Taking care of your knives is very important, no matter if you use your knives regularly or if you collect them and keep them in long term storage.
Below we hope you will find some useful suggestions to keep your knives maintained in the best condition possible.
The Regularly Used Field Knife
Long Term Storage of Collectable Knives.
Diving and Underwater Use
A regularly used knife should always be kept in a sharpened and clean condition. Unsharpened knives can be more dangerous to use.
A knife is a tool and should be cared for the same as any other tool. A knife's purpose is to cut, maintain a regular sharpening schedule to keep it in a ready to use state. A dull knife requires more pressure asserted to perform its task which also means more of a chance of slippage and injury.
After cleaning your knife, avoid touching the blade with your hands. Your body contains salts and acids that are harmful to metal, use a dry cloth (cotton is preferred) if possible whenever you need to touch the blade.
After the cleaning always make sure that you apply a light coat of light oil such as a knife oil or sewing machine oil, it is the most essential maintenance task to perform. Oil will keep your metal areas free from rust and oxidation.
Fixed Blade Knives
Fixed blade knives should be cleaned, oiled and sharpened if it is a knife that is used.
If it is a collection knife and will be stored over long periods of time it should be stored at a comfortable room temperature with as little humidity as possible. Never store fixed blade collectors knives in the sheaths, just sliding the knife into a sheath can sometimes scratch it and reduce its value. Sheaths such as leather should always be stored in a separate area away from the knife itself. Leather will retain some moisture creating a humid condition, especially within an enclosed area such as a display case or storage cabinet.
Generally it is a good idea to store collection knives where it is dry, well ventilated, and where the temperature does not vary much. Avoid such places as basements, attics, or closets that are closed and or damp. The temperature that is comfortable for you is usually a good temperature for them.
If you store knives in a wooden storage box, check to make sure the inside is finished with some type of sealant such as polyurethane. Unfinished wood can also retain moisture.
Leather handles can also use a very light coating of oil, avoid certain leather cleaners or conditioners that offer to put the moisture back into your leather.
Most stacked leather disc handled knives such as KA-BAR are already smoothed and sealed by the factory when they are made. They normally will last for years without allot of fuss unless they are handled allot in which case your body chemicals can eat away the sealant after time. Many World War II KA-BAR knives are still around today with their original leather handles intact.
Folding knives that are used or carried on a regular basis should be kept in a belt sheath for a couple of reasons. You will most likely remember to put it back in the sheath after using it since most people will leave the sheath flap open until putting the knife away. Many people have reported losing their knives because they set them down somewhere and then forget about them or they have somehow slipped out of their pocket.
Another good reason to sheath your knife is they will remain cleaner; pockets have lint and other particles in them which will work their way into the working areas of your knife.
A knife that is used should be kept sharpened, cleaned, and oiled. Take special care when cleaning the working section of the knife to get out anything which might have logged itself inside, usually a good strong air compressor blast will remove fine particles and moving the blades while you do this will give you the most advantage to cover all the areas inside. (Wear protective eye wear).
We do not recommend soaking the knife; water can trap itself behind the casings and bolsters creating hidden rust that will wear the knife out from the inside.
Some of the new tactical knives have solid sides to them removing the older used add on casings where moisture can hide and have added features such as adjustable areas which will allow you to tighten different areas of the handle or blade tension with an allen wrench or small screwdriver. Most of these type knives can also be taken apart and rebuilt after cleaning.
The new bare bones tactical look has become a very popular item which is easier to clean and maintain.
If you collect folders, you should always handle them as little as possible. Most come in an original cardboard box and if you would like to store them in it, we would suggest you clean and lightly oil them, wrap them in a clear saran wrap or oil wax paper before replacing them back in the box. The wrap will keep the oil on the knife and will help protect them in case the cardboard collects moisture.
Our best recommendation would be to store them away from the cardboard, wrapped in a piece of cotton or material knife sleeve.
We recommend using only a professionally sealed knife for underwater use, one that was made especially for that purpose.
If you are going to use a non-sealed knife for diving, and many do, then cleaning right after every use is essential!! Even Titanium blade knives which are about the most resistant to salt water should be cleaned on a regular schedule.
Salt water is very corrosive and will create more damage than fresh water will since salt will eat away at almost any surface in a short period of time but no matter which type water, cleaning is a must!
If your knife is leather handled we suggest not using it underwater at all unless it has been sealed professionally such as a UDT knife. We would suggest an elastomer handled knife over leather for any underwater use. Elastomer handles will last longer, are more resistant to absorbing moisture, and are easier to clean afterwards.
Wash the knife completely with a good non-lye based soap and hot water as soon as possible after each underwater use. Let the knife completely air dry and then oil well. This will help to make your knife last as long as it can under that type of use.
Cleaning of the sheath is just as important no matter what the material: you do not want to place a clean knife back into a salty or wet sheath.
When storing collectable knives for long periods of time, special care should be given to make sure that they are in the absolute best condition before starting their storage.
Always perform the basics (inspection, cleaning, dried, and lubricated with knife oil). These steps will get you started in preparing your knives for long storage.
Always make sure that all fingerprints or handling marks are removed totally during the cleaning, the last thing that should touch your knives is a clean dry cotton cloth.
Professional knife collectors will not even touch their high value knives without wearing white cotton gloves. That is the first basic rule for most museum curators when handling any type of high value metal antiques such as guns or knives.
Different collectors store their knives in different ways depending on their location, seasonal temperatures and humidity levels.
If your storage is in a high heat, high humidity area, you may wish to wrap each knife separately in a cotton cloth and place them within an airtight plastic sealed bag. Some collectors use vacuum sealed bags so they can remove all of the remaining air.
If you live in a warm dry area with hardly any humidity or rapid change in temperatures, you may not need the airtight bag, but you may wish to wrap each knife in saran wrap and then in a cotton cloth before committing them to a storage unit.
Always store sheaths, cardboard, wood cases and display boxes, paper, or anything else which may retain moisture in a separate area away from your knives.
Coastal regions are especially difficult due to the moisture and salt content blown in from the ocean.
We would suggest the airtight vacuum sealed bag storage system here as well as and additional sealed storage container such as a military ammo box which has a rubber seal to keep elements out.
(Note) All the storage suggestions above should only be performed after the initial basics listed above are completed.
Storage containers, cabinets, boxes, all play an important part as well. As we mentioned earlier, if you have a wooden storage area, check to make sure the wood is sealed, or it can retain moisture. Large storage units and display cabinets manufactured by knife companies now cover their boxes with a laminated plastic or vinyl veneer on the exterior and interior to block moisture.
Some additional ideas that collectors have used is to place a common bowling alley hand drying bag or other moisture collecting items inside their storage area to help remove any moisture from within. If you do this, you should check and replace them occasionally.
Any sealed metal box such as the ammo box we mentioned above will make a good first line of defense against moisture but note that metal WILL condensate moisture within when subjected to extreme alternating temperatures so store in an appropriate area and use reasonable judgment.
We do not recommend using waxes or silicone-based sealants on collectable knives, just like furniture, they can build up in time and make it more difficult to remove later, possibly hurting the finish. A good knife oil will keep your knife lubricated as well as supply a good line of defense. One wax exception would be a good quality Renaissance wax used for preserving valuable antiques and museum pieces.
One of the great temptations is when you have a highly decorative knife that you like to display. Displaying it is OK as long as you remember and protect it from the things that can harm it.
If you are going to display the knife, do so in a controlled area within a moderate temperature range, preferably within a sealed display case of some type. Do not allow admirers to handle it or take it out of its case.
Check it periodically for any spots that may be forming, especially on the side you do not see in the case.
We suggest only hand sharpening your knives, often a grinding wheel type sharpening will heat the blade to temperatures that will melt away protective coatings and in some extremes warp and discolor the blade.
Using a good sharpening stone wet/dry can give you a nice razor-sharp edge for the small amount of effort.
Rare Valuable Knives
If your knives are rare and very valuable, we suggest ONLY having them cleaned or worked on by a professional knife smith/cleaner with a well-known reputation.