How to choose the right knife handle for your needs and budget
Strength, durability, grip, aesthetics and of course cost are all part of the decision process for both companies and you guys alike. As a knife making company handle materials are just as important as blade materials in some cases, because you could have a fantastic blade, but if the handle isn’t comfortable or appealing then you either won’t buy it or won’t use it.
Luckily for you there is a huge range of different handle materials out there! Most of which come as standard with the knives, but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous you can always make your own handles! Handles types range from G10 synthetic grips, rare and exotic rainforest hardwoods, various metals, even animal bone, and those are just the common ones! When looking at a handle you don’t want to just consider the aesthetic appeal, but also the type of material and the uses your knife or tool will have. Remember each material has its own benefits and drawbacks so choose wisely.
Below we’ve put together a comprehensive guide of handle types and styles. You will undoubtedly know others, but these are what we believe to either be the most appealing or the most common.
Aluminium is a lightweight and strong metal, which is part of the reason for its growing popularity. You will often find that aluminium knives will have been anodized, which means that they’ve had an extra coating which helps strengthen the top layers. Despite its smooth appearance, it also provides excellent grip and is especially suitable for knives that will be used in harsh weather conditions or even in just very wet conditions!
Celluloid’s are a class of compounds created from nitrocellulose and camphor, with added dyes and other agents. It’s generally considered the first thermoplastic, and since then has gone on to be used as replacements for items such as ivory, horn, stag and pearl. In thinking that, you could easily assume it’s a cheap material; however you’d be wrong, it’s pretty hard to make therefore reasonably expensive.
A really popular type of handle material and one that can come in a whole range of sizes from common jigged (stag) bone to mammoth bone. Bone is a great material because it’s both very aesthetically pleasing, and provides decent grip, but also no two bones are identical so your knife will be effectively unique!
There is a huge range of wood handles, and trying to break it down into each of the different variants will be almost impossible. That being said we will try and break it down a little: Firstly Stabilised woods, which are soft woods, like buckeye and burl, these must go through a stabilisation process to make them hard enough to function as knife handles. Other woods that are commonly used for knife handles are Blackwood, Boxwood, Elder, Bubinga, Redwood and curly Burch. However, these are in no way the only woods used. If you want to know more have a look at this link which will show you all the wood types around.
An extremely durable material, G10 is made of fibreglass, which is soaked in resin and compressed before being baked. This makes G10 very strong, lightweight and water-resistant. These features make it perfect for outdoor use. You’ll often see G10 used for tactical, survival and general outdoor use knives. Usually you will find G10 comes in black, but if you want coloured G10, they aren’t hard to find!
Essentially Micarta is a composite of linen, canvas, paper or other fabric in a thermosetting plastic. This creates a tough material able to be used for hard-use activities, though it is not quite as hard as G10. The canvas Micarta is often associated with knife handles. It is a really nice material that’s often really nice to look at and comes in a good array of colours. It’s not a particularly cheap material though, so often you’ll be looking at paying a bit more if you want both a good blade with a Micarta handle.
There is a lot to like about titanium handles! They are corrosion resistant, highly durable and lightweight. They aren’t a million miles away from aluminium in terms of the advantages it gives you. However the process to make titanium is costly so if you’re wanting a decent knife with a titanium handle be willing to pay a little extra! The only real downside of this material like any other plain metal is that most people don’t see them as very aesthetically pleasing, however when you weigh up the pros with the cons, the pros win everytime.
Zytel is a trademark owned by DuPont as a thermoplastic that is part of the Nylon family. Whilst researching into Zytel, we’ve found that it is essentially unbreakable. It’s resistant to impact and abrasion as well as being very strong. Because it’s relatively inexpensive and durable Zytel has quickly become a popular handle material. Although it has some very slight texture, Zytel is often augmented by manufacturers to create a better grip as you can see in the below image.
Steel isn’t just a blade material; it’s a handle material too. Many of the benefits you get from a stainless steel blade are also transferred to the handle. Stainless Steel is corrosion-resistant and very durable. But, it is slightly heavier and weaker than metals like titanium. This is often reflected in the price though. You’ll also find though that as with blades there are loads of different make ups of stainless steel, some are more costly than others.
We’ve already overviewed bone as a handle material, but we felt Stag also deserved it’s on little section. Stag handles are made out of deer antlers that have naturally fallen off. Because out the natural texture they have phenomenal grip, they are really hard-wearing in the outdoors and also look very nice indeed. Because it’s so popular you can find it on many knives from the cheap to the very expensive. A very good handle material!
Rubber handles aren’t particularly popular, but they it is a really good material for certain knives designed for certain tasks. Rubber absorbs vibrations so your grip can remain comfortable throughout usage. Often you’ll find that it is usually used as an inlay to other materials which allows for vibration absorption, but also improves longevity, because on it’s own rubber can tear and really isn’t as strong as other materials. However, the grip it provides in all manner of weather conditions is second to none!
Sometimes it’s back to basics with a skeltonised frame wrapped in paracord. The lack of normal handle material makes the knife a lot lighter, the addition of paracord as a substitute handle adds the grip and aesthetic appeal. As a double win, the paracord can also be removed for use away from the knife. We’ve found these knives generally aren’t as comfortable as standard handles. However the versatility offered is always a good option to have!
This is a pretty uncommon handle type right now, but well worth a look at! Kirinite™ is a versatile and innovative acrylic sheet material. It comes in a wide array of alluring colours and patterns as well as having some awesome benefits: It is durable and able to resist chipping, cracking, warping, and shrinking. It also responds well to shaping, grinding, sanding, and buffing making it a great addition to your knife making handles. The grip it gives is also brilliant, even when glossed! The final thing to mention is that because of the way it’s made every single piece is unique!! Take as look at the picture (which is linked below) it’s a good material at a better price!
Fibreglass Reinforced Nylon. A really common material used in knife handles and rightly so. It’s super strong and durable, provides great grips and isn’t really affected by the environment. If you want a good all round handle this is a great place to start looking as you’ll find FRN handles on a whole range of knives right through tout the price scale. Although the primary colour for FRN handles is normally black, there is a good range of other colours available that may suit you more!
Carbon fibre (or fiber as they say across the pond) is an extremely strong and light reinforced plastic. It’s made up of thin strands of carbon fibre woven together with a binding polymer such as epoxy to become a thermoplastic. The benefits of carbon fibre handles are that they are very strong and light, as well as giving good grip and remaining comfortable in hand. The final thing to like is that they also are pretty nice to look at, which is always a bonus!
Probably not the first handle material that comes to mind, and most definitely not the cheapest. It’s more commonly referred to as stacked leather, which is a great material but really hard to get right, and quite costly, hence why you won’t find it very often on cheaper knives. You’ll mostly find leather handles on fixed blade knives, which gives them a great bit of aesthetic appeal along with very good durability! Worth the money? Yes, definitely!