Just as blade styles and blade steels are important when it comes to creating a decent knife, so too is the handle important in making a great knife. Each handle material serves their own purpose and has their own unique properties. Listed below are the most common handle types available on the market. Feel free to compare the different materials to see what will best work for you.
Aluminum is a non-ferrous metal (meaning it does not contain or consist of iron) that is corrosive resistant. It is a very durable material for knife handles. It’s a low-density metal that provides a nice, solid feel to the knife without weighing the knife down. It is strong because of its high strength to weight ratio. One of the most common types of aluminum used today is the T6-6061 alloy. Aluminum is often considered to be inferior Titanium, which tends to be found on more premium knives.
When properly texturized, an aluminum handle can provide a considerably secure grip that is also comfortable. One downside is if you use your knife during cooler weather, you might find the handle to be slightly uncomfortable. If left uncared for, aluminum will oxidize. This oxidation appears as white residue and pitting on the surface.
Advantages: Strong, light, durable, and resistant to corrosion.
Disadvantages: Cold to hold when first held, slippery to hold when wet, and susceptible to scratches and dings.
Knife Examples: Boker Kalashnikov 74, Benchmade H&K MP5.
Anodizing is an electrochemical process that converts the metal surface into a decorative, durable, corrosion-resistant, anodic oxide finish. It is anodized for its color, hardness, and protection. The surface of the handle is coated with a protective and decorative film. Anodizing the aluminum provides attractive, minimum-maintenance, and highly durable handles.
Advantages: Low cost, better than regular aluminum, easy to maintain, corrosion resistant, and looks great.
Disadvantages: Cold when first held, difficult to hold when wet.
Knife Examples: Protech Tactical Response 5, Microtech Ultratech.
Although not too common nowadays, bone handles have been used for thousands of years and are still used among the knife collector community. Most of the bone used today comes from naturally deceased animals.
Many like bone handles simply because of the tradition behind them. Additionally, bone can be dyed to achieve bright colors, and can be textured to make for an easier grip. However, bone is still somewhat slippery and is porous. Its stability is not the best and it is susceptible to deformation and cracking. Temperature and moisture can all impact the characteristics of a bone handle.
Advantages: Inexpensive, natural, and can use dyes to create different designs.
Disadvantages: Porous, susceptible to cracking, and slippery.
Knife Examples: Bear & Son White Smooth Bone Bowie, Bear & Son Genuine India Stag Bone Flesh Skinner 543.
Thin strands of carbon tightly woven into various weave patterns then infused with resin. Incredible weight to strength ratio (more weight equals more strength). Carbon fiber is made from strands of carbon woven then bonded together with resin to create a strong, light-weight material. Carbon fiber is lighter than many metals and other handle materials. It looks high-tech and catches the eye with its weave pattern which reflects light in various ways. It is also customizable to be crafted to specific sizes and colors.
Carbon fiber’s stiffness allows the force applied on the knife will transfer directly to the blade. But despite the stiffness, carbon is also forgiving (meaning it will reduce fatigue on the user’s hands). While strong, it’s far from indestructible and is brittle. Because it’s brittle it can crack if subjected to sharp impacts.
Advantages: Strong, lightweight, and aesthetically pleasing.
Disadvantages: Expensive, and brittle.
Knife Examples: Zero Tolerance 0620CF Emerson, Boker Plus Urban Trapper.
Zytel is a type of Fiberglass Reinforces Nylon (FRN), a thermoplastic material which was introduced by American chemical company DuPont. FRN is a nylon polymer mixed with glass fiber that can be injection molded. It is strong, bending resistant, and close to being indestructible. It is also relatively inexpensive.
FRN is different than G-10, Carbon Fiber, and Micarta in that the fibers are arranged irregularly throughout the entire handle. This results in it being strong in all directions as opposed to G-10, Carbon Fiber, and Micarta which have their strands aligned in a single direction. However, many knife users feel that FRN has a cheap and plastic feel to it. It also less grip than G-10.
Advantages: Strong, tough, zero maintenance, and inexpensive.
Disadvantages: Cheap plastic feel, and not as much grip as other materials.
Knife Examples: Spyderco Endura 4 Folder, SOG Toothlock Folder.
G-10 or G10 is similar to Micarta and Carbon Fiber and is often used in handles because of its moisture imperviousness. G-10 is a fiberglass based laminate made by layers of fiberglass cloth that are soaked in an epoxy resin, are compressed, and then baked. The result is a material that is hard, lightweight, and strong. The surface of the G-10 is a checkering texture that is added for additional grip support. A unique property of the material is that the grip improves when wet. This material is difficult to break. It is also an ideal handle material because it does not shrink or swell in extreme hot or cold temperatures. Many knife companies prefer to use G-10 because of these properties, but also prefer to use it because it is easy to shape into different designs and has a possibility for an unlimited number of colors. This handle is recommended for knives that are to be used in survival situations. G-10 is considered the toughest of all the fiberglass resin laminates and stronger (though more brittle) than Micarta.
Advantages: Tough, light, strong and durable, impervious to water, low maintenance, relatively inexpensive, and light weight.
Disadvantages: Brittle, occasionally (depending on manufacturer) has a cheap plastic feel.
Knife Examples: Gerber Propel Auto, Benchmade CLA Composite Lite Auto.
Micarta is similar to G-10 but is more expensive. This is because canvas micarta is mostly natural. It is a composite of linen, canvas, and/or paper infused with resin. It is lightweight, durable, and capable of being polished or bead blasted for multiple looks and textures. It was originally introduced as an electrical insulator and is now one of the best materials out there for making knife handles. There are generally two different forms of Micarta: polished or unpolished. Unpolished Micarta can soak up moisture (both from your hand and the environment) for a better grip. It is less hygienic, seeing as it can soak up blood, sweat, germs, etc. A polished Micarta handle needs more upkeep (constant oiling and polishing) but is able to keep those unwanted fluids.
Unfortunately, Micarta itself has little surface texture. It is smooth and slippery, thus requiring much labor to produce and then carve some sort of texture into the knife. This process increases the overall price of the knife.
Advantages: Tough, light, durable
Disadvantages: Expensive, brittle
Knife Examples: Steel Will Mini Gekko, ESEE Knives Fixed Blade ESEE-3SDT.
There are a number of mixed feelings about the use of paracord as a handle material. Many love the survival aspect to it. In emergency situations, the paracord can be removed to provide a good amount of rope length. It is also easy to replace the paracord when needed. As far as disadvantages go, it is uncomfortable to grip. When wet, it is even more uncomfortable, if you lose your knife you lose your paracord. Also, when the paracord is unwound then your knife is left with a skeletal grip.
Advantages: Can be taken off for emergencies, and is easily replaceable.
Disadvantages: Uncomfortable, and wears out over time.
Knife Examples: Browning Black Label Stone Cold Fixed Blade, TOPS Knives Wolf Hawk Tanto Point.
Stainless steel handles contain a minimum of 10-13% chromium, making it corrosive resistant. Chromium creates a barrier to oxygen and moisture which makes is rust resistant, but not rust proof. While it does provide excellent durability and resistance to corrosion, it is not particularly lightweight. Stainless steel handles can also be rather slick.
Advantages: Strong, durable, and corrosion resistant.
Disadvantages: Heavy, and can be slippery when wet.
Knife Examples: Kershaw Thermite, ESEE Izula Stainless Steel Fixed Blade.
Titanium, along with aluminum, is a non-ferrous metal that is lightweight. It is highly corrosive resistant and has a high degree of tensile strength. As a lightweight metal alloy, it offers the best corrosion resistance of any metal. Though it is still heavier than aluminum, it still considered a lightweight metal. Unlike aluminum, titanium has a warm feel to it. It will not be uncomfortable to hold in cold weather. Titanium is also used as a liner material because it is sturdy while having some spring to it.
Advantages: Strong, light, and corrosion resistance.
Disadvantages: Relatively expensive, and prone to be scratched.
Knife Examples: Zero Tolerance Sinkevich, Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21.
If you look after it, a wooden handle will look after you. Wood, similar to bone, has been used as a handle for many years. A good quality wood handle can be durable and attractive. Wood also adds a lot of beauty to a knife. No two handles are the same seeing as each has a different natural design. Although wood is beautiful and simple to shape, it does need a lot of care. Regular maintenance by cleaning and polishing the handle is mandatory if the handle is going to survive for many years. It is sensitive to moisture and heat, so take precaution.
Advantages: Lots of variety, attractive, durable, and comfortable to hold.
Disadvantages: Porous, and unstable.
Knife Examples: Benchmade HUNT Grizzly Creek, Bear & Son 282CW.
Hope this list assists you in you knife choosing pursuits. Each handle material has their own strengths and weaknesses. They will all perform well for what they are intended to do. Once you have your handle choice decided, it’s time to move onto what type of blade and blade steel you will get. Best wishes in getting your perfect knife.