A knife is arguably an essential tool to humanity. Its history dates back to the Prehistoric period. Man has used knives in search of food, in preparing it, and for self-defense.
Today knives come in many sizes and styles, each made for different cutting needs. While most people focus on the blade when shopping for a knife, the handle is equally essential. Besides, the handle’s material determines how comfortable you can use a knife, especially under moist conditions.
While there is no best handle material for all occasions, they certainly determine the knife’s quality, style, and durability. Each material has strengths and weaknesses that affect their grip, aesthetics, and amount of strain they can withstand. Let’s have a closer look at popular knife handle materials below.
Different Types Of Knife Handle Materials
The many types and shapes of knife handle materials may be overwhelming, but they generally fall under three categories:
- Metals: Many outdoor knives feature a metal handle due to its strength and durability. Metal handles also can withstand severe abuse. Typical metals used for handles include titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel alloys. A significant drawback to metals is their weak grip in moist conditions.
- Synthetic materials: These are lab-made handle materials and the most modern. Synthetic materials such as Micarta, Kraton, and G-10 have a mix of linens, resins, and rubber to exhibit specific qualities like durability and aesthetics.
- Natural materials: They are certainly the oldest, with a deep history in knife making. Natural materials include wood, bones, and leather. Whilst most natural materials are cheap, they lack strength and wears quickly.
Knife Handle Materials
Titanium is lightweight, strong, and highly durable. It’s much more robust than aluminum but heavier. The metal is corrosion-resistant and thus used to coat other ferrous alloys.
Whereas its expensive to machine, titanium handles have great aesthetics and can be improved through an anodization process or bead blasting. Titanium is very sturdy and springy, making it a common metal in liner locks.
A titanium handle knife also is better in cold areas or during winter, as it has a warmer feel than aluminum and steel alloys. A downside to titanium handles is they are prone to scratches.
A popular titanium alloy used in knife handles is the Ti6Al4V.
- Light-weight compared to other options
- Very durable
- Pricey than other metal handle materials
- Prone to scratching than stainless steel
Aluminum is very popular in many industries due to its lightweight, strength, and affordability. Since it’s non-ferrous, aluminum is corrosion resistant.
Though very slippery when not textured, aluminum handles are cheaper than titanium. The anodization process improves the handle aesthetics by creating a range of custom colors.
A significant drawback to aluminum handles is their poor scratch resistance, and they dent easily. T6-6061 is a typical aluminum alloy used in knife handles.
- Tough and lightweight
- Relatively durable and water-resistant
- A vast range of customizing options
- Cheaper than titanium
- Easily dented
- Low scratch resistance
- Aluminum feels cold to touch and very slippery
Stainless steel is cheap to manufacture and offers better strength than titanium and aluminum. It has excellent scratch and dent resistance though very heavy. Stainless steel is generally corrosion-resistant but it eventually rusts if left unmaintained.
Handles made with stainless steel are very slippery in moist use, and many manufacturers include ridges and etchings to better the grip. Also, adding a rubber or grip tape improves the knife’s control. Standard stainless steel alloys used in knife handles include 410 and 420.
- Good scratch and dent resistance
- Highly durable and cheap
- Corrosion-resistant under good maintenance
- Heavy and cumbersome
- Very slippery if not ergonomically designed
Micarta handles are strong and durable, with a tight grip for use in any condition. They are ideal for fixed blade knives. Micarta forms through soaking materials such as canvas, paper, and linen in resins.
Texturing Micarta handles improves the grip of the naturally smooth material. This knife handle material fits many blade designs and types.
- Very tough but lightweight material
- Highly water-resistant and incredibly durable
- Offer customizing options to better its aesthetics
- Micarta is brittle and can crack under high pressure
Kraton is a synthetic rubber under thermoplastic elastomers, also known as thermoplastic rubber. It’s flexible, waterproof, and with a good comfortable grip. Kraton is synthetic with heat and harsh conditions resistance more improved compared to natural rubber.
Kraton limits customization to harnesses only. The material is durable but porous and may feel soggy if left in a liquid for long.
- Sturdy material with a good and comfortable grip
- Fairly durable and water-resistant
- Great weathering resistance
- Not aesthetically pleasing
- Porous and can quickly soak up fluids
- Hard to clean
G-10 is also known as fiberglass composite laminate, formed by compressing resin-soaked strips of fiberglass. The result is the toughest knife handle in the market. G-10 is exceptionally durable, lightweight, and water-resistant. The outstanding qualities make it a choice material for tactical and fixed-blade knives.
G-10 shares similar qualities with carbon fiber but is cheaper. Texturing G-10 firms its grip. The customization options are limitless in colors and designs, but G-10 lacks appealing aesthetics.
- It offers a sturdy grip when textured
- Very durable and water-resistant
- Among the most rigid materials available
- Not visually appealing
- Brittle and cracks easily under impact
Carbon Fiber consists of tightly woven carbon strands set in resin. It’s solid and lightweight material with an expensive futuristic look. Due to the labor-intensive process of making carbon fiber, it’s only famous in high-end knives.
The visible weave patterns give the handle a classy look, and varying the resins produces more customized colors. Carbon fiber is robust but lighter than Micarta. Its brittleness, though, is a significant drawback.
- Very strong
- Durable and water-resistant
- Very futuristic look with many customizing options
- Breaks easily under impact due to its brittleness
Paracord is a short form for Parachute Cord. It’s usually a detachable cord tied around the knife’s tang in the desired pattern. Paracords are great for full tang knives but very uncomfortable to use.
Despite Paracord being handy cordage, having it for a knife handle isn’t worth it. It soaks up water quickly and not reliable for heavy and extended knife usage. An example of a paracord handle knife is the MTECH MT-528C.
- Have a fancy look
- The detachable Paracord is an ultimate cordage
- The grip is very uncomfortable
- Not fluid resistant
- Lacks sturdiness and reliability
Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (FRN)
FRN is a combination of fiberglass and nylon. The material is strong, waterproof, abrasion-resistant, and can sustain bending well to any direction. It’s cheap and customizable to any shape and size.
FRN has a cheap plastic feel and lacks pleasing aesthetics. Common FRN brands include Zytel from Dupont and Grivory from Grilon.
- Strong, indestructible material
- Resist bending and stress
- Very cheap
- Have a cheap look and feel
- It’s difficult to grip firmly
- Natural Materials
Bone handles are lightweight and easy to customize to fancy and multi-colored designs. They are cheap and abundant, and their deep history makes them a favorite for many people.
Bones require texturing to improve grip. They are porous and crack easily over heavy use.
- They have a fabulous traditional vintage look
- Relatively durable
- Easily customizable
- Very slippery
- Porous and cracks over time and under heavy use
Leather handles offer a comfortable grip and are relatively cheap. They are getting rarer to find these days, possibly due to the heavy maintenance demand.
The leather handles consist of tightly wrapped leather straps around the knife’s tang. Leather is neither as strong nor durable as synthetic materials.
- Great vintage look
- Lightweight and fairly sturdy
- Lacks durability
- Demand high maintenance
- Lacks strength
Wood is the most popular natural handle material. Depending on the quality of the wood, wood handles can be strong, durable, and offer excellent grip. Wood is also beautiful and easy to customize to various designs.
Another thing that makes wood so popular is the extended range of options available. The hundred tree types offer wood of varying hardness, colors, and textures. Hardwoods are best for humid areas.
Reinforcing the wood with resins forms a stabilized wood with improved durability, strength, and waterproof qualities. A familiar brand is the Dymondwood stabilized wood by Rutland Plywood Company.
- Great vintage appearance
- Relatively strong and durable
- Vast options available
- Requires maintenance
- Low impact resistance and will easily break under heavy stress
- Requires stabilizing to better the qualities
Mother of Pearls
Mother of pearls is possibly the most beautiful among all handle materials. Knives with the mother of pearls handle are costly and more popular among collectors. The handles lack durability and are very slippery. Thus they don’t fit survival and tactical knives.
- Naturally very beautiful
- Relatively strong
- Lacks durability
- Very slippery
Stag is derived from deer antlers and has similar characteristics to bones. It’s porous and very slippery. However, it is a unique material with a unique feel to it.
Stag handles are popular in hunting knives due to their cultural value but lack the strength to handle heavy-duty cutting.
- Great vintage look
- Have a unique feel
- Relatively durable and water-resistant
- Slippery under moist conditions
- Lacks good durability and strength
- Prone to cracking due to porosity
Knife handles feature different materials varying in durability, gripping ability, and aesthetics. While a beautiful knife handle is excellent to the eye, it may not offer great control to the blade. It’s always important to weigh in different factors of handle material, as it determines how safe the knife is under heavy use.
No knife material fits all occasions. Choose a handle that works well in your hands and offers a good grip even in moist conditions. We recommend synthetic material such as Micarta for their grip abilities. But for great aesthetics, titanium and mother of pearls handles are the best.