View Full Version : leather handles

11-12-2002, 04:56 PM
What do you use to "seal" leather spacers from the elements? Do you pre-treat and then re-treat after handle is complete?


Don Cowles
11-12-2002, 06:09 PM
Ned, if I were doing it (and I'm not), I would use some sort of clear lacquer, or maybe even several coats of ultra-thin super glue. Since there is no substitute for experience, it would be good if someone who makes leather handles would chime in here.

Mike Hull
11-12-2002, 06:15 PM
I don't make them, but have repaired a number of leather handled knives. I use super glue. I assemble the handla, and run super glue around each leather washer. You might do it again, after the first coat dries. Then just finish up however you do it.
A coat of neutral Kiwi, or some paste carnauba wax is good for a finish.

Bob Warner
11-12-2002, 07:19 PM
I just got an e-mail asking me how to restore a leather handle. This person has an old knife with leather washers for the handle. He says the leather is dried out and the washers are loose.

Other than replacing the leather with new washers, how can you expand the washers to their original thickness to tighten it all up again?

I did not make a recommendation to him other than coming here to ask his question but now I am curious.


Mike Hull
11-12-2002, 07:53 PM
I've tried expanding them, with the results being a greasy mess. IMO, there are two ways, tighten the pommel down on the shrunken washers, treat with super glue and finish, or replace with new washers, and do the super glue thing, and finish.
You can get leather washers stabilized at WSSI. No worries after that.

Dave Larsen
11-13-2002, 03:51 AM
I've used superglue to seal the leather and it works very well. Superglue is kinda the knifemaker's duct tape... :) I think the only course on the shrunken leather is to replace it, tightening it down may not take up all the gaps because of the hard edges. Anyway, that's what I'd do. :D


Jason Cutter
11-13-2002, 06:01 PM
I've had little luck making a full leather handled knife but I used to use them for spacers. Superglue, superglue, but the only thing I'd add to what everyone's already said is to first try to wash out any residual oils or glues with a combination of methylated spirits and acetone. I drip some onto the leather and soak it off with a paper towel. It helps penetration of the superglue.

I did also partially restore a leather handle which had shrunk by shimming up the gaps with coloured fibre washers first, then when the gaps were tighter, using brass shim stock. Each piece of spacer was first drilled / slotted for the tang and then cut in half, so I was inserting one half from each side and getting them to mate up reasonably well. In each slot I decided to push the spacers in, I carefully shoved in some Devcon 2-tonne epoxy and did all the work before it set to fill in any spaces.

When set, I hand filed and sanded the shim stock down to the handle. Its easier if you do the repair work in the centre of the handel to avoid dinging up the guard or pommel. The pommel could not be tightened on this one. When finished, I did the superglue thing and resanded back again.

This was really quite time consuming but the end result was quite nice. At least the guy liked it. The brass shim spacers in the centre of the handle was a hit (purely accidental, and out of desperation). The trick was to not get the glue everywhere so the final finish would be even.

I won't be doing this again. It took as much time as actually making an entire knife !

Hope this helps.

11-14-2002, 06:01 AM
I use leatherwax or shoepolish.....I let the handle soak up as much as it likes...then give it a good coat more and heat gently with a heatgun only until the wax is liquid......leather soaks it right up...I keep on applying until it wont take no this the leather keeps its good qualities...even though i have not tried superglue on handles of leather I have tried it on sheaths and it makes it hard...
When wet it will raise it pores slightly and make a super grip..when dry...super feel!

look at the old ww1 and ww2 knives...many leather handles among those...and the knives that has survive best are those with leather handle...all they had back then where shoepolish...

11-14-2002, 06:02 AM
Forgot to add that when I make the handle I use dry leather if I can get it and plenty of epoxy...!

Fox Creek
11-14-2002, 08:16 AM
For new construction, it makes a BIG difference if you will dampen and pre-compress the leather spacers BEFORE they are assembled on the tang. I mean clamp them between two steel plates on a piece of all-thread. You can easily compress the leather to half its original thickness and eliminate much of its porousity. This makes it much denser and harder. Let them dry completely. When you assemble the knife handle you can really get it tight, since you have little compressibility in the leather left. Finish the leather as if it were wood; dont stop sanding until it begins to shine with out any finish on it. Several coats of good wax will soak in and seal nicely. Treated like this , it is sometimes hard to tell if it isnt wood.

11-14-2002, 09:15 AM
When doing a leather handle I use dry leather that has been fitted to the tang then use a lot of 24hr epoxy on each peace of leather, using the pommel with a nut on the tang compress the leather adding pieces as needed to fill out to the correct length.
When finished I replace the nut with a acorn nut and let the knife
set for 24hr and then finish.
The reason for the acorn nut is get this, I have lost sales because
a nut was not on the pommel, the customer would not bye the knife because he could not tighten the handle up with out one and no amount of explanation would not change his mind. This has happened several times. Gib

11-15-2002, 02:18 PM
I just finish one for a customer . I like to use mink oil
and a stain then buff till it shines. For the leather i use
old saddles or shoe blanks i buy from shoe repairers.
Also use epoxy between each piece then tighten down.

11-15-2002, 05:07 PM
Just refinished a leather handle on a 40 yr old geology rock pick (gift for my daughter who seems to like rocks!?). It had a coat of laquer or varnish that was crazed but otherwise in OK condition. So apparently such hard coatings last well on leather.

I sanded off the old coat, just down to 220, then burnished the surface with a piece of hardwood. As the color was irregular I stained it lightly with brown leather dye then gave it a good coat of hot mink oil, burnished again and finally finishing with brown shoe polish. Looks good and "vintage." Don't know if it will last another 40 years or not and probably won't be around to find out!!


11-17-2002, 11:19 PM
The way I've done a couple of leather and stage handles is to first soak leather squares in water, then compress in a 2 ton hydrolic press. I only compress stackes of 7or 8 at a time, mostly use 10-11 oz. leather, leaving the compressed block in the press for several hours.

I then trim the block on the bandsaw so that there are no overlapping edges, I then leave the block in the house for a couple of days, sometimes weeks, to dry out. After the block is dry, I seperate the squares and let dry some more.

When I get ready to make a handle I figure out about how many spacers I'm going to need, then soak the spacers in a dish full of super thin super glue. I then stack and press again, makeing sure to put wax paper on my press blocks, and let dry for a day or two.

After everything is dry I drill for the tang slot, stick everything together and let cure. After that I grind to shape and finish to 400grit, put anouther coat of super thin super glue just to be sure, finish to 600 grit, sanding to a light powder, then buffing.

After everything is finished I wax the whole handle.

So far this has made a very tough handle.