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  #1  
Old 04-11-2003, 08:50 PM
jbgatlin jbgatlin is offline
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Handle Materials

Hello Mr. Robertson,

I first want to thank you in advance for what I know will be an informative post....to me at least. Here goes.....

What types of wood do you suggest using for handles. I work with alot of curly maple but am looking to add some variety. I am curious as to what collectors are going for. If it matters, I am referring to forged blades of traditional design.

Hope I make sense....

Brett Gatlin
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  #2  
Old 04-12-2003, 08:51 AM
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RogerP RogerP is offline
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Hi Brett,

Well, I am no Les Robertson to be sure, but I am a collector of forged fixed-blade knives who is real partial to wood handles so I'll throw down some assorted thoughts on various woods that may or may not bear any relationship to the views of a more broad base of collectors. In no particular order:

1) Curly Maple ? This is, without a doubt the staple handle material of the forged blade maker. Nothing wrong with it at all ? some really terrific knives have been adorned with this wood and some terrific makers (Jay Hendrickson comes to mind) use it almost exclusively. But the problem from a collector?s standpoint is that its use is so prolific that it can quickly come to dominate your collection. Speaking for myself, I?ve become super-saturated with curly maple. If curly maple were a color, I?d see it as beige ? as unlikely to offend as to excite. I?ve passed up some pretty good knives for that handle-material choice alone. (But then again, I?d hardly recognize my collection if it didn?t have at least a couple examples, like the Massey bowie pictured below).



2) Ironwood ? The nicely figured stuff is about as good as it gets in a darker-colored wood. A very dense wood, it makes a great handle choice on a larger knife because it can help balance-out a larger blade. Takes a nice polish too.

3) Walnut ? An absolutely classic choice for a fine gun stock or knife handle. Beautiful, but subdued. An elegant choice, as presented on this Rob Hudson knife:



4) Thuya Burl ? I like this stuff a lot. Nice color and some eye-popping patterns. This choice definitely adds some visual zip. I?m told it can be a bit of a pain to work with (gums up the belts) but the results are worth it (knife by Fisk):



5) Wenge wood ? This super-dense, super-tough African hardwood is an excellent choice for knife that will see hard use. It is also a beautiful choice whether with a carded texture (as on the Fogg bowie pictured below) or a highly- polished finish.



6) African Blackwood ? Again, one of the more dense woods out there. Some may say it?s a bit boring, but on the right knife it can be quite stunning: say a mid-size bowie or fighter with satin-finish carbon steel blade and mirror-polished steel fittings, the look can be both severe and striking. Ebony is also pretty good in this regard.

7) California Buckeye burl. I have absolutely no idea what the natural color of this wood is as I?ve seen it mostly dyed a variety of colors that range from truly beautiful to truly freakish. I remember a Bradshaw bowie that had muted tones of blue / grey that was spectacular. I?ve also seen some bright nearly day-glo or neon colors that made me want to? well? not buy the knife.

8) Amboyna Burl - Really a stunning choice. Not yet represented in my collection, but certainly will be. Here?s an example by J. Loose (his pic as well):



9) Masur Birch ? a great choice for a lighter-colored handle material ? comes in a nice range of tones from reddish-orange to dark tan. Can be nicely figured as well.

10) Snakewood ? a stunning high-contrast wood that I don?t see around nearly enough.

As you can probably guess, I could go on and on. The main point I would make is to try to offer some variety. With wood, mother nature has provided a fantastic array of color, pattern and texture. Make use of it. When I walk past a maker?s table at a knife show and see a broad range of handle material (wood and others) I?m going to stop and take a careful look. When I see all of just one thing, the effect is decidedly less arresting.

Best regards,

Roger

Last edited by RogerP; 04-12-2003 at 05:00 PM.
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  #3  
Old 04-12-2003, 10:38 AM
jbgatlin jbgatlin is offline
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Thank you, Roger. That's alot of info and I appreciate you spending the time to go into such detail. I am starting to become more of a "if it looks good....do it" type.

From a collectors viewpoint, are there any handle materials to avoid?

Thanks, Brett
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  #4  
Old 04-12-2003, 04:46 PM
Gabe Newell Gabe Newell is offline
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I have the Amboyna/Loose piece. The great thing about Jonathon's choices were that the color line in the Amboyna, the plunge line, and the pattern in the damascus all relate to each other.

So in addition to the comments above, about specific materials, I'd throw in that relating features of the handle material to the rest of the design can have a powerful impact on the overall effect of the knife. You can repeat, invert, extend, distort, and so on features that are (presumably) fixed in your handle material into the butt cap, bolster, pins, and blade.
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  #5  
Old 04-12-2003, 04:58 PM
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Hi Brett,

As far as handle materials to avoid, I?d say anything synthetic, but with one caveat: if you?re making what might be generally described as a ?tactical? knife then synthetics are just fine (perhaps even preferred). Jerry Fisk makes a military model (basically a strong, stout spear point bowie) that is handled in black micarta. It?s about as close as I come to being interested in a tactical knife, though I?d prefer even that one in, say, African blackwood. But hey, tacticals are hugely popular and are here to stay, so if you happen to be making that kind of knife, then by all means go nuts with the micarta and such.

In terms of natural handle materials to avoid: pink ivory (wood) ? ugh. I?m also not a big fan of giraffe bone, though I have seen some examples that turned out pretty good. The list of handle materials I?d pick ahead of giraffe would be pretty long and varied.

Like you, I look forward to Les? input ? he draws on an incredibly broad range of experience and certainly knows what?s hot and what?s not.

Cheers,

Roger
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  #6  
Old 04-12-2003, 05:40 PM
Jason Cutter Jason Cutter is offline
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Still waiting for Les !

Thought I'd throw in a few 2-cent pieces from my PILE of 2-cent pieces !

As a maker who hasn't necessarily "settled" on a specialty wood or particular style of any type, I've come across things that seem "better," for lack of a more appropriate description. For one, I think that more and more buyers are discerning themselves as either users / collectors or both and will choose knives to suit the job (field or cabinet !) The idea of a beautiful finely burled wood that would fall apart in the field is a real danger.

Being from Australia, as impressive as curly maple is, it is becoming a bit common now. I see quite a few makers throwing into the mix one of the Australian woods - RINGED GIDGEE. If I wanted to use maple, it stabilises well, so I'd probably go for a highly figured stabilised maple - burled, spalted, curly and birdseye, preferrably all in the same piece. My idea of a presentation bowie is with African Blackwood - that jet black oily finish and sublime streaking with golds and whites is very very elegant.

I am thinking more in terms of colours than anything else, and for woods, its more what it looks like than what it actually is. (IMHO)

The suggestion that "tactical" is going out, may be right, from what I see. That suggests that black and green are less popular. However, my Micarta handled knives are no less popular (maybe more) but I too have become bored with canvas Micarta for example. I've had to do "extra" things to Micarta to improve the appearance of it. I contour it, texture it, jig it, inlay it, machine it etc. I personally think it helps but thats just me.

Stag is a difficult one. I personally really like working with stag, but even when people like to pick up a stag handled piece, not many people are buying it. I'm not sure why - it isn't just my knives. Could it be a saturation thing as well, but to me a nice stag handled fighter or bowie is a class act and it gives a knife a very rugged "outdoorsman" look, even if it gets as far as the display cabinet.

Just a few thoughts. I haven't used many other materials like MOP, stone etc. enough to say much about those.

Cheers. Hope Les catches up soon. Jason.


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  #7  
Old 04-12-2003, 06:27 PM
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Greetings all,

gaben - you lucky dog you - that J. Loose knife is sweet! You make a really good point about the importance of synthesis between the handle material and the rest of the knife.

Jason - thanks for the detailed post. Some of the more interesting wood handles I've seen of late have come from Australian makers - I like that ringed gidgee wood as well. Just wanted to clarify one point : I didn't suggest tacticals were on their way out, I actually suggested the contrary.

Cheers,

Roger
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  #8  
Old 04-12-2003, 07:22 PM
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Keith Montgomery Keith Montgomery is offline
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Personally, I think ringed gidgee is about as nice a wood as ther is for knife handles. It has great figuring and takes a fantastic finish. Better as far as I am concerned than ironwood.

African blackwood is the perfect wood for coffin handled bowies, I prefer it to ebony.

On smaller knives I really like snakwood, but from all accounts it is a finicky wood. It tends to check and crack as it shrinks and is not easy to stabilize.

A wood that looks great on some fancy folders is pink ivory. It has a wonderful deep pink to red colour and takes a very smooth finish.


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Old 04-12-2003, 09:08 PM
Bailey Bradshaw Bailey Bradshaw is offline
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Keith mentioned Blackwood for coffin handles. I really like this wood for several reasons. First is it polishes SOOOO well. A very dense grain and really oily texture make it a joy to finish to a high gloss. It also carves, checkers, drills and sands very well. All this adds up to my next point. This wood is VERY stable with no treatment. It doesn't NEED a sealer or stabilization. It is so oily it just stays put. Many of these wood need some sort of sealer or finish to bring out their figure or keep them from shrinking. My opinion is ALL burls need sealer or stabilizing just because of the nature of burl grained wood. It is usually not very dense, has irregular grain making it weaker than uniform grained wood, and it has more pourous eyes and end grain making moisture exchange with the air more previlant and harder to control. To many woods this means shrinkage and possible cracking.


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Old 04-12-2003, 09:20 PM
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RogerP RogerP is offline
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Let me be the first to say - "Welcome to CKD Bailey!" Glad you stopped by and hope to see you here again soon - your post was most informative.

Best regards,

Roger

Last edited by RogerP; 04-13-2003 at 05:47 AM.
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  #11  
Old 04-12-2003, 09:58 PM
shgeo shgeo is offline
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Mesquite

Mesquite burl and crotchwood are beautiful hardwood that is very hard, very dense and is one of the most stable woods. There may be cracks, but they won't grow or change as the wood ages and can be filled effectively with epoxy.
This wood works well and darkens with exposure to light. It does not need stabilizing, unlike maple and buckeye burls.
You will want to have carbide teeth on the tablesaw blade when you cut it.
Some of the better hardwood sellers online carry it as well as regional dealers in Texas and Arizona.


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  #12  
Old 04-12-2003, 10:25 PM
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Osprey Guy Osprey Guy is offline
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I'm a huge fan of Ironwood, especially when it's Grade A or Presentation Grade and therefore showing Chatoyant...the word refers to depth...and lots of it. A cool, 3D effect caused by transparent sap...it's really intense, especially in bright sunlight.

I also love snakewood. I was fortunate enough to get hold of a good amount of gorgeously figured and well-cured snakewood a few months ago. So far I guess I've been really lucky as I have yet to experience cracking or shrinking...(I do try and go easy on the heat when working with snakewood...no sense pressing my luck).

Contrary to many opinions in this forum, I happen to be extremely fond of giraffe bone! Not the phoney, gaudy colored stuff...I mean the more natural looking pieces with lots of grain/character, and lovely, subtle colorings. Every now and then it can be astonishingly beautiful, and it is so easy to work with! I'm sort of a nut about selecting great handle material...I've looked at Mammoth over and over and as far as I'm concerned I've got some giraffe bone that will give most of the far more expensive mammoth a run for its money (I just posted a new giraffe bone folder in the display case...I went out of my way to "honor" the fact that it was giraffe...if you get a chance check it and you'll understand right away what I mean ).

I guess the bottom line for me,... it all depends on the selection regardless of the material, and how it's been used. I've seen where a number of guys have felt obliged to flat out "pan" various materials...They've even pronounced that such and such material is for the most part "dead" for use in knife handles...(giraffe is one of those that's supposed to be "history")...
No matter what the material may be, there's no changing the simple fact that if that particular version of that "something" is beautiful...it will always be beautiful.

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Last edited by Osprey Guy; 04-12-2003 at 10:27 PM.
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Old 04-12-2003, 10:26 PM
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SharpByCoop SharpByCoop is offline
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This is a great post, although I can add nothing better than has been offered. But, I'd like to steal a moment to say hi and big CKDF welcome to Bailey Bradshaw.

But since I'm here I want to add a comment that someone, somewhere imparted to me and #### if I can give him credit. It's simply that handle material, be it wood or ivory or pearl or stag, etc., are ALL organic and represent a past living growing thing. That and also the leather in sheaths. This adds life to your knife in an immeasurable way. It's a respectful way to view your knives in the larger scale of things.

Also interested in Les' comments...

Coop


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Old 04-12-2003, 11:21 PM
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Terry Primos Terry Primos is offline
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Ironwood and African Blackwood are two of my personal favorites. Both are dense and stable, and take a killer finish with no sealer. A customer recently sent me some real nice Lignum Vitae to put on a couple of knives for him. I had never used it before and was surprised at how nice it looked when finished.

I've been using Ring Gidgee when I can get it and have grown quite fond of it. I'm pretty sure it will become a standard for me.

Right now I have a lot of requests for Ironwood and Thuya Burl. Thuya Burl is not dense like Ironwood, African Blackwood, and Lignum Vitae, but it's easy to work with and smells good.

By the way, welcome to the CKD Forums Bailey. We're glad to have you.


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Old 04-13-2003, 12:01 AM
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Keith Montgomery Keith Montgomery is offline
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If I am not mistaken Les is one of the people that doesn't think much of giraffe bone, but I may be mistaken. I seem to remember him posting that somewhere. I have seen many knives with giraffe bone handles that look spectacular; some from Tom Anderson really stick in my mind.

My favorite handle material for bowies and hunters is sambar stag, but it has to be nice stag and that is getting harder to find and more expensive. It will shrink, but this can be reduced or even stopped by treating with mineral oil. Right up there with stag is ancient walrus ivory; the colours on this material can be absolutely amazing. Mammoth/mastadon ivory is another favorite, especially the bark. On certain knives (gents fixed and fancy folders including slipjoints) I like pearl, in particular gold lip. Abalone can look nice on these knives as well. Sheep horn can look very nice as well and I have seen a few knives with black sheep horn that really look sharp. Coral, woods and stone all have their place as well. On primative knives, ends of bones and bear jaws with teeth seem to belong.

I personally don't like most synthetics. The exception to that is the Micartas. On fancier knives paper micarta can look very nice and on hunters, utility and tactical knives linen and canvas micarta can make for excellent results. I think tactical knives are the only category where synthetics won't negatively affect the value of the knife.

The one material that I find totally inappropriate for knife handles is any of the laminated woods (Pakkawood, Dymondwood and Frostwood). Some of this looks ok, but most make me want to . I don't even really like this stuff on $5.00 knives; on anything more than that it really turns me off.


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