Oso Grande's Guide to Knife Handle Materials

Knife Handle Materials

Knife handles are just as important as the blade of the knife. Without a good handle the knife does not function properly. Because of the importance of the knife handle we have provided this information about common styles and types of knife handles.

ABS.  A black amorphous thermoplastic polymer with high impact strength.


African Blackwood.  An African Blackwood, also called Mozambique Ebony, it is a rich black with dark brown graining. Used to make fine clarinets, this is one of the very best woods for knife handles.


Almite.  A coating used on aluminum handles similar to anodizing. Resistant to scratching and marring, it can also be tinted to any color for visual appeal.


Aluminum.  Just like titanium, aluminum is also a nonferrous metal. Commonly used as handles, aluminum gives the knife a solid feel, without the extra weight. The most common form of aluminum is T6-6061, a heat treatable grade. The most common finishing process for aluminum is anodizing.


Amber.  Fossilized pitch from pre-historic evergreens, much used in jewelry; now used by some makers of handmade knives; best known of these is D'Alton Holder.


Amboina Wood (also spelled Amboyna).  Sometimes referred to as padouk, this is a rare, exotic hardwood with a fragrant aroma which varies in color from yellow to golden brown to red. It is used in cabinet making and is an excellent wood for both turning and finishing. From the Pterocarput indicus tree of the jungles of Southeast Asia.


Ambidextrous.  Using both hands with equal ease. Pertaining to knives, it is a knife that is not solely designed for a left-or right-handed person but can be used with equal ease by both hands.


Anodized Aluminum.  Subjecting aluminum to electrolytic action which coats the aluminum with a protective and decorative film.


Axis Deer (India Stag).  The smaller of the two Indian and SE Asian deer that furnish antler for the knife industry; these are all shed horn harvested in the jungle by natives.


Bi-Directional Texturing.  Spyderco's patented texture pattern molded into FRN handles with forward and backward graduating steps radiating outward from the center of the handle. It provides resistance to slipping in the hand.


Black Pearl.  The correct term is "Black Lip Mother of Pearl". This is very rare and probably the most expensive of all mother of pearls.


Carbon Fiber.  Graphite fibers (the size of a human hair) are woven together and fused in epoxy resin. It's lightweight, three-dimensional in appearance and is a superior (and expensive) handle material.  It is a highly futuristic looking material with a definite "ahhhh" factor. Of all the lightweight synthetic handle materials, carbon fiber is perhaps the strongest. The main visual attraction of this material is the ability of the carbon strands to reflect light, making the weave pattern highly visible. Carbon fiber is also a labor-intensive material that results in a rather pricey knife.


Chital (See Axis - India Stag).  The smaller of the two Indian and SE Asian deer that furnish antler for the knife industry; these are all shed horn harvested in the jungle by natives.


Cocobolo Wood.  Hardwood from the Cocobolo tree, ranging in color from bright orange to deep red and dark purple. It's grain and fine texture are relatively easy to work, polishes to a high sheen and is popular as an inlay or embellishment on knife handles.


Cordia Wood.  Cordia wood is very similar to Teak and is occasionally used as a substitute for Teak in shipbuilding.


Desert Ironwood.  Native to the Sonoran desert (Northern Sonora Mexico and southern Arizona) it is a very dense tight grained wood, takes a very high polish, tends to darken with use and age.


European Stag.  Antler from the Red Deer, a large elk like animal found throughout Europe. Has been used for knife handles for at least as long as there have been knives of metal, and probably long before that. This stag has never been a substitute for the antler of the axis and sambar deer of India and Southeast Asia. The European Red Deer has a very coarse and open center, much like the American elk. Because of the large amount of pith in the center, it mostly has to be used as handle scales. The antler of the Red Deer is a limited substitute for the antler of both the Axis and the Sambar, that have both been embargoed by the Indian government.


Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (FRN).  A nylon polymer mixed with glass fiber that is then injected into a mold for making lightweight knife handles.


Forprene.  Forprene is a high resistant material, an elastopolymer with very high thermal proprierties from -40 Degrees C to +150 Degrees C, it has very high grip power. The material is also very resistant to salt and acid corrosion and can be used in all wet situations.


G-10.  Handle material made of epoxy filled with woven glass fiber that is impervious to changes in temperature and can be tinted into many colors.  G-10 is an ideal material for tactical folding knives or fighting knives because of its ruggedness and lightweight.


German Silver.  An alloy of copper, zinc and nickel. Also known as Nickel Silver.


Glass Filled Nylon (GFN).  Many of today's thermoplastic materials are improved by adding chopped glass fibers. Often as much as 40% of a product may be glass. Adds great strength.


Jigged Bone.  Derived from deceased animals, generally the chin bone of a cow. The bone is generally dyed and surface texture is obtained by cutting grooves into the bone.  It was first used to imitate genuine stag scales.


Kraton.  A rubbery thermoplastic polymer used for knife handles or as a flexible inlay on knife handles for enhanced grip.


Laminated Handles. Handles that are made from various materials that are layered together and held together by an adhesive.


Mammoth Bone (also Molar and Ivory).  Used rarely in custom knives. Found during mining operations in the far north, in areas with lots of glacial activity. The distinctive look is made from erosion.


Micarta.  The most common form is linen micarta. Similar construction as G-10. The layers of linen cloths are soaked in a phoenolic resin. The end product is a material that is lightweight, strong, as well as having a touch of class (thus dressier than G-10). Micarta has no surface texture, it is extremely smooth to the touch. It is a material that requires hand labor, which translates into a higher priced knife. Micarta is a relatively soft material that can be scratched if not treated properly.


Mother of Pearl.  The shell of the pearl oyster from the South Pacific; an expensive and popular knife handle material.


Natural Materials.  Natural materials such as jigged bone, leather, mother of pearl, abalone, stabilized woods and stone that are used in making and embellishing handles.


Palmira Wood.  Kitul Black palmira has a unique structure with dark, almost black, hard streaks in a paler background matrix. Rather difficult to work but very dramatic results.


Pearl.  The shell of the pearl oyster from the South Pacific; an expensive and popular knife handle material.


Peel Ply Carbon Fiber.  A carbon fiber filled, epoxy resin lay-up that has textured material placed on the surface to protect the material during manufacturing. After manufacture the material is removed and it leaves a grippy texture in the epoxy making a non-slip handle material.


Polycarbonate.  A strong synthetic resin used in molded products, such as knife handles, unbreakable windows and optical lenses.


Sambar.  A very large, elk sized deer in India and S.E. Asia; the antler is used for knife handles and is commonly called stag or India stag.


Stag.  Derived from naturally shed deer antlers. When exposed to open flame, stag takes on that slightly burnt look. Very elegant material for pocket knives and gentlemen's folding knives.


Stainless Steel.  Steel that contains a minimum of 12-1/2-13% chromium, making it resistant (not stain-proof) to corrosion. The chromium oxide CrO creates a barrier to oxygen and moisture preventing rust formation.  There are many different grades of stainless steel, but almost all stainless steel blades contain a large amount of high carbon, so none are completely "stainless". All are subject to corrosion from body acid, humidity, salt, etc. The term has come to mean that the steel has less carbon and more cromium, and thus will stain less than most other steels.


Sermollan.  A rubberized plastic used on kitchen knife handles that offers a secure grip and resistance to bacteria.


Titanium.  A nonferrous metal alloy, the most common form of titanium is 6AL/4V: 6% aluminum, 4% vanadium, and 90% pure titanium. This is a lightweight metal alloy that offers unsurpassed corrosion resistance of any metal.  It has a warm "grip you back" feel and can be finished either by anodizing or bead blasting.  Aside from handles, titanium is also used as liner materials for linerlock knives for it is a rather "springy" metal. Titanium is used usually on collectible pocket knives and chef knives.


Valox.  A handle material made from reinforced resin.


Volcano Grip.  Spyderco's trademarked name for the waffle texture found in their FRN handled lightweight knives. The continuous pattern of small squares offer better hand grip while cutting.


Wood Epoxy Laminate.  This is an impregnated wood laminate, which is extremely hard and machines similar to Corian, aluminum and Micarta.


Zytel.  Du Pont developed this thermoplastic material. Of all synthetic materials, ZYTEL is the least expensive to produce, which explains the abundance of work or utility knives that have this material. It is unbreakable: resists impact and abrasions. ZYTEL has a slight surface texture, but knife companies using this material will add additional, more aggressive surface texture to augment this slight texture. SOG Specialty Knives is common for using Zytel.


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--D.D. - Oil City, Pennsylvania

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