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!