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Part of the joy of knife collecting is using the knives. What’s the point of having throwing knives and not doing a little or target practice?  Why have a fish knife and then not filet a fish with it?  Even if you have knives that aren't being used, you will still show them once in a while. In fact even knives that are stored and never shown still need to be inspected and cared for.

When not using your knife, you should attempt to store it in a cool, dust free environment with low humidity. The biggest enemies of knives are dust and moisture and temperature changes. Below are some of things I do. If you were to ask five knife collectors what they do to protect their collection, you would probably get five different answers. No doubt many people will also argue against some of my methods.

Try to avoid extreme temperature changes.  Knives are often made of more than one type of metal and handle materials are sometimes very exotic. The metals and the handle materials will expand and contract at different rates, especially with extreme temperature changes which can cause hairline cracks to form. Obviously open flames and extreme heat can cause major damage to knives that are not designed to handle such environments.

Moisture can also creep between scales and liners. Moisture attracts dust and causes corrosion. At the same time, a lack of moisture can cause damage to wood or leather. You need to find a happy medium for your knife collection and an try to control the humidity within you collection with dehumidifiers, and silica packets and perhaps even using humidors for storage. Salt water and harsh chemicals can also cause problems. While the perspiration from your hand may give some knife handles a wonder aged hue, the same perspiration can cause corrosion on blades, liners, and other handle materials.


Light, especially bright light or UV lighting will cause discoloration of not only material that has been died but also natural handle materials and some blade coatings. It is best to limit the amount of exposure your knives have to bright light and especially UV lighting, this includes LED and CFL lights which are extremely harsh on many types of finishes.

Below is a list of some things I've used for knife care. You will also be told by some people they would never use (fill in the blank) Like most things in this hobby, what you use will be based on your wallet and your on preferences. All I can do is say what has worked for me.

  1. A source for hot running water
  2. Soap
  3. Honing oil or light grade mineral oil
  4. Light weight oil.
  5. WD-40 or penetrating oil
  6. Microcrystalline wax polish
  7. Dry-film lubricant
  8. Peanut Butter.
  9. Mink oil
  10. Canned air
  11. Clean lint free cloth
  12. Lint free oil soaked cloth
  13. Toothpicks
  14. Soft bristle toothbrushes.
  15. Wet stone
  16. Oil stone
  17. Emory boards & 400, 1,000 grit sandpapers.
  18. Pipe cleaners.
  19. Dehumidifier
  20. Silica gel packs
  21. Brasso
  22. Dremel tool with polishing accessories.
  23. Magnifying glass
  24. Patience

Magnifying glass:
I personally use a headset magnifier with LED lighting to examine my knives. This allows both hands to be free to manipulate the blades and gives me the freedom to move about. The LED allows me a good view of the inner liners and good view of joints, pits, patina, tang stamps, etc. If you don't have some type of magnifier, get one.

There is no doubt that water can be a knife’s worst enemy but sometimes it can also be its best friend.   In the case of serious dirt or oily build up you may need to turn to soap and hot water. However always use water with caution.  You don’t want water creeping between the scales and the liners.  This can cause corrosion.  If you must use soap and water on a knife, make sure you rinse thoroughly with hot water.  Wipe dry with a lint free cloth and then dry all the nooks and crannies using canned air.  You can possibly soak fixed blades in soapy water, depending on handle materials but soaking a folder is a bad idea unless there is no possibility of water seeping between the scales and the liners.

When it comes to oils, you should invest in some honing oil especially made for knife care as well as 3M   "3in1" light weight motor oil.If you are working with handle materials that may not react well with petroleum based products, you may consider extra light extra virgin olive oil.  Use oil sparingly as it may stain or harm some knife handles.   Also oil on a stored knife can attract dust.

Oils such as the 3in1 and olive oil are not really for lubricating but for cleaning the blades. For lubricating and storage you will want to use a lightweight honing or mineral oil designed for knife care. My personal choice is Coon-P which is sold by Smoky Mountain Knife Works however there are plenty of comparable honing oils on the market. In the end, choose an oil especially desinged for use on knives. These oils tend to be extremely light weight and also light in color, As such they are less likely to stain handle materials and/or blades and also will attract less dust which in turn means less gunk in the joints and less cleaning for you in the future.

While WD-40 is often used as a lubricant it is actually a water displacing spray designed to remove moisture and residue from surfaces. This makes it a fairly useful cleaner but it really isn't the best type of lubricant for a knife. With that said, WD-40 in conjunction with penetrating oil may be necessary in the case of locked up joints or serious rust problems. When using WD-40 or other penetrating oils you need to be mindful of handle materials as both may be corrosive to some plastics or may stain natural materials such as stag or bone. 

If you have used penetrating oils or 3in1 or olive oils in your cleaning endeavors, you may want to give the knife a good rinse in scalding hot running water to remove excess oil. and then use WD-40 to remove the water from the joint area. Canned air can also be used to blow droplets of water out of nooks and crannies. Again be mindful of the scales as you don't water between the scales and liners. Afterwards, you can then apply small amounts knife oil to joints and wipe your blades down with a lint free oil soaked cloth.

If you plan on storing a knife for long periods, oil is not always the best answer. Many people recommend the use of microcrystalline wax polishes, such as Renaissance Wax (Ren-Wax) for the steel surfaces, especially for carbon steel. Others also insist on the use of dry-film lubricants such as Tufglide for joints and moving parts on knives. These products do not attract dust or moisture and therefore provide excellent protection for your knives.

Removing Dirt
The first step in cleaning an older knife is to remove any lint, grease, or dirt. Some of the most common tools for this task are clean, soft lint free cloths, wooden toothpicks, old soft-brushed toothbrushes, and cotton tipped swabs, pipe cleaners, and emory cloth. These tools should be used with light, non-drying, non-staining oil.  Old t-shirts aren’t a bad choice for lint free cloth.

Removing Rust
Before removing rust, you really should find out if you are going to hurt the value of the knife. More than one antique has been ruined by a person who thought he was improving an item by repairing or restoring it. If you really can't do damage to the knife's value, here are a few time tested methods for removing rust.

Rust spots on older knives should be oiled well and the knife should be allowed to sit for a few days. Rust can then be removed by carefully scraping away the rust spot with the tip of a sharp, stiff knife. Once again, proceed slowly and cautiously. By scraping away only the actual rust, you leave intact any of the original finish that remains.

In some cases, you may need to use sandpaper to remove rust.  In these cases, try using an Emory boards used for manicuring. Use the buffing side of the board used for polishing finger nails.

For really tough rust, you may need to use coarse sandpaper such as 200 or 400 grit.  Follow the use of coarse sand paper with progressively finer grits followed by emery paper and finally polishing creams and rags. Remember the going will be slow.  Patience is the key.

If you have a dremel tool and are comfortable using it, they have kits especially designed for cleaning and polishing steel. They run about $20 are are worth the investment. But again, you need to proceed slowly making sure you are not doing more harm than good. Remember, that you are not only removing rust but also removing part of the blade.

Removing Adhesives
Many older knives will have sticky adhesive tape residue on the handles from old labels. Before attempting caustic materials, try using peanut butter.  Peanut butter does wonders on removing adhesives but  if it doesn’t work, you may need to step up to Goo-gone, Acetone or lighter fluid. Extreme care should be taken when using either acetone or lighter fluid; they are both highly flammable and need to be used in a well ventilated area. They can also damage composition and synthetic handles and stain many natural materials.

Wet stone or oil stone? 
Take your pick. Both begin as your run of the mill sharpening stone.  If you use water on the stone it is called a wet stone.  If you use oil on the stone, it is an oil stone.  You’ll want a couple stones of varying sizes and grits.  Know this:  Once you apply honing oil to a stone, it is pretty much an oil stone for the life of the stone. There really is no turning back. Some people swear by oil stones, other claim a wet stone is more forgiving and accomplishes the same task. It’s your knife so you make the call.

Sharpening your knife.
Knives shouldn’t be sharpened unless they actually need to be sharpened.  Every time a knife is sharpened, it loses value and a certain amount of steel.  A knife sharpened incorrectly not only loses value but loses operational capabilities. Different knives will need to be sharpened at different angles, depending on the knife and the individual preference of the owner. Depending on the steel used in the blade, some knives will be easier to sharpen than others and in most cases will hold an edge better than other blades. When sharpening, try to maintain a constant angle and stroke the blade as if shaving a thin layer from the stone. Repeat the stroking motion along the entire edge of the blade starting at the blade heel and working to the tip. Turn the blade over and repeat the process. In some cases, unless you are an expert at sharpening, it may be better to have the knife professionally sharpened.

Cleaning Blades and Handles.
Apply a small drop of oil in the joints of your knife and a small amount of oil on a clean, lint free cloth. Then, wipe down the blades and handles with the soft cloth. The inside of the knife can be cleaned with the cotton-tipped swabs and wooden tooth picks. Take special care when using pipe cleaners to avoid scratching the surface with their wire core. Toothpicks or toothbrushes can be used to clean out the crevices in the jigging and other small areas where gunk can accumulate. You should always try to clean knife parts with a material softer than the material being cleaned so as to avoid nicks and scratches.

Caring for Leather.
I have used mink oil for years for leather sheaths and handles. Understand, however that mink oil will cause lighter shades of leather or rawhide to become darker with each application. There are numerous other leather protectants out there and many people argue against the use of mink oil. I suggest investigating and finding what works best for you. As for Saddle Soap, it is what sounds like. You use it to clean leather, not preserve it. It can be very caustic and for the most part is not necessary for cleaning dirt from sheathes or knife handles.

Knife Rolls for storage and transportation
Many experts recommend transporting and even storing your knives in a knife roll. Knife rolls are an inexpensive alternative to a safe or knife cabinet and make your collection easy to transport and display quickly.  The typical  knife roll consist of  water proof exterior with a soft cloth interior  with several slots  or bands designed to securely hold knives. Typically the roll allows the two long ends to fold over the knife collection and then the knives are rolled up like a sleeping bag and the roll is either securely tied or snapped closed. Knife rolls are available for sale online and from stores specializing in hunting and fishing. There are also diagrams available for how to make your own custom knife roll. For many people, the knife roll is even used for long term storage.  In these cases, make sure you store the roll in a cool, dry place.  Periodically check the roll’s material for deterioration. You must also occasionally unroll it and check its contents for signs of moisture damage. Be especially careful with synthetic and celluloid handles because they can be damaged by acidic papers and even elastic or rubber bands.  Celluloid is softer than you think.  Continuous pressure from elastic type bands will cause indentations over time.

Fixed blade storage
Fixed blades should not be stored in their sheath. The reason for this is the sheath acts as a conduit for moisture and can lead to rusting and staining. This can happen regardless of the type of material used to make the sheath and regardless if the blade is stainless steel carbon steel, powder coated, etc. If you musr store your fixed blades in their sheaths, then you will need to take extra percautions and make regular checks for mositure and staining.

Paper or plastic for storage.
Paper and plastic are both conduits for moisture and can damage knives during storage. Of the two materials, plastic is the bigger danger. It has a tendency to break down, specially under certain light conditions and this in turns releases gases that will damage a knife's finish. This can even happen to knives that have never been removed from thier orginal plastic wrap or clam packaging. If you are need to store knives for long periods of time, you're are better off, removing them from thier original packaging and wrapping them in museum quality acid free archival paper. You can also wrap and store all the original packaging seperately in the same fashion to assist in longevity. This will help prserve the original value and condition of the knife and the important packaging.

In the end:
Just as everyone collects different knives, everyone is going to take different measures to protect and preserve them. Furthermore, as people get more and more into the hobby and learn more about knife care, they may do things differently as they learn about new products and new methods of knife care. The information above is some of the things I have done that have worked for me. Other people will give you other advice. In the end, however, it is your collection and you need to do what you think is best. My best is advice is probably to examine your collection at least once a month to make sure it is excellent condition and take the appropriate steps to keep it that way.

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