KNIFE HANDLE MATERIALS

 

On this page are examples of knife handle materials that are for my own use as part of a knife commission

 and not offered for sale in whole or part to the general public.

 

NB:The handle materials shown here are not for sale to the general public...

 

 

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Once having decided on the knife model, one needs to decide which handle material is most suitable in terms of aesthetics and purpose. Here follows are some points to consider:

 

1.  While I'm no arty photographer, it's important to note that when you view images of the various woods in the raw, the actual colours viewed through your monitor may vary from the original. So I suggest that you research the material for yourself and/or take what you see as an approximate colour in the raw and when finished.

2.  Another thing to bear in mind is that most woods, once put through the various stabilising and/or oiling and finishing processes, will darken somewhat. My processes infuse the wood rather than a quick surface application to look pretty, but won't last.

3.  No two pieces of wood ever look the same, not even when cut from the same block! 'Bookmatched' pairs are the closest one can get, however, one should always think 'Similar' and never 'Same' when it comes to natural handle materials.

4. While structurally sound, almost all natural materials have some minor superficial imperfections, more so with burls. Therefore one has to accept this fact and consider it as part of the charm and character of a particular wood. I know my handle materials and how well they suit a particular end use situation. Therefore, I would advise accordingly once I knew the intended end use of the knife.    

5.  For a tough and easily looked after knife handle, especially for use in humid environments, you should consider synthetic materials; like Carbon Fibre, Micarta, G10, Corian etc., all having their own unique look and texture from very smooth and shiny to textured and tactile.

6.  Buffalo Horn can be black and/or infused with white/cream/gray variegation. At best, I can only guess as to what the finished handle will look like colour wise and therefore, while I'll do my best to fulfil your preferences, I'm not able to guarantee a specific colour, but it will be the closest possible.

7.  As solid as Buffalo horn might appear, it's still a natural product, made up of compacted hair. In the rough it can be used in harsh environments where looks are of no consequence. As I aim for the best finish possible - and horn finishes beautifully - the handle has to be looked after with occasional waxing and polishing. It's worth noting that I can only estimate how black or black with variegation a finished horn handle will end up looking like. It's not until towards the final finishing that the true colour is revealed. So please bear this in mind even though I'll do my best to provide with the colour you requested.

7.  The best way to get a fair idea of how a certain type of wood ends up looking like once finished, is to look at some of the finished knives for inspiration. That said, it's not possible for me to make you a knife the same as what you've seen on my website. Similar yes, but the same, it's just not possible. That said, similar would be unique to you, which is what custom knife making ids all about...

 

 

Handle material costs...

 

As is the case with any commodity, availability and demand influence market prices. It's not as easy as some may think sourcing quality handle materials - it takes considerable time, effort and money to get anything good enough to make something decent from and dealers and other knife makers will tell you that the wastage rate is overly high. The couple of scales that go to make up your knife handle are a very small part of a large tree!

 

Even so, I pride myself in being able to offer a wide selection of top quality hardwoods and where possible, include the cost of many woods in the basic knife build cost. I even go to the cost and trouble of stabilising some of the woods and still not charge extra! Some woods are inherently very expensive, add to which are the shipping costs and import charges. On a cost benefit analysis basis, it would be easier for me to limit my list of handle materials and make do. But, I love hardwoods for their own sake and the extraordinary unique potential they offer. It doesn't take much scrutiny to ascertain that the handle materials I offer are anything but boring!

 

While I can, I'll continue to stock and offer as varied a handle material types as I can, but I can only do this by offsetting the added costs according to the true cost of the handle material. Therefore the figure in red is the surcharge that must be added to the basic knife cost.

 

 

LIST OF KNIFE HANDLE MATERIALS

Please note that although I carry a good stock of handle materials, I cannot guarantee that I would have your choice of handle material

 at time of ordering as my stock is forever changing through usage and renewal.

Although I'm happy to advise you on handle materials in general, I cannot decide for you - the final choice must be yours.

 

Standard handle materials are those that do not have a cost shown in 'RED' against them.

 

Where a cost in red is shown against a particular handle material, then that amount needs to be added to the cost of a standard knife build.

 

NB: Please note that none of the handle materials are for sale to the general public....

 

       
 

 Amboyna (Burl) - Swirly figuring, sometimes with eyes. Quite variable in colour, but always stunning!

A stunning hardwood burl, but very expensive for quality stuff. I stabilise my Amboyna stock.

N 15

 

 Ash - White (Burl)

Nicely figure pale in colour and being stabilised will make for a fine finish 

5

 

 Ash - Mountain

Nicely figure stronger in colour and denser ash 

No extra

 

 Black Cherry Burl

Interesting exotic hardwood with good depth at finish. Mostly stabilised for a great durable finish.

No Extra

 

 Chilean Laurel Burl

Very nice unusual exotic hardwood. Stabilised so a great durable finish is assured

5

 

 Curly Narra

Nicely figured and distinctive. This comes from the same tree that Amboyna burr/burl comes from 

No extra

 

 Australian Desert Gidgee

Has shades of brown overall with some figuring;  very dense though wood

No extra

 

 Beech - Spalted - stabilised.

Some stunning loose figuring can make for a distinctive knife 

No extra

 

 Black Palm

A very distinctive and tactile hardwood when finished, not recommended for hard working knives

No extra

 

 Bocote Linear

Very strong in colour, with good depth to it as well. Tinge can vary from Brown to Orange

No extra

 

 Bocote Highly figured

Bocote is uncommon in this light coloured and highly figured form, will make for a lovely knife handle

No extra

 

 Buck Eye Burl

Amazing wood but only suitable for knife handles if stabilised properly 

15

 

 Cocobolo (Nicely figured)

Once my stock goes, no more can be obtained in the UK.

Excellent knife handle material in any form. I have some top AAA+++ stuff

10

 

 Cocobolo (Linear)

Once my stock goes, no more can be obtained in the UK

Excellent knife handle material in any form. This version is well coloured but linear

No extra

 

 Dark Oak Burl - stabilised

Irregular figuring and shades of brown and swirly patterning with some voids - quite rustic

5

 

 Desert Ironwood knife scales (cost is for Unmatched; Fairly good match and Best matching)

Hard to source quality figured pieces and cost is high. Finishes lovely though and classy!

10, 15 or 25

 

 Desert Ironwood Firesteel/ Ceramic rod handle. Handles are cut from full sized knife scales hence the cost.

NB: Desert Ironwood Firesteel/Ceramic rod handles are not cut from the same knife scales used for the knife, so an exact match is rare.  

5

 

 Ebony (Argentinean)

Ebony is not all black as this proves - it's Brownish and finely streaked

No extra

 

 Ebony (Two Tone striped)

Quite dark but not quite black and has some small areas of pale cream here and there 

No extra

 

 Elm (Burl) Stabilised

I've got some nice stock of this attractive wood and I stabilise mine for a durable stable handle

5

 

 Hickory

Nice dense wood with subtle marbling effect

No extra

 

 Indian Rosewood

Good solid hardwood that has depth to it and finishes really well

No extra

 

 King Wood

Strong reddish/purple colouring which is quite unique. Linear and Cross cut available 

No extra

 

 Koolibah (Burl) - If you like tactile and rustic, then this one wood is excellent for you.

Stunning dark red burl that is well figured with a tactile finish to it  - just lovely!

5

 

 Koolibah (Burl) - Class AAA+++ Exhibition grade

Even more stunning than the standard burl. This is exhibitions grade stuff!

15

 

 Lace Wood (Chatoyant)*

Amazing figuring with an excellent depth of colour throughout

No extra

 

 Mahogany Sapele

Good solid wood that finishes well with depth to it

No extra

 

 Mallee (Burl) - Red

Fantastic attractive burl wood sure to please

10

 

 Mallee (Burl)  - Brown

Same as for the Red Mallee, but has a brown rather than a red tone to it. Lovely stuff! 

10

 

 Maple (Burl) Natural or slightly dyed and stabilised

Left natural makes for a nice handle, but triple dyed and/or stabilised brings out the magic

5

 

 Maple Quilted

Best left natural as patterning can be lost if dyed and too heavily oiled

No extra

 

 Masur Birch - (Burl) Plain or dyed and stabilised

A favourite of mine and many a seasoned Bushcrafter - I stabilise mine for a nice durable finish

5

 

 Masur Birch - Flame Dyed and Stabilised

Random flaring patterns can make for a very impressive handle, dyed and stabilised is best

5

 

 Myrtle Burl Open pored, but has character

A lovely wood, but voids are inherent and requires a lot of work to get a reasonably good result

No extra

 

 Olive Wood (European)

Well figured and good solid pieces make for a very nice handle

No extra

 

 Olive Wood (Wild - South African) Much denser than European type.

More tightly figured and denser wood than the European type as it grows slower

No extra

 

 Ovankol

A bit plain for some, but it finishes really superbly for an understated knife 

No extra

 

 Palo Santos Lignum

Nicely figured Lignum type very dense wood, with shades of pale greens and browns figuring

No extra

 

 Pau Rosa

Very dense wood that's variable in colour, but it has real depth and finishes really well 

No extra

 

Red Mallee Burl

Lovely Burl, well figured  with a reddish tone to it and finishes lovely

5

 

Brown Mallee Burl

Similar Burl, but with a Brownish tone to it and finishes just lovely

5

 

 Purple Heart

Lovely warm unique colouring that over time mellows into a deep reddish brown

No extra

 

 Red Wood Burl (Dark reds to browns) Stabilised

Very distinctive burl and makes for a unique tactile knife handle. I stabilise my Red wood burl

No Extra

 

 Sapele (Chatoyant)*

Varies in colour and figuring, but is deeply rich and finishes very well

No extra

 

 Santos Rosewood

Not too dissimilar to Desert Ironwood, with somewhat softer figuring to it, has an excellent finish

No extra

 

 Tambotie S.A.

Good figured stock hard to come by, but I've some nice pieces for that special unique knife handle

No Extra

 

 Thuya (Burl) - Swirly figuring

Amazing but hard to source and top quality stuff, but makes for a rich distinctive knife to treasure

10

 

 Thuya (Burr) - Spotted eye figuring

Same as above, but the resulting figuring is a result of the wood being cut the opposite way around 

10

 

  Tulip Wood

Linear in figuring, finishes very well and stands out as a quality hardwood

No extra

 

 Turkish Walnut

Very popular wood that is often used for making quality Gunstocks. Figuring varies, but finishes well.

No extra

 

 Vera Wood

Linear in figuring, predominantly brown with some red and green streaks; finishes really well and all of my stock is figured.

No extra

 

 Wenge

Variable in the extreme, from plain to amazing dense figuring; deep and somewhat tactile finish

No extra

 

 Yellow Box BURL  - Exhibition grade - AAA+++

This very rare wood is very special and of a very high grade, but expensive.

20

 

 Snakewood - Highly figured Exhibition grade - very special indeed AAAAA+++++

 

Choice blocks for that very special knife - limited supply at this high grade - I only have three knife blocks!

60

BB

Buffalo Horn - Can be Black or Variegated. Will do my best to provide nearest to colour requested

Can vary from solid Black to having considerable variegation of white and greys in a random marbling effect. Horn never ceases to surprise when worked well and not made to look like plastic!

No Extra

DA

Red Dear Antler - Please enquire first before setting your heart on Antler as it's getting harder to obtain sizeable pieces for use on a full tang knife.

Can be relied upon to produce a nice classy knife handle if worked judiciously. Difficult to source suitable large pieces for full tang knives. OK for use in combination with other handle material.

Please

enquire

CB

Camel Bone  -  To order only

White mostly. Does not come thick enough for a nicely full on contoured knife handle. Can be contoured slightly and makes for a very nice classy handle, but on the thin side. So no good for a fat handle!

Enquire

JCB

 Camel Bone - Jigged - To order only

Camel bone is often jigged and dyed to make it look like Sambar stag antler. Rather thin though

Enquire

 

SYNTHETICS 

SYNTHETICS

 

MPB

 Micarta - Paper - Black

Very smooth texture finish

 

MLB

Micarta - Linen - Black

Texture slightly more obvious than paper version

No extra

MPI

 Micarta - Paper - Ivory

Very smooth Ivory like finish

No extra

MJ

Micarta - Linen - Jade

Texture slightly more obvious than paper version

No extra

MO

G10 - Hunter Orange

Smooth matt finish, provides a very positive non slippery grip even in the wet

5

MB

Micarta - Black/Grey flecked

Texture more obvious than paper version

No extra

       

CMV

Canvas Micarta - varied colours as picture below 3,6,7,10,12,14,20.

Good tactile and very attractive finish due to its layered composition

No Extra

G10LO

G10 Hunter Orange Liner 1.5mm thick

Can be used instead of Fibre liners to provide high contrast - very attractive

5

G10LB

G10 Blue Liner 1.5mm thick

Can be used instead of Fibre liners to provide high contrast - very attractive

5

CF

Carbon Fibre handle (cost of Firesteel/Ceramic rod handle)

Expensive and a sod to work with, but the end result is always stunning

20

 (5)

Fibre Liners

Dark Red,  Bright Red,  Black,  White,  Grey,  Green,  Yellow,  Blue

I believe that fibre liners have an important cushioning function between steel and handle material, so much so that I'll not accept a knife order without their use.

No extra

       

As much as I like making up composite handles from different materials, the time and materials needed are considerably more then for a handle made from one type of material. That's on the assumption that I get it right first time! When working to tolerances of less than half a millimetre, it doesn't take much to get it wrong! I'm only human and am therefore fallible!

 

It is only fair therefore, depending on the complexity of the handle's makeup, that I charge a little bit more to compensate for using more handle material than a straight forward build. On average it'll be in the range of 10 per section depending on the materials used. So a two sectioned handle will be 10 extra and a three sectioned handle will be 20 extra - this is for both sides and not per single side.

 

A few of my own knives are made up with a compound handle for no other reason than I'm very partial to such a handle configuration. From my perspective as a knife collector, compound handles done with due consideration to material compatibility and with both sides of the handle lining up and mirroring each other, will take some beating in uniqueness and aesthetic value. I would say that wouldn't I?! But then I'm in a fortunate position in that I'm a hands on knife enthusiast as well as a maker and can therefore produce stuff that not only pleases me, but many others as well...       

 

       

 

MAIN CANVAS MICARTA THAT I HAVE IN STOCK

 

#3. Soft wavy Blue/Green/Grey.  #6. Soft wavy Blue/Black/Green.  #7. Tight linear Tan/Off-white.  #10. Stepped Cream/Tan.

#12. Chequered Black/Pale grey.  #20. Stepped Black/Grey.  #14. Soft wavy Black/Grey/White

 

G10 - GREEN/BLACK                                         LINEN MICARTA BLACK                       CANVAS MICARTA DARK HESSIAN

             LINEN MICARTA JADE (greenish not Grey!)       G10 HUNTERS ORANGE           ASSORTED ACRYLIC KNIFE BLOCKS

 

 

This photo was taken on 15th August 2014 and shows some 90% of the woods I have in stock.

 

 

 

I know from personal experience how it feels to behold a nice piece of well figured wood no matter the species. As a shooter, fisherman and knife maker/collector, I'm very much attracted to the quality and finish of the various parts made of wood. Who doesn't admire a Shotgun's figured stock, or a Custom knife's handle? Even on a quality Fly rod, there's enough nice wood to appreciate.

 

Knowing how much the quality of the handle material matters, I take care to select the best I can and work it to such a finish that I hope will impress the new owner the first time he sets eyes on it. A lovely looking handle that, when taken in the hand and feels as good as it looks cannot but bring a smile on one's face, along with the feeling that the knife is for keeps...   

 

This storage box contain natural unprocessed woods 

 

This storage box contains only stabilised woods

 

A few, yet to be cut up, woods. The Thuya, Red and Brown Mallee and the S.A. Wild Olivewood are the prime woods in this lot.

 

 

I cannot help it, but I love wood and the more exotic and figured it is, the more I love it!

 

I couldn't for the life of me, ever consider using just any old plain piece of wood to make a knife handle from. Every time I'm asked to make a knife for someone, I can spend quite some time rummaging through my stock to find the best piece possible for the job. The wastage rate is a bit higher for me as I'm rather selective and skimping is definitely not one of my virtues!

 

 

EXAMPLES OF KNIFE HANDLES PRIOR TO FORMING

1. Pau Rosa; 2. South African Olive Wood; 3. Mountain Ash Burl; 4. Tulip Wood;

5. Zebrano; 6. Danish Bog Oak; 7. Figured Bocote; 8. Red Narra (Amboyna);

9. Stabilised Spalted Beech; 10. Indian Rosewood.

 

SAME SAMPLE OF KNIFE HANDLES FORMED AND AWAITING OIL SOAK

Added are the two on the left. Top is in Desert Ironwood for Bruce Parry and

right is my very own in Snakewood.

 

SAME KNIVES POST OIL SOAK AND WET SANDING PROCESS

 

 

THE VERY SAME KNIVES  AGAIN OILED UP AND HARD WAXED

JUST NEEDING FINAL TOUCHES 

 

As can be ascertained, the difference in colour of the woods from their raw state to having been through the various processes is considerable. Which is why I suggest that when choosing a wood one should make allowances as to how the knife handle shade of colour will alter, almost all woods will go darker because of the various processes. 

 

Black buffalo Horn

(This type of Horn is Solid throughout)

 

 

 

 

I like working with Black Buffalo horn even though it's a difficult material to work with - the finish makes it all very worthwhile though! One thing to bear in mind with Horn, as for all natural materials, is that it's not 100% stable and may expand and contract according to severity of environmental conditions.

 

That's not to say that the handle will fall apart, but some gaps might appear at the extreme ends (front and/or back) of the handle. It might be a bit disconcerting at the time, but most often the handle assumes its' proper shape in a typical home environment. If the gaps persist, try and squeeze some superglue in the gaps and then clamp the knife in a vice (wrapping the handle in cloth to prevent damage to the horn). After about 30 minutes it should be well stuck and all you now do is very carefully scrape off the surplus Superglue.

 

IMPORTANT: When considering Buffalo horn for your knife's handle, I cannot guarantee that it'll be all black or wholly variegated. I can only guess at what the end colouration will be and usually I'm not too far off. But that's as far as I can go. So when requesting  Buffalo horn, you do so on the understanding that the finished handle colouration is more in the laps of the gods than mine!      

 

Cow Horn

(As it's mostly hollow, except for near the tip, I only use it in small pieces and then very rarely)

 

 

Combination of Buffalo

and Cow Horn handle

 

Cow Horn is OK in small pieces as part of a composite handle as it's rather thin. I'm only showing the horn here for reference purposes as I no longer care to use it owing to its size limitations and ultra fiddly to work with. I've found it not at all useful for using on a full tang knife as it's not thick enough for the purpose.

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE - COMPOSITE HANDLES PRICING

 

As much as I like making up handles from different materials, the time and materials needed are considerably more then for a handle made from one type of material. That's on the assumption that I get it right first time! When working to tolerances of less than half a millimetre, it doesn't take much to get it wrong!

 

It is only fair therefore, depending on the complexity of the handle's makeup, that I charge a little bit more to compensate for the use of extra materials. As always, I'll try and keep costs down as much as possible, but on average it'll be in the range of 10 per section depending on the materials used. So a two sectioned handle will be 10 extra and a three sectioned handle will be 20 extra.

 

A few of my own knives are made up with a compound handle for no other reason than I'm very partial to such a handle configuration. From my perspective as a knife collector, compound handles done with due consideration to material compatibility and with both sides of the handle lining up and mirroring each other, will take some beating in uniqueness and aesthetic value. I would say that wouldn't I?! But then I'm in a fortunate position in that I'm a hands on knife enthusiast as well as a maker and can therefore produce stuff that not only pleases me, but many others...       

 

Koolibah Burl

 

 

At last I managed to source a whole lump of Koolibah Burl! I cut it up and the photo above shows some of the pieces in their natural state.

 

Unfortunately the photo doesn't do the wood justice for it's far more richer and deeper in colour. Of course, once oiled the colour will darken somewhat and bring out the figuring even more.

 

It's really a stunning burl and I consider myself very lucky to have got my hands on such a big lump, ample enough to provide me with quite a number of sizable blocks, which should last me a while.

 

As dense as Koolibah is, like many other burls, it is prone to fissures and voids. The difference is that once stabilised, the wood becomes quite stable and provides for a durable attractive tactile handle.
 

For the last couple of years I've started to stabilise many of my woods that I feel would benefit from being put through the process. Burls in particular benefit greatly from being stabilised, although some I leave natural and rely on the extended oiling system to bring out the beauty of such woods.

 

There's much secrecy about wood stabilising, but I'm quite happy to say that I sourced my complete Vacuum system and the Resin, called 'Cactus Juice'  from the USA. I find that the extra time, effort and expense involved is justified as I end up with material that is stable, durable and nice finish.   

 

 

Thuya Burl and Burr

 

Thuya burl comes from the Atlas mountains in Morocco and is in very limited supply and of course, rather expensive. But I've been lucky and managed to source some lovely blocks from which I managed to cut out both Burl and Burr pieces; examples of which are as shown below.

 

The two faces of Thuya depends on how the wood is cut. above is the Burl (Swirly) option and below is the Burr (Eyed spotted) option.

 

As in everything else in life, personal preferences play a big part in our decision making. In this instance you have two options available to you and all you have to do is to tell me whether you prefer the Burl swirly type or the spotted eyed type of Thuya. Either way, you'll end up with a stunning knife handle...     

 

Amboyna Burl

 

The above Amboyna knife handle sized blocks are in natural form and not yet stabilised and all cut from the one big lump of live Burl that I acquired at considerable cost. As for any burl, the figuring is very attractive and varies according to how the pieces are cut. Being a Burr/Burl, I go to the trouble and expense of stabilizing most of my Amboyna just to help ensure an inherently stable and durable knife handle material.  

 

Amboyna burl tends to have a reddish tinge to it, but that depends on variable factors with no certainty of repetition from Burl to Burl. Top quality Amboyna Burl is getting rather scarce and quite expensive to obtain. Although I do source the odd small knife block or set of scales, I prefer to seek out a lump of Burl and take put luck with how many top quality pieces I can extract out of it.

 

Obtaining Amboyna Burr (as opposed to Burl) is a bit easier, but not much cheaper. The Burr is more 'Spotty' in figuring, whereas the Burl is more 'Swirly'. Both Burl and Burr are much sought after and prices can be rather silly on the open market.

 

Curly Narra

 

Curly Amboyna or Red Narra as it's also known, is quite a nice warm type of wood that has good depth to it. Heartwood can vary widely in colour, ranging from a golden yellow to a reddish brown. Quartersawn surfaces display ribbon-stripe figure, and the wood is also seen with mottled, beeswing, or curly figure. Narra, in burl form, is actually the highly valued Amboyna Burl.

 

One thing you can be sure of with the Amboyna species is that it will always make for a very nice and distinctive knife handle that is warm and beautiful to behold as it finishes really well. I'm rather surprised that very few people ask me for Curly Narra, which is a shame as it really as an outstanding wood that I rate very highly in terms of attractiveness and quality of finish. .

 

Curly Nara is not as rare as Amboyna Burl, but getting nicely figured pieces can be a bit hit and miss. Fortunately for me I've managed to sourcing a good batch of top quality Red Narra that should last me a while.

 

 

Red Mallee

 

Another very nice burl which can be relied on to make for a superbly attractive knife handle. Not cheap, but who cares!

 

 

Brown Mallee

 

Similar in make up to the Red Mallee and also very attractive in a more subtle way. Plenty of figuring to make for an interesting handle. 

 

Oak Burl

 

An unusual burl to come across, but looks nicely figured and ought to make for a very nice knife handle or two. Can be quite light and natural looking, but also quite dark. Either way, being a burl you can be sure of a nice unique handle with a good finish. I stabilise most of my Oak burl wood.

 

Myrtle Burl

 

A highly figured burl that ought to enhance any knife. A bit too open pored for some in its raw state, but even when stabilised, some surface imperfections remain and involves quite a bit of time and effort to get a nice smooth finish. I like it for its rustic appearance and feel.

 

 

Cocobolo

 

 

Cocobolo comes in various patterning and shades of colours as can be seen above. It's a type of Rosewood and I tend to choose well figured pieces, some of which rivals Desert Ironwood in look and finish.

 

A Much favoured hardwood for use as knife and pistol handles over in the USA as it's a very good dense, strong durable wood. So dense in fact that it doesn't float in water. Whether with red/yellow/black tones or in swirly shades of browns, this wood is really beautiful and gives an excellent finish. I've a good stock from which I can select good pieces to make into really nice handles.

 

Desert Gidgee

 

This was introduced to me by an Australian gentleman who really knows his woods. I've worked with this wood and it made for a stunning durable handle. Stock is very limited though as I've only enough for a couple of knives at most..

 

 

Tambotie from S.A.

I haven't got very much of this nicely figured hardwood, which is a shame as it feels and looks great. It's very dense and makes for a stunning durable handle as it finishes very well indeed.

 

 

Desert Ironwood

 

 

This is a very expensive wood, but makes for classy and superb durable handles with a great finish. It's such a dense wood that it sinks! Quite difficult to source at a reasonable price, so if one wants a good pair of scales, one must pay! Matched pairs are hard to come by and prices are sky high. The best stuff is from the USA, so not only are there shipping cost to consider, but Custom charges as well!

 

With Desert Ironwood getting rarer, prices are increasing by the day. hey're going to get worse pricewise, because the demand far outstrips supply. There's no such thing as cheap Desert Ironwood, even for fairly plain pieces. I'm happy with my stock of Desert Ironwood and look after it well and try my best to minimise waste. I've some good matching pairs. Others, while not quite matching in figuring, are colour matched. I would never use two non colour matched pieces as it would be too obvious and a complete waste. I even try to colour match the Firesteel and Ceramic handles! Desert Ironwood scales are thinner and smaller overall than for other woods, so there isn't much left once the knife handle is taken care of, hence having to resort to using a single scale, from which I can usually make up two handles as needed.       

 

Above is my stash of Desert Ironwood. Many are matching pairs and quite variable in figuring. Desert Ironwood finishes very well and no matter the figuring, the end result is always astatically pleasing.   

 

Lacewood

 

 

This lovely wood has a somewhat of a 3d sort of effect and finishes really nice.

 

Black Palm

 

 

Black Palm makes for a rather unusual yet nice knife handle material. It's quite distinctive and because of it's make up, it makes for a tactile knife handle. Don't expect a totally smooth finish on this as its composition is not at all smooth.

 

 

Pau Rosa blanks

Average SG:  .96

 

A variable rich and very dense hardwood with a reddish cast to it. I decided to cut a couple of blocks up to show the figuring a bit better and as can be seen it's rather nice and warm and will surely make for some excellent durable handles that has that extra bit of richness and depth to them.

 

 

Sapele scales

 

The photo doesn't do the Sapele scales justice because this wood has an inherent 3D effect which is very pleasing as it gives some depth to the wood.

 

 

Ovankgol

 

Subtle in figuring, but the wood has depth to it that the photo cannot show. It'll make a nice classy handle purely going by the density and depth of the wood.

 

Quilted maple

 

 

Maple Burl

 

 

 

A very popular wood that can be left natural or dyed in order to enhance and bring out the structural colours. Maple wood comes in a few different flavours, from quite plain to very highly figured. As I like figured wood, I do my best to source such wood as it makes for very unique and distinctive knife handles.

 

Whether just oiled or dyed in simple or complex layers, a good fine finish can be had with this wood. Most of my Maple wood stock is stabilised.

 

Elm Burl

Elm Burl is very attractive and made more so when it's stabilised. Because of possible large voids, it's not the easiest of woods to work with as wastage is considerable. Elm burr/burl is also quite variable, but the above picture is very close to what I actually have in stock.

 

 

Vera wood

 

 

Tulipwood

 

 

Argentine Brown Ebony

 

 

Two tone Ebony

 

 

All the above are very dense hardwoods and very suitable for use to handle hard working knives with. Finish is excellent and all are easy to look after.

 

 

Palo Santos Lignum Vitae

 

Beautifully scented wood and also not bad to look at! Really lovely to work with and I hope that once the small batch I have is gone, I'll be able to source some more without much trouble as it's very much in demand in the Incense burning fraternity! It very dense wood, so no question about it not making up into a durable knife handle.

 

Kingwood

 

Shown here in linear and crosscut version. The photo just doesn't come near to doing this wood justice; it's quite a stunning wood. It's reddish verging on purple in parts. I hope to get to use it soon and make a nice knife up. I haven't got much of it, but although not cheap, it's not too hard to get.

 

 

Santos Rosewood

 

I nearly got the colour right with this fabulous Rosewood. In fact it's even redder and easily mistaken for Desert Ironwood in looks. As for most Rosewood, a durable nice looking knife handle is assured!

 

Turkish Walnut

 

This wood is mostly known for use as Gun Stocks, the more figured it is, the higher the price obviously. It is also sought after for use as a knife handle material. It can be quite variable in figuring, but once worked properly it makes for a lovely durable knife handle.

  

 

Bocote (Figured)

 

As can be seen easily enough this wood is highly figured compared to the usual run of the mill Bocote I also have. These pieces also have a yellowish cast to them and therefore the contrast in colours is even more intense. If any of these pieces don't make into a truly stunning knife then I don't what will!

 

Bubinga

 

A nice hardwood species that provide for an excellent finish that is attractive, durable and has depth to it.

 

 

European Olivewood

 

Well figured Olive wood is stunning and it finishes beautifully while maintaining the figuring rather than it getting lost as in some woods that go quite dark when heavily oiled. The pieces shown above are actual blocs that I have, so you're not choosing one thing and getting another!

 

South African Wild Olivewood

 

 

I have long wanted to source S.A. wild Olive wood because of its tighter figuring and higher density. Now you have a choice even though both types finish nicely...

 

 

Redwood Burl

 

 

 

Stabilized Redwood Burl

 

 

 

A very Attractive burl, that makes for a rather rustic and tactile knife handle. As stunning as it is in its natural state, it's next to impossible to work with for use as knife handle material. Once stabilised however, it becomes very suitable and is even more stunning.

 

As with all woods, this one has a tendency to alter colour and goes darker once worked and properly finished - So please bear this in mind.

 

 

Bocote (Brown and Orange)

 

As can be seen from these photos the colouring and figuring of Bocote is quite variable. Then there's the highly figured Bocote that is more yellowish with stark dark streaks that makes for exceptionally attractive knife handles. The thing with Bocote, no matter its colouring, is it's density and depth of colour when finished properly. 

 

 

 

Purpleheart

 

 

 

Purpleheart is often underestimated.  The colouring is for real and even brighter when freshly cut. The colour remains for quite some time after the wood is worked, but if exposed to bright sun it'll darken and become a much richer deep colour in time.

 

However, by using a Car wax with UV protection factor to polish the knife handle with helps to maintain the rich purple colouring. In fact I always encourage folk to use a Carnauba based car wax, preferably with a UV protection factor, to help keep their knife's handle in tip top condition.    

 

Wenge

 

A lovely solid wood that finishes beautifully. Although it carries distinctive figuring, it's rather variable from one piece to another. The working of it and oiling/waxing processes darken it to the extent that the figuring is only distinctive from close up. However, this dense solid wood makes for a durable tactile knife handle.

 

Tasmanian Blackwood

 

 

I don't know much about this wood as I've yet to work with it. It feels and looks nice, so I'm fairly certain that it'll make for a quality nice looking handle. I've only got the on pair of scales, so when it's gone, it's gone...

 

 

Zebrano

 

Most Zebrano that I've come across has been rather plain with having straight lines. These blocks I sourced however are quite different and are very attractive and will surely make for some very interesting knife handles.

 

Indian Rosewood

 

Not too dissimilar to Cocobolo in looks and density. I would say that this Rosewood has a more open figuring with colours blending into each other a bit more softly than as in Cocobolo. Nice and dense...

 

 

Spalted Beech

 

 

A nice attractive Beech for knife handle use.

 

My stock is all stabilised.

 

 

The four sets of Spalted Beech scales above were cut from the same block of wood and illustrates clearly the variations that such wood can have when some form of treatment is applied.

 

Starting form the right, the first set is Spalted Beech in the raw.

The second set is just treated with oil.

The third set is double dyed with antique pine and a light coat of deep mahogany.

The fourth set is double dyed with deep mahogany.

 

The quality of my actual stock is far more figured and attractive than any of the above examples.

 

Masur Birch

 

 

 

Masur Birch knife handles in various stages of finish.  Top left is natural.  Top right is lightly dyed.  Bottom ones are triple dyed in yellow, red and brown, a technique I learned from my friend Brian Sorenson of Denmark.

 

Masur Birch goes from plain and simple to being well marked, with heavily figured Masur Birch being highly sought after.  Standard fare for many a Scandinavian type knife. Although it's getting harder and more expensive to get well marked pieces, even 'medium' figured pieces will still make for a nice handle. With Masur Birch it can be a bit of an unknown quantity as to what the finished handle will look like in terms of figuring because what you see before you start is not always what you end up with after shaping the handle. However, for the most part, a good nicely marked handle emerges giving any knife a very unique distinctive finish.

 

I have sourced quite a good stock of well figured Masur Birch, so I'll be OK for a while. I have natural, dyed and  stabilised knife block sized stock, which I'll use according to end user wishes. For some time now I tend to stabilise most of my Masur birch blocks and some I even dye and stabilise at the same time, especially the 'flame' variety as this process brings out far more detail than if the wood is just oiled or stabilised.   

     

 

Hardwood samples in raw, dyed and oiled finishes

 

 

1.  Purpleheart - Top piece just treated with oil and bottom piece is untreated.

2.  Pau Rosa - Top piece just treated with oil and bottom piece is untreated.

3.  Bubinga - Top piece just treated with oil and bottom piece is untreated.

4.  Afzelia - Top piece just treated with oil and bottom piece is untreated.

5.  Masur Birch - Top piece dyed and treated with oil.  Middle piece is just oiled and bottom piece is untreated.

6.  Birds Eye maple - Top piece dyed and treated with oil.  Middle piece is just oiled and bottom piece is untreated.

7.  Quilted Maple - Top piece dyed and treated with oil.  Middle piece is just oiled and bottom piece is untreated.

 

The choice of woods and finishes for knife handles is quite wide, and I, like many, have my preferences.  Although I don't dislike dyed wood, I prefer the natural look and therefore choose my wood accordingly. 

 


Red Deer Antlers

(and me...)

 

This is me holding a very nice set of Red Deer Antlers that I got off eBay from a nice chap in Sunderland way back in my early days of starting making knives. As it was quite an impressive set of antlers, I was reluctant to chop it up initially, so I kept it whole for quite a while.

 

 

Anyway, as lovely as it was, I don't live in a Baronial hall so I had nowhere to hang it without it looking well daft and out of place in any room in my small house! Waste not, want not, so when I dismantled the thing I kept the little 'Bambi' sculpture and the round wooden plaque itself, which I made very good use of as a rotating base for two buffing motors.

 

Sourcing materials at a reasonable cost is an ongoing challenge, so I forever on the lookout for materials I can utilise and now it's become second nature to look at a lot of things which might come in handy from a knife making perspective. When I first started I used to baulk at how much things cost as very little could be obtained form within the UK. Then there's the added problem of buying blind, which translates in a lot of wastage, especially with Antler. Nowadays I've resigned myself to being able to get four full knife handles (if I'm lucky) from a good set of antlers. As for exotic hardwoods, most of my stock comes from the USA.

 

Although Horn and Antler remain my favourite knife handle materials, I've come to appreciate wood for its outstanding variety and intrinsic beauty.  In fact I've just about become addicted to sourcing even more highly figured wood just for the sake of having it as part of my collection! As a result, I have a nice selection of exotic hardwoods already, but I keep looking to add more types that I believe would make for durable and aesthetically pleasing knife handles. 

 

As is the nature of Horn, Antler and Wood, no two pieces are ever alike.  Although I take my time to appraise and envisage how the handle form and finish should look like, one can never be 100% certain as to end result.  What is fairly certain is that with due process the transformation is always amazingly unique.

 

In an ideal world, every piece of handle material that I source would be fit for the purpose.  In reality though, things just don't work out like that - not even when I buy pieces that I've seen a photo of. Whether it's Horn, Antler or wood, wastage is my biggest concern.  Maybe I'm a bit too fussy, but what's the point of using top quality steel and not compliment it with top quality handle material?!

 

I suppose I can always stick to using man made materials, but as good as some stuff is, I get more joy from working with natural materials in spite of the obvious drawbacks. Natural materials are inherently faulty/blemished to some degree and as long as the imperfections are minor and superficial, and don't interfere with structural stability, then these same faults can add a lot to a finished knife's character. In fact, in most cases, if a natural materials is devoid of the so called 'inherent defects', they would be just plain and boring in the extreme. Although just about any type of wood can be used to make a knife handle from, not all are really suitable in terms of density, strength and figuring. One can come across many a large piece of wood that appears well figured for use in the furniture trade. However, when it comes to cutting the same piece of wood into knife block sizes, the figuring is either too diluted or will disappear completely at such a small scale.

 

I continue to learn as I go along and when it comes to handle materials, costly mistakes don't often translate into a lesson well learned. No matter how careful I am in my attempt to source quality exotic hardwoods at a fair price, being lumbered with (no pun intended) stuff that is only good as firewood is a recurrent nightmare. It's very rare that I get the chance to actually see and handle pieces of wood (as well as antlers, horn etc.) before I buy, so I'm having to rely on photos, some of which might be doctored, and the sellers description. My heart sinks when I receive a batch of wood that I just cannot use. A case in point is when I decided to buy a large batch of Buckeye burl, which cost me plenty I can tell you. My intention was to stabilise once I get it. But, when I checked it all out I found that I could only make use of half a dozen pieces from some 60 sets/blocks as the rest where so impossibly defective that I just could do nothing with. I don't even have the heart to sell them as I'd feel a proper cheat! There's no moral to the story as no matter how careful I am, I do get caught out and get disheartened when I feel the seller hasn't done right by me. But, to balance things out, I do often end up with some great stuff and then I'm as happy as can be...                        

 

 

 

Roe Deer Antlers

 

 

The above sets are typical shapes of Roe Deer Antlers and they're about 9" high.

 

It very rare that I get the chance to use a Roe antler in my knife making projects as they're a bit on the small size.  But they do lend themselves to quite a few other things, so I tend to keep some to hand just in case.

 

Fallow Deer Antler

 

 

 

Can have some nice sturdy coronets although I haven't been able to utilise the top flat part for anything else as yet.

 

Red Deer Antlers

 

 

I use these the most, but getting them in the right size and colouring to fit full tang handles is often a problem. As a consequence wastage is a big problem especially if antlers are bought unseen.  For me shed antlers are best as they're fully mature then and have the most beautiful finish when the outer layer is reduced or removed.

 

Sambar Stag Antler

 

 

A Taper, a Roll and Scales - not cheap, but hard to beat for a durable and classy antler knife handle. Can be a hit and miss affair in terms of texture and getting enough of a straight length to make a decent size set of scales for a full tang knife handle as for my knives. Suitable Sambar stag antler is becoming impossible to get at any price! Ordering blind often leads to disappointment and unaffordable wastage. Last time I ordered ten roles with specific instructions as to sizes and end use and only three out of the ten turned out to be suitable, the rest were only fit for use in making up compound handles and/or stick tang ones. As a consequence I haven't bought in any more Sambar stag antler. I continue trying to buy in usable pieces, but my hopes keep getting dashed...    

 

 

Large Wildlife Embossing stamps that I can apply to Sheaths upon request.

 

 From top left we have, an Eagle in flight, a Buffalo head, a Leaping salmon, an Eagle's head, a Wolf's head, a Deer head and finally, a Paw print.

 

A nice knife ought to have a nice Sheath; be it plain or with some embellishment. Every Sheath I make will always have my Logo on the lower part of the front panel. That leaves space for embossing of initials and even one of the above stamps. The size of each stamp is approximately 2.54cms square or for us oldies, 1" square. On a standard Sheath there's only room for one of these stamps. The embossing of Sheaths I do for the love of it and as it costs me nothing, I do it free of charge!

 

 

Some pros and Cons of working with Wood, Antler and Horn

 

1.  Wood - generally not too difficult to work with and shape, but burl and figured wood can give some nice as well as disappointing surprises because you start out with a block of wood that looks figured and by the time it's shaped and sanded, little figuring remains!  Wastage is minimal unless you break something or get the cutting/shaping all wrong.  Burl can be awkward to work with as some can be quite fragile with inherent faults called 'voids' have a habit of showing up late in the finishing process!  Some woods are very pleasant to work with, but some are nasty and and you can get a bad reaction to the dust at the time and for hours after.  I seem to react to Birch and Beech even though I wear goggles and full face filter mask!


2.  Horn - is a sod to cut and shape, but it's not often that the material is faulty internally; perhaps some variegation, which I like, doesn't materialise as hoped, but that's what you can expect with any natural material.  Unfortunately, most of the cutting accidents I had to date have been when I've been working with horn - so it's a love-hate relationship that I have with horn.  You can shape and finish horn well, but it's a slow process and wastage is a problem.  Apart from the potentially excellent finish, I like horn best because it's a durable material and easy enough to look after.


3.  Antler - can be a nightmare to work with where visible full tangs knives are concerned!  There's very little room for mistakes and wastage is a huge problem.  Shaping is very limited because of the soft core, hence trying to cut the right piece and work as much as possible with the natural contours already present.  With antler I prefer to know if the user is right or left handed so I can utilise the appropriate antler for the job.   Experience working with antler helps, but some luck is also required when cutting the straight long cuts from a knobbly and twisted lump of antler.  Antler is undoubtedly best to use with stick type tangs in one piece or in sections combined with other materials as per Scandinavian style. One main problem I have with antler is getting the right quality and colour. It's such a hit and miss affair that that I end up with lots of stuff that I can't use, especially where full tang sized knife scales are called for.

 

 

Knife handles finishes

 

Hardwoods:

 

I've experimented with a variety of handle finishes in order to find a suitable finish that would look just as good in a knife collection and yet still be serviceable in the field.  I will not use Varnish and seal the wood that way as I believe that wood needs nourishing and looks better for it in the long term.

 

If I were to only use very dense hardwoods as opposed to burls, it is possible that I would produce a durable and nice looking finish to satisfy the field user and collector alike.  However, some of the best figured and striking hardwoods are not that dense and finishing them requires copious applications of oils over a long time and finished off with a hard wax like Carnauba. For the most part I now stabilise many of my woods, but I still oil finish them regardless. 

 

Given the opportunity, I try to find out if the knife is for constant field use or for collecting and/or occasional use purposes.  When I know the end use I can advise and finish the knife accordingly.  A collectors knife is normally preferred with a high sheen to it, which is achieved with the use of appropriate oils and waxes.  However, this sort of finish is not durable and will not stay looking pristine for long if the knife is then used a lot in the field. Mind you, a bit of waxing will soon make it right.

 

An out and out field knife needs a more durable handle material and finish and, from experience I find nothing better than using stabilized wood or soaking the knife handle in an oil bath for about three to five days depending on density and after that, a five to seven days drying period. This is followed by several wet sandings from 400 to to 800 grade finish before starting to apply the finishing touches with hard and soft Carnauba wax on the buffer. This is the way I do it and to date has proved to be a very aesthetically pleasing and durable. As I do get sent knives to sort out, I often find that the finish of the handle is very superficial and obviously not durable. I'll stick to my way of doing things as I want to be sure that my knives' handles are well treated in depth and need only the odd waxing to keep them in tip top condition. 

 

If you happen to get a finished knife off me with a hardwood handle, it will most probably have been given the full oil treatment and final waxwings' as described above.  With use, the wax coat will wear down and needs replenishing so I would suggest that you keep topping up with wax (Carnauba based furniture or car wax will do).  If an oiled finish is preferred, then you'll have to simply de-wax the handle completely and apply two to three very light coats  (and I mean very light!) of Danish or CCL oil - the longer you leave between coats the better. Sand lightly between coats and keep applying the oil repeatedly until you're happy with the finish. Once it's nice and dry it's ready for use and after every time you use the knife, clean it and apply a smear of oil to the handle and that's that. I don't recommend the use of Linseed or similar very slow drying oils. 

 

What if you make a mess of it because you applied too much oil?  Well, just lightly soak a clean cloth with white spirit and gently wipe the handle until it's all smooth again and leave to dry.  After which, just apply a very thin smear of oil at a time until you get the desired finish.  The trick is to not rush the process and please, never leave your knife to dry on a direct source of heat such as a hot central heating radiator, room temperature will suffice.

 

What, if in spite of your best efforts you just can't get that handle up to scratch?  Contact me and let me guide you or, send it back to me and I'll sort it out for you for the cost of postage.  If in any doubt I strongly suggest you contact me and let me assist you so as to make the whole experience a positive one...

 

Notwithstanding the above, I strongly suggest that you use wax to maintain your knife handle.  A little bit every so often would do just fine.  Apply some to the sheath while you're at it too! You can use any furniture wax, but I prefer a Carnauba based wax as in Car polishes especially as many have UV protection as well. As good as 'Renaissance Wax' is, which is indeed an excellent wax and can be used on just about anything to protect and give a nice shiny finish to, it's just not up to the job of maintaining a working knife handle. I swear by a Carnauba based wax, be it a furniture polish sort or car polish sort. That goes for handles made from stabilized wood as well.