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6 keys to knife maintenance

Follow these tips to keep your everyday carry knife in top condition


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By Rachel Zoch for PoliceOne BrandFocus

Police officers rely on a number of tools, especially while on patrol, and your everyday carry knife can provide a handy solution for any number of challenges. But do you know how to clean and maintain your knife to keep it in good working order?

To keep your knife in top condition, clean, oil and sharpen it once or twice a year. Sharpening on your own can be difficult and can even damage your knife, but some manufacturers, like ZT Knives, offer free factory sharpening for the life of your knife. (image/ZT Knives)
To keep your knife in top condition, clean, oil and sharpen it once or twice a year. Sharpening on your own can be difficult and can even damage your knife, but some manufacturers, like ZT Knives, offer free factory sharpening for the life of your knife. (image/ZT Knives)

Here are five key things you need to do – and one to avoid – to keep your everyday carry knife in top condition.

1. Safety first: Open the blade

The last thing you want to do is cut yourself, so always be mindful of the blade’s sharp edge.

Pat O’Donnell, sales manager with ZT Knives, recommends opening the blade first when cleaning your knife, particularly for automatic knives or a knife with an assisted opening mechanism like ZT’s SpeedSafe torsion bar.

Opening the knife releases that tension so there are no surprises, especially if you are going to take apart the handle to clean the inner parts of the knife.

“Always open your blade on an automatic knife,” said O’Donnell. “The blade constantly wants to open, so as soon as you take off that front handle, that blade is going to shoot open.”

When cleaning the blade itself, be sure to wipe in downward strokes across the shorter axis of the blade, from its thicker spine down to the sharp edge.

“If you go from the hilt to the point or from the point to the hilt, you’re swiping your hand along the sharp edge of the blade. It’ll cut right through that paper or cloth or whatever you’re using, and you can cut yourself,” said O’Donnell. “I recommend starting at the spine and pulling down toward the blade so you never have to worry about cutting yourself.”

2. Gently remove dirt and grime

The more you carry and use your knife, the more dust and dirt and grime it’s going to collect – not to mention sweat and lint from your pocket.

For a thorough cleaning, O’Donnell recommends a partial, careful disassembly of your knife by first opening the blade, then unscrewing the handle covers to get to the internal mechanisms. (Note: If you fully disassemble or modify your knife, you could void the warranty, so check with your manufacturer.)

Then use a bit of alcohol on some cotton swabs or pads to clean the blade and internal mechanisms. You can also use water, but it can lead to rust, especially if your blade is not coated.

Alcohol is also a go-to solvent when it comes to cleaning tape residue and other gunk from the handle and the blade itself, wiping along that short axis from spine to sharp edge. If alcohol isn’t handy, you could also try white vinegar or mild dish soap. Just be sure to dry all parts thoroughly after cleaning to avoid rust.

3. Take care of any rust spots

The best way to avoid rust is to invest in a high-quality knife with a coated blade. But if your knife does develop rust spots, you can remove them by using a light abrasive, applied with an absorbent soft cloth, or try naval jelly or WD-40 for more stubborn stains.

 “Anything steel can get rust,” said O’Donnell. “Our DLC coating on ZT knives adds a significant layer of corrosion resistance, but any bare steel, including the bearings, can rust.”

It takes a long time for ball bearings to rust because they are constantly moving, he adds, but it’s still a good idea to swab everything with alcohol, let it dry, add a drop of oil and then put it back together.

To keep future rust away, O’Donnell also recommends adding a light coat of oil to the blade after cleaning it. Let it sit a few minutes, then wipe away. If you use your knife to cut apples and other edibles, be sure to use a food safe oil or lubricant.

“Basic mineral oil will work to prevent rust with just a light wipe down,” he said. “There are a lot of options out there, including our Kershaw Oil and a lot of other oils in the gun industry. If it works on a gun, it probably works on a knife blade as well.”

4. Lubricate moving parts

Greasing the moving parts of your knife may be the most important step in maintaining it. After you’ve removed the lint and other gunk, be sure to add a little grease – a little goes a long way. This protects the moving parts, which can be damaged by heat from friction.

“When people take apart their knife and they see all this gunk, they clean it out, but they don’t replace the grease,” O’Donnell said. “You always want to make sure there’s grease. Any kind of thick grease will work. Put a little dab on the ball bearings and on the pivot and then put it back together, and you'll have very smooth rolling action.”

5. Sharpen the blade

Now that your knife is clean and greased, is it as sharp as you want it to be? Keeping your blade sharp is the most obvious step in knife maintenance, but it’s not always as simple as giving the edge a few passes against a whetstone. So how often and in what manner should you go about sharpening your everyday knife?

“Sharpening is really going to be personal preference. That’s going to depend greatly on the knife you have, how often you use it and what you’re cutting,” said O’Donnell. “The most basic way to sharpen a knife is using a whetstone, but it is very difficult for most people to do. It takes skill to consistently maintain the specific angle of the edge with your bare hand.”

To do your own sharpening, he recommends investing in a guide rod system to maintain a functional edge. But many companies, including ZT Knives, offer free factory sharpening for the life of your knife. The process takes about two weeks.

“I recommend just sending a knife in for sharpening because it’s painless,” O’Donnell said. “You’ll get a razor-sharp factory edge on it, guaranteed.”

Taking sharpening into your own hands can actually damage your knife, he cautions, as precise geometry is a major factor in edge retention.

 6. Don’t pry

One major “don’t” when it comes to knife maintenance is prying. Cut whatever you need to cut, says O’Donnell, especially in the line of duty, but don’t use your knife – no matter how sturdy it may be – as a crowbar.

“Folding knives are not intended for prying,” he said.

How often you should clean your knife?

How often you need to clean and oil your knife depends on how you use it. For the average person, once or twice a year is probably sufficient. Higher-end knives require less frequent maintenance, as you don't have to worry about rust on titanium and other premium metals.

For officers using their knives constantly, like officers out in the field, O’Donnell recommends a quarterly checkup just to make sure everything is well oiled and good to go.

“The more you carry it, the more you use it, the more it’s going to collect that dust and dirt and grime,” he said. “So clean it out and oil it to keep the knife opening smoothly all the time.”

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