View Full Version : Question for Les on rare handle materials

02-18-2002, 06:36 PM
Hey Les,

I got from some of your post that you disapprove of Giraffe leg bone handles. Do I get that right? Generally speaking, how can one make sure that the handle material on their knife is not coming from some kind of unsavory poaching operation?

For example, some knives have "exotic shell" inlays or scales. Those are sea turtle shells, and if I'm not mistaken all sea turtles are protected. Personally, I would want to be reasonably certain that the material is either not from and endangered species, or is from some kind of farming operation. It seems that ivory is pretty safe since there's so much controls now - correct?

I'm not pointing any fingers here, I just want to make sure that I make educated purchases.



Les Robertson
02-18-2002, 10:30 PM
Hi Joss,

First, let me state that these are my opinion's. I know others (both makers and collectors) like Giraffe bone.

I don't disaprove of the material because of possible poaching. I disaprove because it is a common bone that, much like the "wild woods" is injected with dye. Giving it an unatural look.

Fortunately, most of the materials that are used today come from sources that do not harm any animals.

For high end knives, the prefered natural handle materials are Fossil Walrus, Mastodon and Mammoth Ivory and Pearl.

One material you do see on occasion is Tortoise Shell. Most of this (if not all) is taken from antique sets of brushes and mirrors. Also, jewlery boxes were made from the shell.

Turtles are an endangered species and to use fresh shells could get you into trouble. The same is true of fresh walrus (unless you are a native north American).

A couple of items that are big "no-no's" have been offered to me over the years. The piece I found most interesting was the Rhino Horn. The other was a Narwhal (spelling?) Horn.

Other no-no's, bear jaws. In several states the fines are huge.

Most natural handle material is "cost effective" for the knife being made. As such, there is not a lot of call for Rhino Horn. As it would be near impossible to advertise and as such you it is not a cost effective material to use. The small piece I looked at sold for $3,000 and would have been enough for 1 fighter or maybe two sets of slabs. Tough to justify the cost without an explanation.

There is plenty of legal Elephant Ivory in the US (there always has been). Althoug, it has lost favor. Not because of the problems with the CITES treaty. But the fact that Fossil Walrus or Mastodon became more popular. In large part due to the fact it used to be cheaper than elephant.

Probably 95% of the natural handle material out there is "commonly" used, so not a lot of eye brows get raised.

You can always check with either US Customs and/or Fish and Wildlife. They can give you the run down on what is and what is not something you can trade in.

Almost forgot, Whales teeth can be bought and sold. However, you have to have paperwork and I think they have to stay within the state.

Hope this helps. Any one else out there with material I missed?

02-19-2002, 11:52 AM
Don't forget that some states have there own laws. I forget where but a seem to recall that some states do not allow the use of local deer antler in knifemaking (or maybe that's in general) why I don't really know.

02-19-2002, 12:34 PM
Thanks, it makes me feel better about what I might or not want to buy, both as a collector and as a hobbyist. I didnt know the thing about giraffe bones - I thought it was their natural color. One wonders why use giraffe instead of more common animals...


02-19-2002, 01:18 PM
While not common here, they are very available in Africa where the are easy to get, the bovines of the savannah, I guess

Les Robertson
02-19-2002, 02:16 PM
Jerry is exactly right. Many of the bones are found in "trash".

Very similar to the cow bones that come from the slaughter houses across the US that wind up as "jigged bone" on your knives.

One mans garbage is another man's treasure!

Gary Mulkey
03-08-2002, 09:56 AM

I think (and this is conjecture) one reason that giraffe bones were used initially is that they are a very dense, strong bone out of necessity due to the length of the animal's legs. With the exception of the front shin bone of a cow, I don't know of any domestic bones that compare.


03-19-2002, 07:51 AM
Gary, domestic camel bone is similar material.

You should know that Giraffe is not an endangered species and is not a hunted animal. The bones are normally taken from animals that died naturally.

By the way, did you know that every DAY more than two species (mostly insects) are extinct and that nearly two new species (again mostly insects) develop? This alway has been a very normal process. To me, all species have the same importance, so i don't see the problem in seeing for example a mammal going extinct if a new species of insects develops.