Hey there! And welcome back to my somewhat warped little corner of cyberspace. I'm glad you could join me.
A couple of weeks ago I started rambling on about the various materials they use to make knife handles, and I've covered the natural materials fairly well. I had originally planned to do metals in this ramble and then look at man made materials next time, but instead I think I'm going to combine the two into a single ramble. After all, there's just not that many of the two compared to natural materials; so let's go ahead and get started.
When it comes to metal knife handles, almost every knife I know of uses one of three metals. Stainless Steel, aluminum, or titanium. Of the three, steel is the most scratch resistant but also the heaviest, aluminum tends to be the lightest, and titanium tends to be the most durable as well as the most expensive. Aluminum and titanium also can be anodized which can result in some spectacular colors, and of course all three can have a "brushed" look applied. Most stainless steel knives in my experience also tend to have some other material mated with the steel, most often in the form of an inset with rubber and plastic being the most common. The reason many knife makers do this is that stainless steel tends to feel rather slippery in the hand and so they add another material to improve the grip. I've also noticed that aluminum seems to get colder in the winter than either steel or titanium for some reason. Admittedly this rather subjective and you may find no noticeable difference, but I have run into several people who agree with me about this somewhat perplexing observation. I'll also freely admit that as a general rule I'm not all that fond of metal handled knives, though there are a few exceptions. The old Colt 668 fixed blade knife comes to mind, however the bankruptcy proceeding Colt went through back in January ended the production of all Colt knives for the foreseeable future so finding one may prove a bit of a challenge.
When you start talking man made materials, synthetics to use the proper terminology, things start to get a bit more colorful as well as wide ranging in both quality and price. Some of course use plastic to simulate natural materials, and some of them are really quite amazing in their similarity to the real thing. Still, as a general rule very few knife makers are going to use plastic on any of their good knives so it's probably best to stay away from most knives with plastic handles unless you happen to come across one of the rare exceptions.
Perhaps the most commonly used synthetic for knives is micarta. Originally developed by Westinghouse around 1910 as an electrical insulator, it is made by layering sheets of some material impregnated with resins (normally phenolic resins) and then exposing the built up mess to heat and pressure to form a very durable "board". The sheets can be linen, cotton, paper, or even fiberglass; and when two or more colors of sheet material is used, the resulting knife handle can be truly striking. The drawback is that micarta tends to extremely smooth, and is one of the more difficult materials to work. As a result micarta handled knives tend to be more expensive than the other synthetics.
Similar to Micarta is a material called G-10. Like micarta, G-10 is a laminate, but it uses glass fibers instead of cloth or paper. Almost as durable, G-10 is also used as an electrical insulator in many industries, but where most micarta tends to be of a darker hue due to the type of resin used, G-10 can be found in almost any color you can imagine. It also tends to be much easier to work which normally translates into a lower cost to you, the knife buyer.
Another laminate you may come across is commonly referred to as carbon fiber. Keep in mind that carbon fibers can be one of the strongest materials around, much stronger than steel in fact. The only problem is that all that strength only runs in one direction. As a result a knife with a carbon fiber handle is kind of like a diamond in a way. A diamond is indeed the hardest material any where, and can be used to cut through even the toughest item, but they're so brittle that if you hit it with a hammer all you'll have left is diamond dust. Carbon fiber handles are also extremely labor intensive, for about the only place you'll find these handles are on the very highest grade knives around. I mean, this stuff is expensive!
At the other end of the price spectrum is a material known as Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon, or FRN for short. The earliest example of FRN is a material called Zytel, which was introduced by DuPont back in the 1950's. Unlike the others mentioned so far however, the fiberglass fibers in FRN tend to run in completely random directions instead of being lined up neatly. This results in a material that can be injection molded in almost any form you like, which helps to keep costs way down. I know some feel that FRN isn't any better than plastic or rubber as a knife handle, but personally I find it to be as durable as you could possibly ask. In fact, my most commonly carried EDC knife, a Kershaw Freefall, has a FRN handle and the knife has yet to fail me in anyway.
One of the newer handle materials on the market is an acrylic based product called Kirinite. Available in a wide variety of colors and color combinations, you can find kirinite in almost any color you could possibly want. It works almost identically to wood, and, at least so far, seems to be as durable as you could possibly want. On the other hand the only major knife company I'm aware of that is currently using kirinite on any of their knives is Case, so at least for now you're most likely to see this material used on custom knives only; unless you're lucky enough to live near a major Case dealer.
And that my friends is the nitty gritty of knife handles. Yes, there are some out there who will think this whole series of rambles about the different materials that can be used to make a handle for your favorite knife silly in the extreme. Most of them will try to tell you that the handle really doesn't mean anything, but I personally think they're nuts. A knife with a poor handle will fail you every time. If the handle doesn't fit your hand right, or is made of a material that allows it to slip in you grip, then the knife will be a danger to you and anyone beside you. So pay attention to that handle. Pick the knife up and see how it fits in your hand even before you pay any attention to what style of blade or blades it has or what those blades are made of. If you can't keep a grip on it, then even the best blade isn't going to do you any good.
But for now it's late and alas, I must be up all too early in the morning. So until we meet again in this little corner of cyberspace I call my own, I wish you well dear reader. And remember, if it's worth doing then it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey, and welcome back! I hope you've been enjoying my little rambles on knives. So far we've looked primarily at the blade, which is only reasonable since it's the blade that does the work, right? Well sort of. As we've seen, the material a blade is made out of, the style of blade used, and the final grind all have huge impacts on just what a knife can do best and what it's main weaknesses may be, but it's more than a little difficult to hold onto a knife with out a proper handle. Yet the number of things that handle can be made out can sometimes be so overwhelming as to leave a person new to knives curled up in a ball somewhere staring into space. I mean, one web site I saw listed over 24 different handle materials to choose from, and that still leaves some items out and others put under listings that make them sound like it's all the same thing. So how do you choose?
Unfortunately, there's just too many choices to cover all of them in one ramble, even one as long as I sometimes find myself delivering; but I can at least try to start breaking it down for you. So for today, let's look at the three main categories and then in later rambles I can try to start breaking each category down a bit.
The first, and oldest category would be natural materials such as wood, bone, horns, antlers, mother of pearl, etc. These are of course the oldest materials used, and some knife collectors won't even consider a knife that doesn't use one of these traditional materials. These materials have a natural beauty to them that has shined down through the ages, and are generally self renewing. Even those materials that come from animals, with the exception of bone, are most often obtained with no injury to the animal. I mean think about it. Almost every animal out there looses it's horns or antlers at least once a year, and for those that don't it's rarely dangerous or painful for the material to be harvested in a humane way. They tend to be tough, durable, and for the most part relatively cheap. The biggest drawback is that unless they're stabilized, they will start to deteriorate over time. Of course, if you take care of your knife and don't abuse it that may take two or three generations, but still.
The next category would be metals, most often stainless steel, aluminum, or titanium (though occasionally other metals may be used for one reason or another). Now I must admit that I'm not all that fond of metal hilts or handles, but they do have their advantages. For one thing they're tough as, well, metal. So you end up with a handle that is as durable as hell, and can be finished in a wide variety or ways. Some even have other materials used as inserts which can greatly improve the grip feel. However they often get hot or cold depending on conditions much faster than other handle materials, which can make holding the knife somewhat uncomfortable under extreme weather conditions.
Then we come to the synthetic materials. This can be anything from plastic to a carbon fiber, fiberglass, or even resin based materials. Some, such as FRN (Fiber Reinforced Nylon), can be molded into just about any shape you want. Others, such as Micarta and G-10, must be worked and shaped in a method very similar to the way you'd make a handle out of wood. In this group of materials, perhaps more than any other knife handle materials, you really do get what you pay for though. G-10 for example in almost as durable as metal, doesn't scratch as easily, and can be made in a wide variety of colors. What's more it doesn't absorb or loose heat the way metal will. However it does tend to be on the expensive side. Plastics on the other hand run the gamut from cheap and flimsy to ones that are tough as nails. However unless the plastic is reinforced in some method, it will crack or break much more easily that almost any other knife handle material out there. For those who might be interested Walter Sorrells, a highly respected custom knife maker, has a video showing how to make Micarta here.
And there you go. A very fast and dirty look at knife handles. Not a lot of information you say?Well, yeah, you're kinda right there, and I do apologize. But if I started trying to discuss each type of material used I'd have an entire book! A thin book maybe, but still a book's worth of information, and then where would I be? So come back next week and the two weeks after, and we'll start to take a look at each category in a little more depth. I'm figuring on starting with natural materials next week; but hey, if you'd rather I start with synthetics, or even metal, just let me know in a comment post to this ramble. Or you can go to my Facebook page and leave a comment there. Either way my friends, if enough of you want me to start somewhere else I'll be more than happy to do so. Or maybe you have a specific question you'd like me to address. Again, just leave a comment in either place and I'll get you an answer some way or another.
But until then, I wish you clear skies and smooth sailing until we meet again here in my little corner of cyberspace. Take care my friend, and remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Half way through another week. Lord time seems to fly, but that makes it Wednesday and timer another ramble about knives. So far we've looked at the steel they're made of and the style of blades you might find, so today I thought I might take a look at the grinds used in blades and how the grind effects a knife's cutting ability.
Now if you're fairly new to knives, or even if you're not but always used to assume a knife is a knife is knife; you may not know just what a blade smith means when he talks about the grind. Well no matter how a knife gets it's form, be it forging or removing excess metal until the blade takes shape, sooner or later you have to take it to a grinder of some sort to put the final edge on. That grinder may take the form of an old fashioned bench grinder, a belt grinder, or even an even older fashioned whet stone and a set of sandpaper sheets, but you simply cannot put an edge that will really and truly cut without it; and the type of grind you use can have a huge impact on the finished knife.
Probably the oldest, and still most common type of grind is the V-grind, sometimes called a Scandi grind or Scandinavian grind. With this grind, the blade is left the same thickness as the spine until you get close to the cutting edge and then it's ground to the appropriate angle to form the edge; often about 25 degrees. This makes for a great field knife since the bevel is rather obvious, making field sharpening fairly easy. However this also makes for an edge that dulls more easily and can require more work to keep sharp. It's also a great shape for whittling since again the cutting edge is fairly obvious and easy to see. The other drawback is that if your spine is fairly heavy, it can be difficult to cut through some items as the back tends to get hung up once you get too deep.
Similar to the V-grind is the Flat Grind. With this one, the grind starts right at the spine and goes straight down to the cutting edge. This produces a knife with the potential for a much sharper edge than commonly found on a V-grind, but at the cost of removing a fair amount of metal from the blade resulting in a weaker, more delicate blade. It's biggest strength is that the single flat grind makes it another easily field sharpened knife. Just lay the side of the blade flat on your stone and you're good to go. This type of grind is most commonly seen on various chef's knives and other professional kitchen knives, though Spyderco and a few others do use a flat grind on several of their pocket knives.
The next grind is a Saber grind, also called a High Flat Grind. Somewhere between a V-grind and a Flat grind, a Saber grind starts it's angle closer to the spine but still leaves a fair amount of metal coming down flush from the spine resulting in a edge that's almost as sharp as a true flat grind but still retains the additional strength of the spine similar to that enjoyed by a V-grind. This tends to result in an excellent compromise between strength and sharpness and can be found in many survival knives and hunting knives.
One grind that is increasingly popular today is the Hollow grind or Razor grind as it's sometimes known. With this one a concave curve is ground into the blade from near the spine to the edge giving you a edge second to none for sharpness. It is this reason why this ground was used for straight razors back in the day, and it's still popular for hunting and skinning knives. The drawback here is that the sharper you make the edge, the less metal you have supporting it resulting in an edge that needs constant attention in the form of honing and sharpening.
Another one that is gaining in popularity among some in the business is the Convex grind. On this one the grind is also curved, but in the opposite direction from the hollow grind. This results in an cutting edge that is extremely durable and holds an edge quite well. The biggest drawback is that it requires speciality equipment to sharpen. Still, if you're willing to pay to have your knife professionally sharpened or to spend the money on the right sharpening equipment, this grind produces a survival knife that can cut and chop almost anything you throw at it.
Then there's the Chisel grind. Like it's namesake, a chisel grind only grinds away one side of the blade, leaving the opposing side straight and flush from spine to cutting edge. Although this grind also requires a lot of maintenance, making it something of a specialty blade; it's is fantastic at what it does both for the woodworker and the chef who is most likely to find this edge on his or her cleaver.
Finally there's the Complex, or Double grind. As it's name implies, this grind actually uses two grinds or bevels to produce the cutting edge. This is extremely popular with manufacturers since it allows them to use one grind in the initial forming of the blade and a second grind, which may or may not be a different type, to form the actually cutting edge. An excellent example can be seen in this picture of the main blade of a Christmas themed knife I sold this past winter. The main grind or bevel is stone washed as well as engraved and runs from just in front of the spine to the second grind, which is mirror polished making it much easier to see. By producing the edge this way, the manufacturer does not run as much risk of damaging the engraver or the employee running the engraver.
And that's it in a nut shell my friend. Well, actually there is one more grind, called the asymmetrical grind; but that's basically using one grind (say a flat grind) on one side of the blade and a different grind (say maybe a convex grind) on the other. Knives and cutting instruments with this style of grind are all specialty units of one type or another and unlikely to be found at your average knife shop. Still I should mention them just for completeness sake if for no other reason.
So there you have it. Every type of grind I know about distilled down to their basics for you. If we keep this up, you'll be a knife expert before school starts back up, and be able to amaze your family with the knives you buy them for Christmas. But in the mean time, this should have been published last night and I'm going to be late for work if I ramble on too much longer. So I'll just wish you all the best my friend, May the sky's always be sunny for you and the breeze ever cool. And until we meet again in this little corner of cyberspace I call mine, and remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!