Carbon Fiber Knife Handles

Knife Handle Materials — Carbon Fiber

A carbon fiber knife handle is now widely available for this oldest of tools known to humankind. Carbon fiber is one of the greatest modern manufactured materials. It is made from strands of carbon woven then bonded together with resin to create a strong, light and beautiful material. There are many reasons to choose carbon fiber as a knife handle material.

Carbon looks high tech and is eye catching because the weave of the fibers catches the light. Not only does it look neat, it is customizable and can be crafted to spec with different tones, sizes of the fiber weave and color.

Strength to weight ratio
Carbon is very light weight. Carbon is lighter than many, if not all metals. This lightness will help make a load less burdensome, which means the knife with the carbon handle is the one most likely to be carried. A carbon handle can be textured and shaped, making it easier (and safer) to grip when wet.
Yet despite the light weight, carbon is extremely strong. It is strong enough that it has become the most popular frame material for high end racing bicycles, is widely used in the aerospace and race car industries, and is a standard material for prosthetic parts for someone who has lost a limb. This strength will ensure durability of a knife handle.

Carbon is very stiff
Carbon’s stiffness means that force applied will transfer directly to the blade. It is used in sporting goods when stiffness is required, like in soles of running shoes, and boat shells for competitive rowing. The stiffness is prized by racing cyclists. This efficient power transfer means less energy is expended by athletes using items with carbon, and this is also be true for a knife user. But despite the stiffness, carbon is also forgiving. It will reduce fatigue in the user’s hands.

Improved manufacturing
Though carbon has historically been a higher budget item, improved manufacturing has reduced the price point. Carbon knife handle crafting has become a popular endeavor, allowing folks to fully personalize their knives. The use of wood, bone and metals for knife handles has always been an important craft in history and in lore, and now it is possible to work with carbon. Carbon is the most modern, strong and stiff material with the best strength to weight ratio,created by humankind. Carbon is here to stay as a knife handle material. Watch for continued innovations.

Benefits of Glass Reinforced Nylon Handles

Nylon is a popular material for knife handles because of its strength, impact resistance, chemical inertness and stability at high temperatures. All these characteristics are enhanced by adding glass fibers to the nylon to create a new material, glass reinforced nylon (GRN).

GRN is a member of a new group of high-tech materials called composites. By combining basic substances with reinforcing fibers or particles, composites improve on nature by increasing all the good points of traditional materials. The glass fibers used to produce GRN are long, textile-type strands with a lubricant to keep them from abrading each other and added binders and coupling agents to help them bind with the nylon. This reinforcement at least doubles most of the physical properties of the nylon, increasing tensile strength from 10,000 psi to more than 30,000 psi and deflection temperature from 170 degrees F to about 500 degrees F. Similar increases can be seen in dimensional stability, fatigue endurance and resistance to the hydrocarbons found in gasoline, machine oils and other industrial products.

These improvements make glass reinforced nylon a perfect choice for knife handles. The property known as creep, movement of the blade in its fitting in the handle, is greatly decreased by glass reinforcement. Deformation under repeated impacts, another common problem with conventional nylon, is also improved.

Since these are some of the perennial difficulties of knives, using GRN for knife handles is a logical choice. The knives last longer, resist wear better and remain usable over a broader range of conditions than those with conventional nylon handles. Knife owners who are familiar with the shattering, impact warping and other problems of conventional nylon will be relieved at the improved performance of GRN.

These knives can be used over a wider range of environmental factors than other knives. The ability to retain shape under high temperatures will be useful in some functions, as will the resistance to solvents, fuels and other caustic chemicals. The lifespan of the knife is increased, making it a better investment. In survival applications where any equipment failure can have life-threatening implications, glass reinforcement can make a crucial difference.

My Favorite Knife has a 440C Stainless Steel Blade

My Favorite Knife

Our town had a mom-and-pop hardware store when I was a boy. They sold the usual assortment of plumbing supplies, tools, nails, and even some small appliances, but the focus of every kid’s attention was the knife display. It was beautiful. The front glass sloped back and underneath it each knife had it’s own cubby hole, custom made to fit that knife alone. The owner’s wife admonished us to keep our fingers off the glass.

When I was old enough, Dad accompanied me to the store so I could purchase my very first pocketknife. It had a lovely bone handle with two shiny carbon steel blades. Within weeks, they turned black with corrosion as I used the knife for fishing, cutting boxes, and even digging fossils out of some local shale. Sure, I abused it, but I was a kid.

The knife went missing when I was in college. I replaced it with a cheap folder with a stainless steel blade that could hold an edge for as long as several minutes. A stiff breeze made the blade go dull. There was a reason it was cheap.

Dad said I should get a good knife, and as he was a tool and die maker, he suggested 440C stainless steel. I knew nothing about it, but I learned that it’s a high-carbon stainless steel that is the hardest of all stainless steels when heat treated properly. Like most stainless steels, it resists corrosion, particularly when polished. It’s even magnetic, unlike some other stainless steels.

By chance, a neighborhood yard sale turned up a quality blade. The family had a sporting goods store that went out of business, and they were selling the last of the stock. I found a lovely fixed blade knife with a polished wood grip. There was no maker’s mark, just “440C Stainless Steel” etched at the base of the blade. The edge lasted longer than my first marriage.

The knife went on countless hunting and fishing trips and even served as a kitchen knife on occasion. Bachelors are not known to be choosy about kitchen implements. But a truly lovely young woman entered my life and my outdoor adventures gave way to kids and strollers. I found the long-forgotten knife was at the back of a drawer while bundling some old clothes for the local thrift store. The blade was scratched but still as sharp as ever. The sheath and grip are worn. Simply holding it brought back a wealth of memories.

I gave it to my son today. He’s old enough to appreciate it and young enough to collect some special memories of his own.

What is special about Micarta-handled knives?

Immediately after graduating from high school, our son Michael spent four years active duty in the United States Marine Corps. He now works as a ranger with the National Parks Service. One byproduct of his years in service is a fondness for knives of all sorts. He wouldn’t call himself a collector, but I’d tend to disagree.

He owns several KA-BAR knives. I was intrigued by one particular knife – the handle was so red it looked as though it was illuminated from within. I knew it was a KA-BAR, but I’d never seen anything like it. The handle was glossy smooth, hefty enough to give some substance to the knife, and was well-balanced and comfortable to hold.

“What do we have here?” I asked.

“A KA-BAR,” Michael said. “Whaddya think about the handle?”

“What’s it made of?” I asked.

“That’s Micarta,” he answered. Frankly, that didn’t mean anything to me.

Michael – who tends to lose himself in minutiae – had obviously done his homework. He told me that this was a custom handle for that particular model knife.

Micarta handles are quite popular. I learned that Micarta had been around for over one hundred years. The material was trademarked by George Westinghouse and was originally used for electrical insulators.

We own an ancient RCA tube radio made from Bakelite. When it was first marketed, it was a wondrous material, a resin thought to be indestructible. Old school Micarta was made from this same resin and a variety of fibrous materials. Today, Micarta is made from resins layered with fiberglass, cork, linen cloth, cotton fibers, and other fabrics.

Clinical talk aside, what makes a Micarta handle special?

The nature of Micarta is such that it can be manufactured in virtually any color, depending on its formulization. It is strong and durable, and has become a favorite material for use in heavy-duty survival knives. It tolerates extremes of heat and cold, resists moisture, and doesn’t become brittle with age. Most Micarta-handled knives will outlast their owners’ lifespans. The handles simply don’t wear out. Durability can be determined by the type of epoxy used in the handle’s construction, but unless you plan on putting it between a hammer and anvil, sturdiness should not even be an issue. A Micarta handle should stand up to anything a knife should be used for.

Micarta is resistant to solvents, grease, and just about any caustic substance imaginable. Depending on the fibers used in its manufacture, it can be buffed to a fine sheen. However, if you prefer something “grippier,” then textured handles are available, too. Micarta handles made with linen have a canvas-like feel. They won’t escape your grip easily.

Michael feels that Micarta is an excellent material for a knife handle. While other similar materials are routinely used for handles – G10 is a comparable and perhaps more modern alternative – the charm and nostalgic appeal of Micarta is hard to beat.