Overview of Knife Handle Materials

So far we have discussed the different steel types that a knife can have and the different popular knife shapes. For the last segment of the beginner’s series, we are going to talk about the different popular knife handle materials.

 

Carbon fiber knife handle:

A carbon fiber knife handle is a woven handle made up of thing strands of carbon, which is then set in epoxy resin. Many times, you can see the weave-like pattern in the handle, which can be varied, and there are different epoxy colors, so you can get a wide variety with this material. Because of how this handle material is made, this option is a very light weight handle. But, it is still one of the strongest handle options out there—it can be stronger than steel. However, because of how carbon fiber is woven, it can suffer from being very brittle. This is caused by the pattern of the weave, the handle is very strong in the direction of the weave, but when it is stressed in other directions, the weave starts to break apart. This means that it is prone to cracking upon sharp impacts. Another thing about carbon fiber is that it is a labor intensive process, so knives with this handle material are not going to be found cheap.

Advantages of a carbon fiber knife handle:

  • Extremely strong.
  • This is a very lightweight option.
  • Can get variety because of the different weave patterns and the different colors of epoxy resin.

Disadvantages of a carbon fiber knife handle:

  • This material is a more expensive handle option.
  • Brittle, so it might break upon sharp impact.

 

 

G-10 knife handle:

A G-10 knife handle is a material that is made out of fiberglass that is then soaked in a resin, compressed, and then baked under pressure. G-10 was originally designed to be in circuit boards, so it can stand up to elements such as acids, water, and oils very well. This material is very similar to carbon fiber; however, it can be found for a much cheaper cost. G-10 can be made from many colors, but is most often found in black. Then the material is can be finished in another variety of ways, which gives it different textures to serve different purposes. Fixed blade knifes and tactical folders are commonly found with this type of handle because it is so durable and still lightweight.

Advantages of a G-10 knife handle:

  • Very tough, so it can stand up to any surprises.
  • This is a very lightweight option.
  • This material is very durable.
  • Can be made in different colors.
  • Can have different textures, so you have options to pick the one that works best for you and your needs.

Disadvantages of a G-10 knife handle:

  • This is still a brittle option because it is made of fiberglass and resin.
  • Even though this option is cheaper than a carbon fiber handle, the process is still lengthy, so it is still a more expensive option.

 

Micarta knife handle:

Another popular knife handle material is micarta. The technical description for micarta is a “fabric reinforced phenolic laminate”, which means that it is created by soaking linen cloths in a phenolic resin, and then pressing them together. This process is repeated until the desired thickness of the handle. This process is very similar to the G-10 material’s process. Micarta can be made in a variety of different colors and can be finished in a variety of different ways, one of which being a very smooth finish. This material is a much smoother finish than other options and to get a good texture, it needs hand labor to carve out a texture, making it a pricey option. Micarta was originally designed to be an electrical insulator, so it is easily one of the best plastic options for a knife handle. Micarta is very tough and durable and will not scratch easily.

Advantages of a micarta knife handle:

  • This is a very durable material and will not scratch easily.
  • This is a very light material.
  • This is a very tough material.
  • Many people think that micarta is a more aesthetically pleasing material as opposed to G-10.

Disadvantages of a micarta knife handle:

  • Because of the building process, this material is a more expensive option.
  • This material can be brittle.

 

Kraton knife handle:

Kraton material is actually a synthetic replacement to rubber. Because of this, the material has excellent flexibility, high traction, and sealing abilities, but because it is a synthetic replacement, it offers more—kraton has an increased resistance to heat, chemicals, and weathering. In most cases, a kraton handle is actually made by molding the kraton onto a harder handle material. By adding the kraton onto the other material, it works to add grip and increases the comfort of your knife handle. Kraton can also come in different degrees of hardness, depending on your preference. This material is usually used in utility knives, because there aren’t color options.

Advantages of a kraton knife handle:

  • Adds grip, which makes it a good option for a utility knife.
  • Gives your handle a more comfortable grip.
  • Because it is a synthetic material, it has high resistance to weathering.
  • This is a very durable handle material.

Disadvantages of a kraton knife handle:

  • This is not a very aesthetically pleasing material—there isn’t a variety of options to look.
  • Because it is similar to rubber, it can slowly start to soak up some of the fluids and other residue, making it a harder material to get it feeling clean.
  • Because it is porous, it can soak up fluids and slowly damage the material, making it brittle and weaker.

Aluminum knife handle:

Aluminum is a popular option for a knife handle because it is a very durable material. Aluminum is normally anodized for some extra protection and to make the handle harder. The anodizing process can add a variety of colors. Aluminum is also a lightweight option for a handle and when properly texturized, the aluminum can have a reasonably secure grip. Aluminum is also a comfortable material to hold in your hand, which makes this material a great option for extended use. This material is used often in new knives; however, this material is not as strong or durable as a titanium handle.

Advantages of an aluminum knife handle:

  • This is a strong material.
  • Even though it is a metal handle, aluminum is still a lightweight option for a knife handle.
  • Aluminum feels heftier or sturdier than other options, but isn’t heavy.
  • Aluminum has good corrosion resistance properties.
  • Can be anodized to get a variety of colors, so it is aesthetically pleasing.

Disadvantages of an aluminum knife handle:

  • This metal can feel slippery, especially when not properly texturized.
  • Aluminum can be cold to hold, so it is not ideal for being used often in cold weather situations.
  • This material can be scratched up easier than a more premium metal, such as titanium.

 

Titanium knife handle:

Titanium is a metal, just like aluminum; however, it is a more durable option than aluminum. It is also heavier than aluminum, but still not heavy. For the extra weight, you get a lot of extra strength. Out of all the alloy metal handle options, titanium offers the best rust resistance properties. Titanium is considered a premium metal for your knife handle. Oddly enough, titanium has a warm feel to it, so if you are going to be mainly using your knife in the colder months, this option is a fantastic one. Even though titanium is a premium metal, it is still prone to scratches, especially when being compared to a stainless steel. Titanium can be textured through a process known as bead-blasting, which is when a stream of abrasive material is used to rough up a smooth surface such as this. And, just like aluminum, titanium can have different colors added to it through the anodization process. This material is often used on new pocket knives.

Advantages of a titanium knife handle:

  • Titanium offers a strong material.
  • Although titanium is heavier than other materials, it is still considered a lightweight option.
  • Out of all the alloy metal handle options, titanium is the most resistant to rusting.
  • You can get this material in a variety of different colors.
  • Has a warm feel to it, so it is an ideal option for colder seasons/areas.
  • Considered a premium metal.

Disadvantages of a titanium knife handle:

  • Titanium is pretty expensive.
  • Titanium is prone to scratching.

 

Stainless steel knife handle:

Stainless steel is one of the most durable knife handle materials. Stainless steel is also extremely resistant to corrosion and rust. Stainless steel is a heavier handle option than many of the other materials. When looking for a knife for every-day carry and heavy duty knives, I would recommend not choosing stainless steel because of the heaviness to them. This material can be slippery, so often times the manufacturer will have added ridges and etchings into the handle to give it more friction. Still, stainless steel is commonly seen with rubbers, synthetic rubbers, and plastics to give it better friction and grip than what it would have with the etchings. Stainless steel doesn’t come in a variety of colors, so the silver look can look cold to some.

Advantages of a stainless steel knife handle:

  • Stainless steel is a very strong knife handle option.
  • Stainless steel is a very durable material.
  • Stainless steel is extremely resistant to rusting and corrosion, making it a long lasting handle option.

Disadvantages of a stainless steel knife handle:

  • Stainless steel is a heavy material, so it is not great for every day carry.
  • No color variety.
  • Stainless steel is slippery, sometimes even after being etched into to add texture.

 

Zytel knife handle:

Zytel was developed by Du Pont and it is considered to be unbreakable. Zytel is a thermoplastic that is made by combining fiberglass and nylon and then being heated to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit. During this process, it is injected into a mold to get the wanted form. Zytel has the nylon fibers arranged randomly and haphazardly, which makes it stronger than G-10, Carbon Fiber, and Micarta because those fibers are arranged in the same direction. This material is very resistant to bending and abrasion. Zytel is a very cheap material to make, so having this material on your knife is a cheaper option. This material is so durable and cheap, so it has become a very popular option for handles. However, some people say that it looks cheap and feels hollow. It all comes down to personal preference. On its own, Zytel is pretty smooth, but often has better grip added to it during the molding process. But, if you are looking solely for grip, G-10 would be your best bet.

Advantages of a Zytel knife handle:

  • This is one of the strongest knife handle materials that you can get.
  • Zytel is a very tough material.
  • Zero maintenance because it is nearly indestructible.
  • An inexpensive option.

Disadvantages of a Zytel knife handle:

  • Some people think that this material can feel cheap and hollow.
  • Does not have as solid of a grip as a G-10 handle.

 

Bone knife handle:

Having a bone knife handle is a very classic material. The bone can come from almost any type of bone, but popular kinds are giraffe bones, elephant bones, and of course a cow bone. Sometimes it is not actually bone, but a different material such as antler, horns, or tusks that makes up the handle. Bone knife handles are a popular option in the knife collector community. A drawback to a bone handle is that it is porous, so it can be prone to deformation and cracking over time. Bone is not resistant to weathering, temperate, light, or moisture. This is not a choice for every day knife or a utility knife.

Advantages of a bone knife handle:

  • Bone is an inexpensive material.
  • A bone knife handle is a very classic and traditional choice.
  • Dye can be used on it to create a variety of different looks.
  • Great for a collector’s knife.

Disadvantages of a bone knife handle:

  • Bone is very porous.
  • Bone is prone to cracking.
  • Bone is not resistant to weathering.
  • Not a good option for a utility knife or an everyday carry knife.
  • Can be slippery.

 

We have now discussed steel types, blade shapes, and handle materials. After this beginner’s series of articles, you will now be equipped to go out and purchase your ideal knife for you and your purpose.

Knife Handle Materials

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

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.

 

Anodized Aluminum

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.

 

Bone

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.

 

Carbon Fiber

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.

 

FRN/Zytel

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

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

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.

 

Paracord

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

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

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.

 

Wood

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.

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.

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.

 

Benefits of G10 Knife Handles

Gerber 06 Knife

G10 is quite simply a thermoset plastic laminate.  It is built using high pressure on layers of fiberglass mesh cloth that are impregnated with an epoxy resin binder.  The resulting material is called G10 or sometimes G-10.  Often used in Printed Circuit Boards, it is also used extensively on knife and gun handles.

It is used for knife handles because of a few very specific advantages.  First, G10 has amazing dimensional stability.  It doesn’t shrink or swell when exposed to high or low temperatures.  It has temperature ratings of 180 degrees Celsius.  Second, G10 also has very high mechanical strength.  It is difficult to break.  Third, it is relatively lightweight which allows for less carry weight on knives. And finally, when being manufactured, the G-10 can be layered in a variety of ways to create many different looks and colors.

Because of these specific properties, knife makers love to use G-10.  Why, as a knife user, should you love it?  For some of the same reasons as well as a couple more.  Here is a quick list of why I love G-10

  1. Shapeable which means more comfortable and grippable handle shapes
  2. Similar traction whether wet or dry–better grip in rough conditions
  3. Different texture finishes which allow for higher or lower grip handles–depending on expected use conditions.
  4. Lower weight — lighter knife
  5. Colors are infinite which allow for some very custom looks–there is even a glow in the dark G-10

If you haven’t tried G-10, get a knife that has some and let me know what you think.  If you already have a knife with a G-10 handle–let me know what else you like about it.