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
SYNTHETIC HANDLE MATERIALS
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
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
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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