Knife Handle Material - What is available?
Updated: Mar 1
It is a really exciting time for handle materials at the moment, there seem to be more and more options hitting the market all the time and as a maker, this is a great way of making your knives stand out from the crowd.
So what is available to you the customer? This blog will let you know and identify the benefits and disadvantages of each choice.
Wood is a wonderful material for knife handles and has been used for thousands of years. You only have to look at Otzi the Iceman and the wooden handled flint knife he carried to realise just how long it has been used for knife and tool handles.
The wood from every tree species is different and has different properties that you need to consider when choosing your handle material. They all offer different grain patterns, colours and chatoyance. Some woods such as birch are softer wood, whereas something like desert ironwood (the clue is in the name) is hard, and this really must be taken into consideration when thinking about how your knife will be used.
A knife with a wooden handle feels nice in the hand and has a warm feel. It is a popular material for knives that will be used in cold conditions because of this.
It is however susceptible to growth and shrinkage depending on how humid or dry the conditions it is kept in. This is also true of where it is made and then sold. A knife made by a maker who lives in a hot dry part of the world, shipping it to a buyer in a wet humid part of the world will mean that the handle will never remain in the same condition as when first made.
A knife with a wooden handle needs maintenance. It will need oiling to help maintain the stability of the timber. How often will depend on what you use it for, and how often you use it. Even a knife that remains in storage should be oiled once a year. Talk to your maker for advice on what oil they recommend you use, and how often.
Wood goes well on outdoor knives, pocket knives and especially well on sloyd knives and whittling knives.
Stabilised wood offers all the wonderful qualities of a natural piece of timber, but with the benefits of not suffering from growth or shrinkage. Stabilised wood has been soaked under vacuum and pressure which forces a heat curing resin into the space where there was once air. These knife handle blocks are then baked in an oven to cure the resin, which hardens making it almost a plastic piece of wood. It retains its colour, the natural twists and swirls in the grain and makes what would have been brittle burrs stable and usable as wonderful blocks of wood for knife handles.
Often dyes are added to the stabilising fluids, which can add a new dimension to the timbers. Offering many different colours that wouldn't normally be seen in the natural world that look stunning on a knife, as can be seen in the photo below showing the kitchen knife handle material that has been both dyed and stabilised.
Make sure that you purchase from a reputable supplier, as unfortunately there seems to be a lot of people offering poor quality stabilised timber, so make sure you do your research to ensure you are buying a quality product.
Stabilised wood goes well on chef knives, outdoors knives and hunting knives
Micarta, G10 and Tufnol
These are man-made synthetic materials. As such they are very durable and hardwearing, They are also stable, and will not change in size with dry or wet conditions. They are easy to keep clean and make for a great handle for an outdoors or hunting knife.
These materials can be taken to a very high polish, or bead blasted for a grippy handle that has an excellent texture and feeling in the hand when working in wet conditions.
There is a great range of materials in this range, with fantastic colour combinations. This leads to some really interesting patterns that can be revealed as you sculpt the knife handles. When buying look for this pattern to be replicated on each side of the knife, it shows the care and attention from the maker when they have gone to the length to ensure that the sculpting matches each side.
These materials go well on hunting knives, kitchen knives, pocket knives, folding knives and combat knives.
Casting resin has opened up a whole new arena for knife scales. You name it, someone somewhere has cast it in resin and made a knife handle from it. From corn on the cob to pine cones to shit! I kid you not, I saw a knife handle made from shit!
My personal favourites are c-tek honeycomb knife scales. You can get amazing results with crazy colours of translucent resins that make for a unique knife. C-Tek seems to be the marmite of the knife world, but I think it's fantastic.
I am also a massive fan of Juma. This again is a cast resin, but it looks like dragon scales. It comes in a variety of colours and makes for a beautiful knife handle. The pattern runs through the material, so as you shape your handle it continues to reveal itself.
Resins are a very stable material, but they can be brittle. I wouldn't want to use it on a knife that would be put under any stress as the material could chip or crack.
These materials go well on kitchen knives, EDC carry knives, pocket knives and folding knives.
Bone, Antler, Tooth and Horn
Another material that has been used for knife handles for as long as time can tell. As a material, it lends itself to being a tool handle incredibly well. It can be used in its natural state, with the tang of the knife slotted directly into the antler or bone with little other work needing to be done. Often seen on bowie knives and those in the style of mountain men knives. Bigger pieces can also be cut into scales for full tang knives. Bone and tooth can be dyed and stabilised in much the same way as wood can. IN this condition it polishes well and makes for a truly beautiful knife handle.
The material can be fragile, especially with things like mammoth teeth that are 100's or thousands of years old. If not stabilised any of this material is at risk of growth and shrinkage depending on the conditions it is kept in. This can also lead to material cracking.
It ages beautifully, bone often developing a rich patina through both age and use.
These materials go exceptionally well on pocket knives and folding knives. It also makes for a great outdoorsman knife and hunting knife.
So now you have you handle material sorted, learn about steel types here
And while you are at it, why not browse the current knives I have available for sale