Blade HQ with Lucas Burnley — Pocket Knife Maintenance

If you carry a pocket knife with any regularity, you’re going to enjoy this video with Knifemaker Lucas Burnely walking us through some basic knife maintenance measures. These are simple tips and tricks that each of us can use to keep our knives running in tip-top shape. Despite carrying and using pocket knives daily and knowing most of the tricks myself, I still found this video to be informative and I learned a couple of things that I’m eager to implement into my own practice.

Lucas begins the knife maintenance video by explaining how to adjust your knife. He emphasizes that subtle, small adjustments are best. I will echo that here; a small tweak here and there is better than extreme adjustments. Small increments are the way to go.

To gain the most advantage, adjust the knife when it’s about ¾ of the way open or closed, instead of when it’s locked open. If the lock is engaged, you don’t get a true adjustment. Lucas encourages us to use quality bits in our drivers as well. He encourages us to tighten the pivot screw all the way tight, and then back off in small increments until the desired resistance in the pivot is reached. It’s easier to back off the tightness than to tighten down when adjusting the pivot.

knife maintenance - adjusting the pivot screw
When adjusting knives, subtle adjustments are preferred. It helps to control your tools if you keep your hands in contact with a solid surface.

Each person will likely have his or her own preferences when it comes to pivot tightness. Some people like the pivot to swing freely by the force of gravity. Personally, I like a bit more resistance on my pivots and don’t mind exerting a little pressure to open them. I find that having the pivot a bit on the tighter side reduces lateral play of the blade, whereas when the blade swings freely, we can experience side-to-side play. As mentioned, it’s a personal choice. If you enjoy playing with and flicking your knife open, then you may like it looser. For harder use, a more rigid tension might suit you better.

Basic Knife Maintenance Tools

A few of the tools recommended for knife maintenance: oil, a driver with bits.
A few of the tools recommended for knife maintenance: oil, a driver with bits.

Lucas mentions some basic implements that he recommends for knife maintenance:

  • A driver and bits.
  • Acid Brush (helpful for working on knives with fine finishes).
  • Q-Tips (great for cleaning small parts and the lock face).
  • Oil (he loves Nano-Oil, which comes in a syringe with a needle for precise application).
Acid brush for knife maintenance
An acid brush is helpful to clean knives that have a fine finish.

Oiling

Lucas mentions that, when applying oil, less is always better! I will echo that with my personal experience. The more oil that goes into a knife, the more dirt, grit, and gunk it will attract. In my experience, lube often works its way into the locking mechanism, causing lock bars in liner locks and frame locks to slip and fail. Because of this, I typically run my knives dry or nearly so. He points out that having a lot of grit in your knife will actually cause more wear to the knife.

knife maintenance - oil
A little oil goes a long way! Less is better. Too much oil attracts dirt and other gunk, causing problems.

Disassembly

I try to never disassemble my knives unless it’s absolutely necessary. Oh, they come apart easily enough, but getting them back together the way they started out is where I meet the biggest challenge.

Lucas suggests figuring out where you’ll begin and how you want to proceed with the disassembly before beginning the process, a kind of mapping-out process. I’ve found that videos from sites such as Youtube can be an invaluable asset, as they often give step-by-step instructions on a particular knife. And that’s not just for knives, you can find information on nearly everything on that venue!

Another useful trick I’ve learned is to take photos with my cell phone as I take the knife apart. That way, I have a visual record of how it came apart, which helps me get it right when it’s time for reassembly.

When disassembling, Lucas recommends not loosening any screws with the blade closed, especially if the knife has a nice finish, because this can cause the lock to spring, which can cause scratches. Having the blade fully open is a good idea at this stage. Keeping your wrists in contact with a table helps steady your hands, which minimizes slipping and scratches. He also suggests laying things out in order to keep them organized to reduce the chance of losing small parts. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a spring or small screw being launched across the room, headed for parts unknown.

knife maintenance mat
Keeping knife parts organized on an uncluttered workspace helps to make reassembly problem-free. It also reduces the chance of lost parts.

Burnley mentions that Windex and Isopropyl Alcohol are useful for cleaning knife parts. Alcohol cuts oil and grease, leaving parts clean.

Rather than take them apart, I’ll normally spray some dish soap into the action, work the action, and rinse it in hot water after a bit, which is often enough to clean out most of the gunk that has accumulated in the action. If the lock bar is slipping (whether it’s a frame lock or liner lock), a Q-Tip dipped into alcohol can be used to clean the lock face and any other parts nearby that can be reached. The majority of the time, this will fix that slipping lock bar.

After Lucas cleans out the knife, he will add tiny spots of oil to key points as he reassembles the knife.

Blade Centering

This is a big thing with many people who carry knives. Sooner or later, we’re going to run into a knife that has an off-center blade (when it’s closed). As long as the blade doesn’t rub one of the scales when it’s opened, it’s not a big deal (although it might not mechanically cause an issue, though, sometimes it just might bug us anyway).

Sometimes just tightening the pivot is enough to recenter the blade. If that doesn’t work, another trick that he recommends is to apply lateral pressure as you reassemble the knife. If the blade is off-center toward the scale side, loosen the pivot, pinch the pivot area, loosen the screws on the knife’s spine, apply the pressure at the pivot while tightening the screws. This will often center the blade. I recommend watching that portion of the video because Lucas explains it better than I can write it here (this is an example I was talking about of a video being so useful for instruction). Suffice to say, the process is actually not very complex.

centering the blade
Centering an off-center blade can be as easy as loosening some screws, then retightening them while applying pressure near the pivot.

Lock Stick

Another thing that sometimes vexes knife owners is known as “lock stick”, which occurs when the lock bar sticks and does not want to disengage. Lucas recommends using a draftsman’s graphite pencil to solve the problem (although a #2 pencil or a Sharpie Marker will work as well). Apply a bit of graphite or Sharpie Marker to the lock face, which will help it to disengage more easily.

Personally, I don’t mind a bit of lock stick because it means the lock is more secure and solid. In fact, I’d prefer a little bit of lock stick as opposed to a slipping lock (within reason, of course).

Lock stick can be remedied with graphite from a pencil or ink from a Sharpie Marker.
Lock stick can be remedied with graphite from a pencil or ink from a Sharpie Marker.

Lucas made mention that he looks at knives as if they are puzzles. I thought that was a neat perspective, and it does make sense, considering that he’s a knife maker.

Overall, I found this knife maintenance video to be well organized and concise, and it helped me understand knives better and how to care for them, even though I’ve carried a pocket knife for about the past 45 years or so. As long as you desire to expand your knowledge, you will never stop learning new things, regardless of how experienced you might be! Lucas has a well-spoken presentation that is organized and well thought out, and his style of narration is just plain engaging! Check out this video, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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