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Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Tue Dec 03, 2013 6:20 pm

Are there any woods out there that are dense enough to not require stabilization for using in handles? I'm looking at replacing the handle on the old Forgecraft I picked up and possible a couple of other knives, but don't want to spend a ton of money on the first few handles I do. I picked up a 1" x 30" belt sander, corby bolts, and have a couple knives to work on, just need to pick the wood to use. Any recommendations or should I just go with stabilized wood and be done with it?

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Tue Dec 03, 2013 7:23 pm

Ironwood, rosewood, and cocobola are a few I have read about that do not need stabilization. If stabilized wood is pretty expensive, you might think about buying or making your own micarta. There are some good vids on making micarta on YouTube. All you really need is an epoxy and some sort of cloth, and some way to press it while it cures. Of course if you want to keep the wood handled look, that might not be the best way to go. lol However, I have seen some brown micartas that looked a lot like wood handles after they were finished. ;) Of course, there may even be videos on YouTube about how to stabilize wood yourself. I've never tried searching for it before, but it might be worth a look.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Tue Dec 03, 2013 8:17 pm

Stabilized woods are merely resin impregnated. You can use pretty much anything you want though.

If you use an unstabilized wood, maintenance is more important. Water can degrade the wood. Time, soap, and use can dry it out and crack it. And the porosity of the wood is difficult to keep sanitary. That said, cutting boards are not stabilized, nor are wood cooking implements. Keep them clean and dry, soak with mineral oil, or a mineral oil and bees' wax mix and it should be fine.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Tue Dec 03, 2013 11:45 pm

Rosewood, Cocobolo, Ironwood are very dense and do not need to be stabilized generally for handles. I have used Ziricote, Kauri, Bubinga, Bocote, PurpleHeart, Cherry, Walnut and several other unstabilized wood handles on knives w/o issues. Just make sure that the wood is DRY when you use it!! I did a handle with some wood with some moisture in it and had to go back a few weeks later and resand it down since it shrunk when it dried out more. Wet woods and full tang/western type handles will usually mean that the handles will move, crack, bend, twist, etc, no matter the epoxy/bolts/pins.

Micarta is interesting to work with. It will often show the layers/texture when you shape it out, but they become less distinct as you polish it, depending on the material. Paper Micarta has little/no layer difference, Linen has some and Canvas you can see the texture of the material in it. I have done my own Micarta type material in layered stuff and camo types. If you want to know more about this, let me know!

Dymondwood is layers of soft wood dyed and laminated together with epoxy type resins under heat to fully bond the materials and also stabilize them. It is softer than Micarta and comes in more colors and color layers.

For knife scales, I would look at getting material from a knife supply place, like Jantz, Texas Knife, Knife Kits and USA Knifemaker. Look for 3/8" thick material usually. 1/4" thick generally tends to be too thin after contouring and limits you in shaping out the handle. It may be OK on pettys and smaller stuff. Oily woods like Cocobolo, Rosewood, and Ironwood need to be prepped with 60 grit sandpaper and wiped down with Denatured Alcohol a few times to allow good adhesion with epoxy. I usually use JB Kwik Weld, Brownells AcraGlass or some fishing rod building epoxy that is fully water proof and slightly flexible. The JB Weld is very strong, but is thick and will fill in uneven tangs nicely, like on older Sabs and stuff like that. Devcon 2 ton is OK, but isn't super strong and tends to degrade over time. I have knives over 10 years old that I used JB Kwik on and the handles are still solid. I use pins and epoxy them, never used bolts.

I use Tru Oil or Tung Oil on wood handles to help seal the pores and bring out the grain. You can also do a Super Glue/CA finish on the wood as well. I reapply the oil finishes periodically to keep the handles looking nice.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Wed Dec 04, 2013 12:38 am

Forgecraft...Heheheh the cheapest sharp carbon blades...Is the handle you have really bad? If it's not chipped up or dinged you might want to simply clean it up.

I would suggest soaking the old blade in some oxalic acid and then rub some tung oil on the handle...really buff er in and she might take a keen polish. My old forgecraft handle is pretty attractive after soaking with bar keepers friend...an oxalic acid based cleanser for metal. It will also make the carbon steel look shiny pretty for awhile.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Wed Dec 04, 2013 8:36 am

Thanks for the info. I might look at Micarta a little ways down the road if I stick with this and start working handles on other knives. For kitchen knives, I think I'm going to stay traditional with the wood, at least for now. I have plenty of JB Weld laying around so that should be easy enough to use as an epoxy. I wasn't 100% sure on just pinning the handles when I was looking at the pins and bolts so went ahead with the bolts for the first few handles at least. Arizona Ironwood has some low figure scales for $12.50 which seems to be the cheapest I've found so far and will probably be what I go with.

As for the handle on the Forgecraft, it isn't really bad, but it was a $15 knife so I figure it's a good one to practice on with my first rehandle job. I'd rather screw up a $15 knife than an $80-$200 knife. Plus I really enjoy the pattern on the Forgecraft blade and plan on keeping it for a long time. I was amazed at how easily they take a very sharp edge. Actually looking to pickup a few Forgecraft blades to round out a small set with matching handles. Once I get them done, I might try to sell them to fund a new Japanese blade of some kind.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Wed Dec 04, 2013 9:17 am

Umm, I wouldn't necessarily want to start with ironwood. If you want something cheap and stabilized, let me know. I'll see what I have that I might just give you for the cost of shipping. I don't know if I have anything or not....but if you want me to look, please just say so. Ironwood is rather difficult to work with in comparison to other woods. It holds onto scratches like a pit bull, it burns VERY fast when sanding with a grinder, it's very oily, it's difficult to cut, etc., etc. In fact, any of the woods that don't benefit from stabilization are very much the same way.

One that's okay to use non-stabilized that isn't as bad as the others is African Blackwood and can be found relatively inexpensive.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Wed Dec 04, 2013 10:04 am

Thanks for the offer Adam. I'll gladly cover shipping if you have something laying around.

Didn't think about the fact that the harder woods burn faster. Good point and thanks for the heads up. I'll take a gander for some African Blackwood. I do have access to a bandsaw for cutting blocks down to scales as well, so I'll take a look around for blocks too.

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Wed Dec 04, 2013 10:23 am

I don't know if it's so much how hard they are as how oily they are. Probably a combination of both. When working the woods on the belt grinder, you have to use very sharp, new belts and slow speeds. The advantage is that you can damn near mirror polish them.

PM sent about some wood samples. :)

Re: Non Stabilized Wood For Handles?

Wed Dec 04, 2013 11:07 am

Thanks a ton Adam! Any recommendation for a brand or type of belt? I plan on getting a separate set of belts for wood and metal so I don't contaminate the wood belts with metal particles.
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