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Daniel Jackson

Tips for Maintaining Custom Knives

custom art knife
Instead of turning to cotton cloths for wiping down his knives, Carlos Lopez uses microfiber cloths. This beauty made and engraved with a fantasy warrior theme by Bulgaria’s Alex Gev has a special place in the Lopez collection, and is one of Carlos’s favorites.

Custom Knives Require a Special Kind of Tender Loving Maintenance

Most everyone knows what’s needed to care for a utility knife, including maintaining a working edge and wiping it down after use. However, keeping your custom knife as stunning as the day you first laid eyes on it is another matter. BLADE® polled four veteran knife collectors for their input on the subject. After years of collecting, they have more than a few ideas on how to keep knives presentation ready.

It may not be apparent when buying just one knife, but tallied up and considered together, knife collections can add up to a serious investment.

“It’s imperative that you preserve it as a group,” said U.S. Army veteran and long-time knife collector Louis Chow of San Francisco. “And even more so for the people that prefer a certain maker, you can say Loveless collectors or Moran collectors or what not, because it becomes a collection that is actually known to others.”

Chow has searched for custom combat/military type knives from those by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Bo Randall to sub-hilt fighters by Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bob Loveless.

how to care for a knife
One knife care product Louis Chow has reached for over the past three decades to keep everything pristine is Renaissance Wax. Chow began using the wax after knifemaker Clay Gault recommended it to him. Gault was known for his natural handle materials. The knife is by Don Lozier. (Kris Kandler image)

For the diverse kinds of knives in his collection, some with stainless steel blades and others with leather grips, Chow has reached for one product over the past three decades to keep things pristine: Renaissance Wax. Chow began using it after maker Clay Gault recommended it. Gault was known for his natural handle materials.

“If it’s good enough for the British Museum, I think it’s good enough for me,” Louis said of Renaissance Wax.

Researchers at the British Museum learned that natural waxes went acidic over time, which was not good for the museum’s relics. In the late 1950s, Dr. A.E.A. Werner reportedly developed Renaissance Wax in the museum’s research laboratory.

With Renaissance Wax, Chow doesn’t have to distinguish between blade and handle. It works equally well protecting carbon blades, stacked leather handles and the sheaths that encompass them.

When knives sit in padded, acid-free cases, the wax doesn’t soak into the fabric of the cases as oils do. After returning from knife shows and to remove the traces of soda, coffee and fingerprints, Chow wipes down his blades with cotton buffing cloths from auto centers or specialty shops. He uses the cotton buffing cloths instead of microfleece because the latter tends to leave fibers everywhere.

knife maintenance tips
Louis Chow uses a polish paste on his carbon steel knives if he notices rust forming. He’s careful to use a mild polish without a lot of grit, such as Simichrome or 3M. Other polishes have a fine grit that, with a mirror polish blade, might change the condition of the finish. (Kris Kandler image)

Chow also uses a polish paste on his carbon steel knives if he notices rust beginning to form. He’s careful to use a mild polish without a lot of grit, such as Simichrome or 3M. Other polishes have a fine grit that, “if you have a mirror polish blade, that might change the condition of the finish.”

See the Light

lubricant for knife
Folder pivots by top makers don’t need a lot of lubrication because they are often made with tight tolerances. “Bob Terzuola once humorously mentioned to me how often people ‘over oil’ their knives, telling me how he would sometimes get knives back for a refurb that were literally dripping oil,” Chris Schluter recalled. If lint collects in a folder’s hard-to-reach crevices, a blast of compressed air does the trick. The folder is by Tom Ferry and the lube is by Quick Release. (Kris Kandler image)

Paul Kessler not only preserves the finely fitted and oft en engraved knives he collects, but he displays them as well. Of maintaining knives, he said, “It’s like taking care of your eyeglasses.”

The mortgage advisor’s maintenance routine begins when a new knife joins his collection. He cleans the fresh blade with WD-40. Kessler uses WD-40 only to clean blades. It tends to migrate, he says.

To lubricate folder pivots he uses Tuf-Oil or Breakfree.

“It’s a recommendation that I received from knifemaker Tom Overeynder, and they both work extremely well,” Paul noted. “They’re Teflon-bearing oils that won’t coagulate.”

Moisture and light are Kessler’s biggest concern when storing his knives. Just as sunlight changes the cabinetry of a kitchen, it can affect knives, he said.

“What happens with mammoth ivory, sunlight fades the color,” he observed. “When exposed to light, cocobolo gets darker. Elephant ivory, on the other hand, darkens and ‘patinas,’ and actually looks nicer.”

The first line of defense against light is museum glass that deflects the harmful rays. Kessler’s cases are lined with a Ph-neutral cloth and he turns to industrial magnets that hold the knives in place with 100 pounds of force.

He has used cigar boxes and antique picture frames to display his knives. They are French fitted, dustproof and airtight.

He stores fixed blades out of their sheaths and automatic knives with their springs not under pressure.

“I’ll use mineral oil with the 0000-steel wool on something that’s been exposed to the sun to bring the color back a little bit,” he said.

Every three months, Kessler moves his knives’ actions and oils the pivots with Tuf-Coat lubricant. He does not use Renaissance Wax. He finds that it leaves a film, giving the knife less of a luster.

Instead, he turns to RustFree, a product sold by A.G. Russell Knives. Kessler works a little on a cloth, wipes the knives and stores the cloth in a bag.

No Knife Wash Blues

knife cleaning tips
After returning from knife shows and in order to remove the traces of soda, coffee and fingerprints from his knives—such as this vintage Delaware Maid sub-hilt fighter by Bob Loveless—U.S. Army Major veteran Louis Chow wipes down the blades with cotton buffing cloths that he picks up at auto centers or specialty shops. He uses the cotton buffing cloths instead of microfleece because the latter tends to leave fibers everywhere. (Louis Chow image)

Carlos Lopez is a residential builder in Florida. Being a purveyor of high-end custom knives and running the website knifetreasures.com is his “fun job.” He compares the care of a high-end custom knife to that of a car.

“It’s like you drive a car, it gets dirty, you wash it. You gotta maintain it,” he said.

Showtime is maintenance time for Lopez, who will wipe down and open and close each blade. He uses light oil and Renaissance Wax. The cleaning continues throughout the show.

“At a show, anytime anybody picks up a knife, after they see it, you wipe it clean,” Lopez said. “Fingerprints and oils from the fingers can eventually damage and rust a blade or handle.”

However, instead of turning to a cotton cloth, Lopez uses microfiber. When a microfiber cloth gets dirty, he throws it away. The key, he says, is to keep the cloth clean so it doesn’t pick up a piece of dirt that will scratch the blade. He gets multipacks of the microfiber cloths because he has to throw away the many that get dirty.

Living in Florida, Lopez keeps his house air-conditioned. This maintains his home—and the knives within—in a low-humidity environment.

If one of his knives develops rust, Lopez usually sends it to the knife’s maker for a fix up. If the original maker is deceased, he sends the knife to a maker who does similar work. When it comes to specialty materials such as ivory, Lopez recommends two treatments. Applying Renaissance Wax—letting it dry and then buffing it off —or baby oil helps seal the material.

“If you go to dry-weather places with ivory pieces they can crack within a day,” he advised, “so yeah, you need to maintain them and seal them.”

Don’t Over Oil!

chris schluter custom knives
A peak inside the knife case of Chris Schluter (inset) reveals, clockwise from top left: a tube applicator of Breakfree pivot lube, a Torx driver from Prometheus Design Werx, the Tanjun by Jonathan Mcnees, Peter Rassenti’s Pebble and a Model 7 by Bob Terzuola, the latter two resting on a True North Knives chamois. (Chris Schluter image)

Unlike bone handles or carbon steel blades, maintenance for tactical knives is a bit easier—or so says Chris Schluter, a stay-at-home dad in Chicago who formerly worked at the German-American Chamber of Commerce.

“I love the utilitarian designs which a maker can dress up or down as desires,” he observed.

“Part of the beauty of tactical folders is that, normally at least, not a lot of care is needed,” Schluter said. “This can depend on materials, of course. However, many materials commonly used on tactical folders are by design robust and maintenance free. G-10, titanium, carbon fiber, zirconium, etc., really don’t need care. That leaves one with the blade to care for. Even then, it’s usually a high-performance”—and thus low-maintenance—“stainless steel.”

When it comes to the care of tactical folders’ pivots, they don’t need a lot of lubrication, Schluter noted, because they are often made with tight tolerances.

“Bob Terzuola once humorously mentioned to me how often people ‘over oil’ their knives, telling me how he would sometimes get knives back for a refurb that were literally dripping oil,” Schluter recalled. If lint collects in a folder’s hard-to-reach crevices, a blast of compressed air does the trick.

“Pivots which become loose over time should be tightened with the proper screwdriver or Torx wrench and a drop of Loctite® added,” Schluter said.

He stores most of his 300 custom folders in a large gun safe in padded pouches, and dozens adorn the walls of his office in display cases. As for care, he tries to wipe down each knife with a high-quality oil like Tuf-Glide a few times a year, or after he handles one.

“Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—I just have too many knives now to do this all at once,” he writes. “These days I do this in batches or when I happen to be handling a piece.”

The key for him is to avoid the ever-creeping rust. For the knives in his safe, he throws in a few moisture-absorbing desiccant packs and moisture removers.

“As with any treasured belongings, protecting them is a priority,” he stressed. “I would hate to open my safe and find a bunch of rusty knives.”

Find More Knife Maintenance Tips in This Download

how to clean a knife

Battle at the U.S. Border: Tackling Counterfeit Knives

Editor’s note: With news of Canada ending imports of folding knives rocking the knife world, here is another important issue taking place at international borders.


Microtech fake knife
U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently seized a dozen counterfeit Microtech knives attempting to enter via Alaska. Note the difference between an authentic Microtech Trodoon (above, top) and a counterfeit of it (bottom). (Microtech image)

Knife Companies Get Proactive

As part of his duties at Buck Knives, Joe Houser clicks through e-commerce websites like eBay, searching for fake Buck knives. When he finds a listing where someone is pedaling a counterfeit Buck, Houser works with the website to take the listing down and perhaps banish the seller from the site.

A few years ago, Buck didn’t have someone doing this job. But more and more fans of Buck Knives were sending their blades to the company’s warranty department only to learn their cherished knives really weren’t Bucks at all. Someone had ripped off the designs, piggybacking off Buck’s name and reputation to sell a shell of a knife to a swindled customer.

Counterfeiting may be the most recent challenge to adversely affect the knife industry. Over the past year or two, counterfeiters have gotten smarter, mimicking knife designs better. And thanks to the rise of international e-commerce websites, it’s harder to stop shipments of illegal knives entering the country because many come through in onesies and twosies, sent direct to the buyer through FedEx, UPS and other shipping outfits.

Bad for Collectors, Bad for Business

Buck knives counterfeit fake
Buck Knives took a dozen Buck knife counterfeits and gave them a Rockwell hardness test. “None of the blades, not one, were made of hardened steel,” noted Buck’s Joe Houser. “They are very cheaply made and fall apart quite easily.” A display of Buck counterfeits (above) reflects the scope of the problem. (Buck image)

Buck took a dozen of the counterfeits and gave them a Rockwell hardness test.

“None of the blades, not one, are made of hardened steel. They are very cheaply made and fall apart quite easily,” Hauser wrote by e-mail. “I know of one model of Buck’s that I see counterfeited where the producers of the knife did not even install the linerlock. The blade had nothing at all to hold it open or closed.”

Research by the American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI), a leading organization fighting for common-sense knife laws, indicates U.S. manufacturers lose 10 percent in sales annually to counterfeiting.

As a result, AKTI officials estimate counterfeit blades siphon about $95 million from the knife industry every year. It’s enough to erode the bottom line of knife manufacturers providing American jobs. And if the problem is to be solved, it will take the whole of the knife industry, AKTI officials say.

U.S. Government Struggles to Keep Up

Counterfeit knives
U.S. Customs and Border Protection made 31,500 seizures in 2016 of products it found to have violated intellectual property rights—52 percent more in fiscal year 2016 than in 2014. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection image)

Gregory Moore, public affairs specialist with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said Customs made 31,500 seizures in 2016 of products it found to have 77 violated intellectual property rights—52 percent more products in fiscal year 2016 than in 2014. The increase presents a challenge for the agency.

“With the global rise of e-commerce and online shipping, the number of small packages containing counterfeit goods continues to rise,” Moore wrote. “Ninety percent of the seizures in fiscal year 2016 were small packages shipped through express carriers or international mail. The increase of [goods infringing on intellectual property rights] in the small-package environment creates both a logistical and enforcement challenge for CBP.”

Fake counterfeit spyderco knife
The best way to make sure the knife you order online is legitimate is to buy from retailers that specialize exclusively in knives. ShopBlade.com is one of them. Click to browse a selection of genuine knives.

Counterfeit knives make up less than 1 percent of the products Customs seizes that it considers a threat to health and safety, a category that also includes counterfeit pharmaceuticals and sporting goods. After all, poor steel can cause a blade to snap, a pivot to fail, etc., increasing the chances of injury or even death.

Besides, seeing a knife being ripped off and made with poor materials stinks.

“Well, it’s frustrating,” said Doug Ritter, executive director of the other leading organization dedicated to common-sense knife laws, Knife Rights. Ritter also has designed knives for CRKT and Benchmade.

Most honest knives are derivatives of older knives, Ritter said, where knifemakers seek to improve the designs and make a better knife.

“That’s the way stuff develops,” Ritter said.

Meanwhile, the organization spearheading the effort against counterfeit knives is AKTI.

“We encourage them in their efforts and hope they are successful because these counterfeits hurt everyone in the knife community,” Ritter wrote.

Counterfeiters Get Smaller, More Numerous

counterfeit buck knives
Some of the counterfeits go so far as to copy the knife right down to the blade mark and product box with literature, as here with a fake Buck 110. (Buck image)

CRKT President Rod Bremer’s interest in counterfeit knives began to grow about five years ago when he started noticing more and more counterfeits from Southeast Asia. Today, he noted, most counterfeit knives originate from China.

Bremer, who chairs AKTI’s anti-counterfeiting committee, said most counterfeiters have small operations—simply working out of a garage—making them hard to track down. Sometimes they copy manufacturers’ knives right down to the packaging and warranties that are honored for genuine models only. Often, the counterfeiters try to catch the eye of buyers looking for a deal.

Compared to legitimate knives, Bremer said, counterfeits are usually priced at 50 to 70 percent of the MSRP of the genuine article. For example, one American knife company manufactures a fixed blade for $425 of which a Chinese e-commerce site recently listed a counterfeit—complete with the company’s logos on the packaging—for about $41.

Some counterfeiters have become so sophisticated that knife companies must look at machining marks and other small details to identify the real thing, similar to identifying counterfeit currency.
These details are kept secret by the companies lest the knowledge falls into the hands of counterfeiters.

What Can be Done?

counterfeit pocket clips
A close-up of the pocket clips of the genuine Microtech Trodoon (bottom) and a counterfeit (top) reinforces just how far counterfeiters will go to copy the genuine article. (Microtech image)

Bremer said the knife industry’s most comprehensive strategy is to play a full-court press, including being vigilant in asking e-commerce sites to remove listings of counterfeit models. If the knife industry as a whole makes it a “pain in the butt” to sell bogus knives, he said, then the bad actors may move to more lucrative products.

“Counterfeiters are not particularly selective,” Bremer observed. “They just want to knock somebody’s brand off, sell it and make a lot of money.”

Can the federal government build a virtual wall of blue-gloved U.S. Customs officers opening boxes and targeting shipments coming in from outside nations? Unfortunately, as Bremer noted, “I don’t think they have the manpower to catch all the shipments.”

Stop by any major port, such as San Francisco or Savannah, and you’ll see container yards of goods miles and miles long. But not all is doom and gloom.

“China has gotten more aggressive on intellectual property,” Bremer said. “The new president of China has gotten pretty harsh on people that are knowingly ripping off patents, but the effort is clearly not as aggressive as most of us would like. And it’s going to take time.”


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