How to Care for Your Knife

Follow this handy Huckberry primer to keep your blade sharp, clean, and ready for action
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Feb 4, 2015 | By Jon Gaffney

An essential part of our EDC? A good knife. Recently, the Van Man met up with James Brand founder Ryan Coulter — who spends more time with his knife than anyone we know — for some tips on how to care for your knife to keep it ready for slicing and dicing. Read on. 

o Santa was kind to you this year. In your stocking or under the tree was a good knife, one you’ll have for years, maybe decades. A knife that you carry with you all times is a bedrock of anyone’s EDC (Every Day Carry). They’re endlessly convenient: opening mail, cutting cordage, slicing an apple, or cutting skewers for smores. But, like any good piece of gear, knives need proper maintenance or their usefulness and safety can rapidly diminish. Maintain your knife properly and it’ll last a lifetime. 

We spoke to Ryan Coulter, founder of the Portland based knife company The James Brand to get advice keeping a knife in tip top shape. His advise was concise. “Honestly it’s pretty simple. Comes down to three main things: keep it sharp, keep it clean, keep it lubricated.” Fair enough. So, here’s the breakdown of the knife maintenance trifecta.

As any former Boy Scout will scoldingly tell you, a dull knife is a dangerous knife. While this may seem somewhat counterintuitive, it’s very true. Dull knife make it harder to cut, usually resulting in forcing the knife. Forcing a knife (or any tool) usually ends poorly. Either the tool breaks, you get injured, or you get a close call. The solution is regularly sharpening your knife. As soon as you notice the knife not cutting as smoothly, it’s time for a touch up. Sharpening stones are the best option. They come in increasingly fine grits so once you’re finishing you could shave with your knife.

Many high end knives today use increasingly hard and exotic types of steel. These steels can pose a real challenge for a more traditional whetstone. Because of this we highly recommend DMT’s diamond sharpening stones. Their diamond sharpening stones are made in Massachusetts and can deal with any high end steel. For sharpening at home, their 6” Whetstone Set is a good fit. If you're on the go, the Dia-Fold Magna Guide Kit will be best. Both can be used either wet or dry, and don’t require oil like many whetstones. Less prep, less clean up, and whole lot less messy.

Keeping your knife clean is pretty straight forward, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If the knife gets wet, particularly with salt water, be sure to rinse it and dry it as thoroughly as possible. Moisture is an enemy of steel and can lead to rust both on the blade and the internal workings of the knife. Dust and dirt are the other primary enemies of a clean knife. A can of compressed air can be helpful to blow out the nooks and crannies of the knife regularly. For the most thorough cleaning you’ll want to actually disassemble the knife and clean the individual components. Do this as often as you can. The cleaner you keep it, the better your knife will function. Many knife manufacturers sell a maintenance kit with the proper tools to work on your knife, these are always a worthwhile investment. If they don’t sell one, email and ask what tools they recommend. 

Keeping your knife lubricated has a twofold purpose. One, it obviously lubricates the moving components of the knife so they function smoothly. Two, the lubricant will help protect the steel and metal parts from water, dust, and dirt and optimally any corrosion. You don’t need much, just a few drops or a quick spray of your preferred lubricant in the moving parts and then wipe down the blade with the excess. Once a week if you’re using the knife daily is a good idea. Be sure to properly lubricate the knife whenever you clean it as well. Ryan says he keeps Tri-Flow on his bench for every knife he owns and manufactures.

Remember, if you care for your gear, it’ll care for you. [H]

Jon Gaffney is a man of the road who enjoys testing the recommended use limits of everything he owns.
When he's not taking photographs, he's climbing, hiking, swimming, or gripping the wheel of his Sprinter Van.
You can follow his continuing cross-country adventures as the Huckberry Van Man here.

Images ©: Jeff Masamori