Knife Handle Material
The Importance of Having the Right Material for the Handle of Your Knife
When it comes to choosing the right material for the handle of a knife, there are four principal factors which have to be taken into consideration: suitability in relation to the intended use of the knife, durability, comfort and, finally, aesthetics.
So, what do we mean by suitability?
This one’s fairly easy to explain, given the examples of a diving knife alongside a bush craft knife. Diving knife handles are usually made of a polymer resin or rubber Where the diving knife is concerned, wood and metal are inappropriate choices. While wood might help to offset buoyancy issues created by the steel blade of the knife, wood and water don’t go well together and after a while, no matter how well you look after your diving knife, water will get into the wood, whereafter it will begin to discolour and, if not a premium hardwood, it will also start to rot. Of course, there is also the problem of grip, and a wet wooden handle is far harder to grip securely than a resin or rubber-based handle.
Why most knives do not have a metal handle
Where metal is concerned, the steel blade is heavy enough as it is, so adding extra unnecessary weight is not ideal. Additionally, as most diving is done in salt water, you have the problems of corrosion. We won’t turn this into a mind-numbingly boring chemistry lesson, but you might find this fact fascinating all the same, so we will try and be brief. When metal corrodes, which is when it oxidises, this is the result of an electrical reaction caused when the metal comes into contact with an electrolyte, such as sea water.
The process of corrosion also creates a weak electrical current, which varies in strength depending on the metal. That electrical current is known as the standard reduction potential (SRP). Now, if you connect two different metals together, the one with the greater SRP will oxidise before the other metal.
Now, here comes the fun fact. Ships, undersea pipelines, and bridges like the Forth Bridge in Scotland and the Golden Gate Bridge in the USA are all made of iron, so to stop the parts under water from rusting, a connection is created between the iron of the main structure and a block of metal with a greater SRP, usually zinc or aluminium, and that metal will oxidise much faster than the iron. So, instead of having to replace a whole bridge, you just keep replacing the sacrificial anodes which are attached to it, and which also happen to be much smaller
Now you know why metal bridges don’t fall down and why you don’t often see a knife with a metal handle, unless it is made of stainless steel, or the same material as the blade, such as domestic cutlery. You also now know why most diving knives have a man-made synthetic handle rather than any other material
Wood is the perfect material for most knife handles
Suitability also takes into account the actual function of the knife. Often, very long-bladed knives are used for hacking, chopping down and clearing a path through undergrowth and foliage. For the knife, such as a machete, to be effective, the balance needs to be ‘weight forward’, in other words the weight of the knife wants to be in favour of the tip rather than the handle, to obtain maximum down force and therefore providing a more energy-efficient chopping/cutting action. It is for this reason such knives tend to have a wooden handle.
In addition, while wood is easy to grip, unlike a synthetic handle, it is less prone to causing blisters with extended periods of use as the smoothness of the wood does not tear at the skin. Our Condor Thai Enep machete with a beautiful hardwood handle exemplifies the perfect harmony of a quality blade with the aesthetics of a natural wood handle.
For a simple pocket knife, the balance wants to be more equal between the handle, or butt, and the blade, as if the blade were too heavy, it would become far more prone to dropping out of your hand, and having a heavy handle for a small blade also makes little practical sense.
For mass-produced knives, and often ones where the blade is not stainless steel, handles are often made from an inexpensive laminate and resin wood, but more respected brands, such as Opinel, use quality hardwoods such as oak, beech and olive wood. Each have their own unique grain structure and appearance but are all used for their durability. In many cases, the handle will even outlast the blade, though if are looked after, they should both last more than one lifetime…
Wood or epoxy resin knife handles – which do you prefer?
Finally, we come to aesthetics and, to a degree, this is where wood struggles to be beaten, though some resin patterns are mesmerizing all the same. There is little to match the curious and always individual look of a walnut handle, though with advancements in technology, there are some amazing patterns that can result from hardwood laminates.
The Joker 3.26" Wood Scales Folding Knife with a black-coated blade is a classic example of how a great wooden handle can make a knife look seriously impressive, but without breaking the bank.
Of course, there is a solution to the battle between which, for some, looks better, an epoxy resin handle or a natural wood handle, and that is a combination of the two. Impressive takes on a whole new meaning
So, if you are a little unsure what knife blade handle will suit you best, the easiest thing to do is to give us a call or send us an email, and we’ll be glad to advise you based on our wealth of experience.