.
Reassembling the Knife
It is not advisable for the average Joe to disassemble a folding knife. There may be many small pins, springs, screws, or other tension mechanisms that may be easily lost or fling apart as you open the handle or attempt to remove the blade. Disassembly can also potentially void any warranty your knife has. Most of the tactical knives like folding have either small springs, Allen or Torx screws, typically identified by looking like a hexagon or a star-shaped opening. It is important to match the appropriate Allen or Torx wrench to a screw to avoid stripping or damaging both. Finding the correct tension may take a little trial and error, but after some adjustment, you will find the right amount of torque that makes the opening and closing of your knife feel “just right.” Be sure when tightening or loosening screws that they do not become too tight or loose, such as in a manner that prevents the locking mechanism from working or other mechanisms from operating as designed.
Whether storing your knife overnight or longer term, it is important that you do so in a container that is cool, has low humidity, and has little direct sunlight or UV rays. While dampness can lead to rusting, sunlight can cause coloring (whether natural or artificial) in the handle or other surfaces of the knife to fade. The likely resting spot for a knife that is going into storage in a drawer. Consider other items that are in the same drawer, especially items that can scratch the blade, handle, or other surface areas, bleed colors (such as paints or dyes), or spill and lead to unexpected dampness.
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Fixed blade knives must have a sheath to prevent the blade from slicing pockets or worse, stabbing or cutting the owner’s leg as you walk, sit or move throughout the day. Sheaths come in a variety of materials, including leather, nylon, plastics, or other plastic-like materials. All sheaths should be inspected for wear or any area where the knife could poke through and cause unnecessary cuts or scratches. Some tactical fixed blade knives have plastic sheaths that may have small screws that need to be tightened or rivets that need to be replaced. Leather sheaths should be first cleaned with a towel moistened with soapy water, applied in a circular motion, then wiped with a separate dry cloth, and allowed to completely dry. It is not advisable to speed up the drying process by “cooking” leather in a microwave or placing it in direct sunlight for an extended period of time, as this can cause the leather to dry too much, become brittle and crack. In order to preserve the leather, a small amount of leather oil should be massaged into all of the leather surfaces, with excess oil wiped away. Finally, the stitching should be inspected to confirm to frays or cuts in the stitch can lead to separation of the sides of the sheath.
Most of us intend to use and keep our knives for a considerable amount of time. Those of us who use knives daily will tend to collect them. Ultimately, we may choose to pass them down to children or grandchildren to carry. Regardless, we want- them to last a long time. Proper care and maintenance will help to ensure all of this is possible, and that our knives can serve the purposes they are intended to serve.