Why is my Pocket Knife Hard to Open?

We’ve all been in this position before. We do hours of research, figure out which knife is best for our purposes, and spend a significant amount of money only to be disappointed to learn that we have a hard time even getting the thing to open – much less get any use out of it. Or, over time, things happen and the action starts to stiffen up.

With all the bells and whistles that one is able to find in a pocket knife, it is becoming exceedingly rare to find a knife that can be opened and closed as flawlessly as the many features it boasts.

Fortunately, we don’t have to settle for a stubborn and hard-to-handle knife. There are many things we can to break it in and ensure we get the value that we pay for.

When you need to loosen a hard to open knife there are several methods you can try. You can simply use it and break it in naturally, you can clean off any residue, dirt, grime, or rust, you can use quick release oil, or you can loosen the pivot screw. I would try these methods in order for best results unless it’s obvious what the issue is.

Why is my folder hard to open?

Today there is no shortage of pocket knives. One can find a knife for just about any occasion, and with tools for just about any project you can imagine.

From everyday Joes, hunters to anglers, to the outdoorsman, camper, or soldier, a pocket knife is a tool forged out of sheer necessity. From the gut-hook blade of the deer hunter to the Swiss Army knife, these little companions are sure to pay for themselves through their usefulness.

However, despite their practicality and convenience, there remain some issues that are ubiquitous to all in the pocket-knife family. The issue is a stubborn aversion to being opened and can be exacerbated by a number of factors.

This issue is prevalent specifically because it eliminates the practical appeal of the knife altogether. After all, what good is a pocket knife containing a plethora of tools if you’re unable to even get it opened up?

On new folding knives, they are typically hard to open because of tight tolerances. This is most often the case and is not a bad thing. However, in older knives the issues usually expand to external factors like, rust, goop, gunk, leftover food, etc., finding its way into your folder. All of these things will cause functionality issues.

Fortunately, industrious folks have figured out ways to help get our knives broken in and to guarantee we get what we pay for in a knife.

How to Break in a Pocket Knife

It’s not uncommon for top-quality goods to need a little bit of TLC to break them in after purchasing. Anyone who has ever owned a great pair of boots or a catcher’s mitt knows that new items, no matter the quality, need a little bit of love before you can really make them your own.

It’s important to remember that this is also the case with knives, only the problems are sometimes amplified by the fact that there are often several moving parts on a pocketknife, all interlocking to function properly.

To break it in, one has to sometimes account for bearings, screws, springs, and safety locks among other things.

The first tactic to break in your new knife is a bit of a no brainer, and that is to use it. Even though it may be difficult to open and close, repetition will allow the many interlocking parts of the knife to wear against one another and start to break down any resistance that stems from any friction between the many surfaces, and especially at or around the hinge.

Often, several instances of opening and closing the knife over the course of several days will be enough to reduce any stiffness in the knife’s anatomy and allow the user to become acquainted with the knife’s feel and purpose.

However, there are some instances where mere repetition will not, in and of itself, eliminate the need for more direct measures.

Loosening a Stiff Knife

Of course, getting a stubborn knife to comply is hardly rocket science, and I would wager just about anyone will be able to get an uncompliant knife working for them after a few simple tricks are tried.

Check for Obstructions

First things first, a new owner of a pocket knife should inspect it thoroughly to ensure there is nothing obvious impeding you from being able to open and shut the knife.

Manufacturers typically do a great job of not allowing their defective models to make it out into the retail environment. However, a few usually manage to slip through the cracks or get damaged on their way to market.

When this happens and you notice any glaring defects, it is a good idea to contact either the retailer or manufacturer to ensure that you can get a refund or the knife replaced. It is always better to do this than to try to force the knife open or closed.

Once you have confirmed that the problem is not due to it being a manufacturer’s defect, you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t derive from simple use of the knife.

Think back to when you last used the knife. Are the hinges and opening clear of all dust and debris? I once had a hunting knife that would not open, and the reason was that I forgot to clean off all the dried blood and deer hair from the hinges. Once it had dried, it may as well have been cement.

It became encrusted and stuck in there and was very difficult to remove. I remember scrubbing every inch of that knife with a scratch pad trying to clear away all of the grit and grime out of the hinges, and it was not fun at all. Once it was finished, it seemed to be as good as new.


For most pocket knives, though, all that is generally going to be needed is a little bit of lubrication – assuming that the structural integrity of the knife is sound and without defect.

While it is normal that the knife manufacturer often does apply some initial lubrication the knife’s moving parts, it is likely not enough to allow the knife to glide open and close optimally.

In these cases, I generally would advise the owner to apply a small amount of quick-release lubrication to the pivot pin, joints, and other moving parts of the knife if there are any.

This is especially true for Swiss Army knives which utilize several divergent blades and gadgets which all occupy the same relative space. Yet this needs to be done cautiously to avoid losing your grip or accidentally cutting yourself on the blade.

What Kind of Lubrication?

Lubrication all serves the same purpose, but as any mechanic or tradesman will tell you, not all lubrication is the same. In fact, if one applies the wrong kind of lubricant or applies too much of the correct lubricant, this can sometimes have the opposite effect al allow dirt and grime to build up in difficult places.

For this reason, I would recommend oil and protectant that is designed specifically for this purpose. For a fast solution, you can try quick-release lubrication and see if that gets things going.

Another choice is Sentry Solution Tuf Glide, which is an affordable lubricant made specifically guns, knives, and other tools just for this purpose and is great for providing that extra bit of slickness to help your knife open and close with minimal effort.

This type of dry lubricant will leave a protective film to also protect against rust and other natural infirmities that target metals and compromise the integrity of your knife.

Pivot Screw or Pivot Pin

If the correct type of lubrication is applied and there is still a significant amount of difficulty opening and closing the piece, there is another method that consists of gently loosening the knife’s pivot screw gradually until the desired looseness is achieved.

This should be done very painstakingly and slowly to ensure the screw does not become overly loose and unstable to ensure it is safe to use. Because the pivot pins are usually Torx screws, it may be a good idea to invest in a decent Torx bit set for your screwdriver.


Most of us remember our first pocket knife. It is somewhat of a rite of passage, a token of our transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a tool which we use to accomplish the things necessary to sustain our lives, from cutting fishing line to carving wood to stripping wire.

Yet like any tool, we have to find a way to make it truly our own, as it is only as useful as our mastery of it. Having a knife that will open and close at-will is vital to its usefulness, and when we know how to take care of our knives, we can ensure they will last us for years to come – and will be used safely and productively.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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