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Natural handles such as antler, wood, and minerals have always been popular as knife handles. Even with the advent of high quality synthetic materials, natural handles remain in high demand.

Stag Handles are made from the antlers of almost any deer. This material, which has been in use for many centuries is sturdy and handsome and feels comfortable in the hand. Among the varieties, stag from India (Sambar) is dark reddish and relatively smooths; elk (wapiti) is gray-brown and rough, similar to European stag handles. Once a manufacturer obtains the stock, the antler may be dyed, burned or otherwise treated to enhance the appearance.

In American deer, the antler cores are spongy, making them less solid and sightly than most stag. It tends to shrink and swell with weather conditions and often becomes porous. For this reason, only smaller parts like points of American deer are used as handles, since the antler core is more solid towards the end.

Bone, usually beef bone, is bleached or dyed and carved to look like stag. However, this material is very thin and is not suitable for large knives. Most bones come from overseas. American cattle bones most frequently end up ground into fertilizer.
Ivory, due to its high price and environmental legislation regulating its importation is seldom used any more as a handle material for production knives. However, many custom knife makers still use it . Under normal conditions it is not a very practical handle material, because it tends to crack and shrink. Synthetics can often duplicate the look of ivory.

Wood, like stag, has long been a standard handle material. Tropical woods are preferred for pocketknives because they are dense and oily. Common varieties include rosewood, cocobolo, ebony and thya. They don't require much conditioning and age beautifully. Walnut, hickory and beech are tough, sturdy domestic woods that also make good handles. They are not as visually interesting as the exotics and are often used in kitchen cutlery. Many synthetic materials can duplicate the beauty of wood while offering more durability.

Aluminum alloy has been used as a handle material for some kitchen cutlery and sporting knives. It frequently is coated with other metals and chrome plated. It is lightweight and can be cast directly onto the tang for strength. Plastics, vinyls and resin-impregnated materials have become very popular handle materials. Many can be made to look like natural materials also and are stronger and more durable than their natural counterparts.

Micarta was one of the first popular trademarked synthetic handle materials. Micarta uses a variety of base materials including paper, wood, and linen. These base materials are impregnated with phenolic resin made from coal tar, resulting in a smooth, solid, durable handle material. Westinghouse originally developed the material for electrical insulation. Micarta is considered by some to be the toughest, most stable and durable knife handle material in use today. Paper Micarta comes in a variety of solid colors and can even be made to resemble ivory. Wood Micarta employs various wood tones and has noticeable grain patterns. Linen Micarta comes in a variety of colors and has an attractive, crisscross, visual texture.

Micarta does not shrink or expand with humidity changes as natural materials tend to, and it is resistant to splitting and cracking.
Many manufacturers use handles of laminated resin impregnated woods. These offer the advantage of long life, because they are impervious to moisture, salt, oil and blood that can attack real wood, yet the wood grain shows through, giving the handle a realistic look.

Valox, from General Electric, Hypalon and Rynite from DuPont, plus Kraton from Shell and other trademarked thermoplastics make up an important category of handles. They are remarkably strong, light and stable, almost to the point of indestructibility. They have led a trend toward lightweight pocketknives with special features. Krayton, for instance, has the advantage of feeling "sticky" when wet and has found applications on fillet knives and kitchen cutlery where safety from slipping is a consideration.

Derlin is a high-strength plastic, which is one of the most popular plastic handle materials. In durability it approaches Micarta. It is often textured and colored to resemble stag, bone or wood.

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