FAQ: What's the best way to clean a really dirty slipjoint pocketknife?

17th Jun 2015

It happens to most of us at some point -- one of our favorite slipjoint pocketknives gets really gunked-up.

Maybe it got caked with mud somehow. Maybe we dropped it in the yard and it got rained on before we found it. Maybe we used it on a hunting trip and failed to clean it up afterward.

However it happened, relax -- it's not difficult to bring a gummy pocketknife back to life. Here's how.

  1. Fill a bowl with hot water and mild dishwashing soap.
  2. Open all blades of the knife and dunk it in the soapy water. Swish the knife around and (carefully) move the blades to work the solution into the pivots and backsprings.
  3. After a minute or so, take the knife out of the soapy water and hold it under running hot water. Make sure to rinse away all of the soap residue.
  4. Right away, dry the knife thoroughly -- and we mean right away and thoroughly. Use canned compressed air and a soft cloth (not paper towels or tissues). Be sure to move the blades back and forth to work trapped moisture out of the pivots and backsprings.
  5. After you're sure that the knife is completely dry, apply your preferred lubricant to the pivots. (We like Benchmade BlueLube.) You also may want to apply a small amount of lube to the backsprings and liners, inside the knife.
  6. Open and close the blades a few times to work the lube into the pivots and between the backsprings and liners. This also will help displace remaining moisture.
  7. Keep an eye on the knife over the following few days and weeks to make sure the blades continue to move freely. Reapply lube as necessary.

Here are a few more tips that may help.

  • Don't let the knife soak for any length of time in the soapy water (or any other cleaning solution). Some scales (handle materials) may darken and others, like wood, will swell.
  • One of the best tools we've found for cleaning tight spots and crevices is a wooden toothpick. To turn it into a tool for drying the knife, wrap the tip in a piece of soft cloth. (A cotton swab will work, too, but be careful not to snag it in the joints and sharp edges.)
  • If you're a fan of WD-40, be careful -- although it'll do a great job of displacing moisture trapped in the pivots, petroleum distillates like WD-40 can stain or permanently damage handle materials. (Celluloid comes to mind.) If you do use it, be sure to use the snorkel (that little plastic tube) and aim it precisely at the pivots. And never, ever soak your slipjoint in petroleum distillates.

That's it. Take your time to do this right and you'll be amazed at how effective it is.