Knife Handle Materials What are your favorite handle materials - July 2011
Posted 04 July 2011 - 09:34 AM
Posted 04 July 2011 - 03:48 PM
I started off by buying a bunch of hygrometers to test the humidity in all of the areas where my handle material and finished knives would be stored. I bought most of the hygrometers through suppliers of cigar humidors. These small brass hygrometers are inexpensive and designed to be installed in humidors. Another source of hygrometers is pet supply stores. Battery powered digital hygrometers are sold for use in checking the humidity levels in reptile enclosures. I have hygrometers in my office, the fireproof safe that I store my finished knives in, my shop work area and in my handle material storage cabinet.
My handle material storage cabinet is a steel pick-up truck tool box. Another item that makes a good storage cabinet is an old refrigerator.
I have made my storage cabinet as airtight as possible. I use a computer CPU fan to circulate the air inside the cabinet. To raise the humidity in the cabinet, I place a small pan of water in the bottom of the cabinet. To lower the humidity, I use a "Large Room Moisture Absorber" made by "DampRid". The DampRid moisture absorber stays in the cabinet all of the time, just in case I over humidify the cabinet in the winter with the pan of water.
It's difficult to be certain how effective this process is, but I've had no complaints from customers about handle material moving in the two years that I have been storing my natural materials this way.
Posted 04 July 2011 - 11:23 PM
Ok here is a photo of a small cap...Not the best figure in this one, but still pretty nice
Posted 05 July 2011 - 09:16 AM
In the early 1980’s Bill Moran and I went to visit Wayne Dunlap in Northern Virginia to purchase some curly maple for handle material. Wayne Dunlap had a business near Dulles Airport where he stored and sold highly figured wood principally for building muzzle loader rifle stocks. Bill and I met Wayne who was a great guy to talk to and he had some of the best and most highly figured maple anywhere on hand. I have continued over the years to purchase my curly maple, ash, and walnut from him. I find that curly maple, ash, and walnut work very well for the silver wire inlay work that I like to do on my knife handles.
I just wanted to pass this information along to our members. If you travel to Wayne Dunlap’s shop in Virginia you can pick out the pieces that you want, or you can call him and he will ship it to you.
This is his contact information:
14600F Flint Lee Rd
Chantilly, VA 20151
Posted 05 July 2011 - 11:33 AM
Posted 05 July 2011 - 01:52 PM
Here is a short list of my favorites which many of you have already mentioned. Like Daniel I have to ask what the intended purpose of the knife is prior to choosing a handle material.
Ivory - Elephant, Fossil Walrus and Mammoth
Stag - Sambar with good shape, color and texture. Try for least amount of pith.
Wood - Black Walnut, Maple, Desert ironwood, African Blackwood, Ebony. Looking for good color and figure in the Walnut, Maple and Ironwood.
Micarta - for knives that may be in /harm's way or the bush. I like the ability to finish in different degrees of texture. A secure grip elicits confidence. I tend to like the canvass based.
Rubber - for competition knives and such. Rough texture.
As "Bladesmiths" we tend to be inclined toward natural materials and I am a fan. Jim Schmidt once told me he liked natural materials because things are supposed to grow old. However, I also believe in using the best choice for the job at hand.
Thanks to all for your comments, I have enjoyed reading your posts.
Posted 06 July 2011 - 04:38 PM
Today I make my knife handles with curly maple or sambar stag. I also use some ivory and giraffe bone for my handles.
I stain my curly maple with Fiebings Professional Oil Leather Stain. I finish the handles with a home made mixture made by Keith Casteel who is a well known custom gun maker known for his outstanding engraving. Keith sells the "Woodstock Oil Finish" for $5 a bottle and it works quite well to produce a very nice finish.
This is the contact information for Keith Casteel:
Rt.1, Box 38
Bruceton Mills, West Virgina 26525
Posted 08 July 2011 - 10:03 AM
I have just a small collection of handmade knives and my preference is for historical reproductions or knives that are directly inspired by historical knives (bowies to be precise). For me, it's important that the maker give some thought to what is historically correct for a certain knife – not that you can't change things up, but doing so willy-nilly is a real turnoff for me.
Let's take California knives, for example. The 19th century makers like Michael Price and Will & Finck took great pride in using native materials, and used them whenever they could. They preferred walrus ivory, although they did use a little elephant ivory. Ivory is a material that comes with its own set of complications these days, so it seems that fossil mammoth or walrus is a reasonable substitute. Another material the California makers used a lot of is red abalone shell, native to the California coast. It's hard to state absolutes in antique knives, but I will go out on a limb and say that the California makers never-ever-ever used mother of pearl as in oyster shell. Why would they, they had a fancier material that was more or less unique to California and they took great pride in that. So, to me anyway, a California knife with mother of pearl handles would be all wrong, it would go against what the original craftsmen were trying to accomplish and would say, in effect, that its maker doesn't understand what California knives are all about.
(I don't want to drift off topic here, but to me materials like mokume and damascus steel are different... Michael Price probably never even saw pattern welded or wootz steel, but if he had the knowledge you know he'd have used 'em! Not even sure where I draw the line there, but I have bought "reproductions" with damascus and clay-tempered blades that were otherwise period correct.)
Here's another example -- Bowie #1, the Carrigan knife, the Tunstall knife, and the other 5 or 6 by the same maker (James Black or otherwise) -- every single one of the originals has a handle of figured black walnut. Black walnut is commonly available, cheap, and a good piece looks great on a knife. You might make a knife of this style and change up the handle to something different but period correct (like ivory), but if it's going to be wood, I can't fathom why you wouldn't use walnut.
I don't think you have to go crazy with "correct" though. African blackwood is a nearly identical looking and more stable substitute for ebony, so it's a great choice -- I have a few knives with African blackwood handles myself. Fossil ivory for elephant or walrus makes good sense too (not bone, to my mind). But a synthetic substitute for a natural material? Bleah.
Just one collectors opinion. What does anyone else think with regard to period pieces?
PS: I will add a storage tidbit on two materials I didn't seem mentioned above: tortoiseshell and horn (any variety, but not including stag/antler). Store these in a sealed container loaded with old-fashioned mothballs, and tell your customers to keep mothballs in their safe if they have knives with tortoise or horn handles. These materials are eaten by dermestid beetle (carpet beetle) larvae, which can come into your house on flowers or plants, and they will plumb destroy a handle in no time. Speaking from experience. The mothballs will help keep them away.
Posted 08 July 2011 - 08:12 PM
If it is going to be a very close reproduction than it should have as close as possible to the original materials. If you are basing a knife on a period piece, but not a reproduction than whatever works for you.
Also thank you for contributing to this thread. We value your collecting and knife expertise.
Anvil Top Custom Knives
Posted 09 July 2011 - 06:32 PM
Posted 11 July 2011 - 11:37 AM
So THAT's how he got that orange-ish tint. I just love a hint of orange in a curly maple handle. Thanks Dickie!
Posted 12 July 2011 - 09:35 AM
A handle of a knife must fit the users hand without causing fatigue or hot spots, sometimes for many hours at a time. The handle must not be just for looks but must work well in many scenes such as snow and rain when dressing game, fighting, or just enjoying the out of doors. Most importantly it must keep your hand safe when slippery because you must be able to maintain the grip to do a good job. The Scagel stack up handle meets all these requirements, without pretenison, as well as being attractive.
Because Scagel was primarily making knives for the camper, fisherman and hunter he used what was easily accessable to him-Michigan Whitetail deer antler. He used all parts of an antler: the tips, crowns, forks, and slabs in many different parts of his knives. He used all kinds of metals, some from local factories, such as bronze and nickle silver for guards and pommels. For spacers he used anything he could get his hands on and some in very small pieces. He used shoe sole leather, an electrical insulation material in rust red and black (found in electrical boxes) and all kinds of metal such as copper, silver, brass and even aluminum for spacers. In Muskegon, Michigan, near where we live, there is a factory that made bowling balls, "Brunswick". He would get red and black seconds and cut them up and use it as spacer material. Have you ever tried to cut up a bowling ball? Besides being big, round, heavy and awkward all the material that can be used is the first 1/2". What a job!
In conclusion, I feel that there is really no perfect handle material and at the same time, all will work very well. However, this is where the artist in us comes into play and transforms simple materials into useable, safe, and comfortable handles that will be attractive and at the same time do a good job. Again: "Beauty in Simplicity".
Doug Noren MS