Know Your Knives – Knife Handle Materials and Construction

Knives come in a wide array of styles and materials. Though you may not realize it, the handle of your knife is often just as important as the blade. Different knife handles give different performances; the materials from which they are made affect grip, balance, and other characteristics of the knife. Many handles, especially on rugged knives designed for outdoor use, are specially textured to allow for easier grip.

Knife Materials – Many hunting knives have handles made of stainless steel. This material will not rust if it gets wet, which is likely in outdoor environments. These sanitary knife blades are very easy to clean and will not stain. They can be slippery, though, and for this reason many knife makers make stainless steel handles with ridges or indentations designed to provide extra grip. <p>

A modern material used in hunting knives is Mircata, a stable and tough material that is known as an excellent insulator. Providing an excellent grip even when wet, the term Mircata has come to refer to any fibrous or fiberglass resin material, and there are many varieties available for knife handles.

Wooden knife handles often provide excellent grip. They are warm in the hand, but often require specialized care. Wooden handles are not very water resistant, and will crack or warp if left in water for lengthy periods of time. Modern wooden handles are laminated to overcome these problems, and exotic wooden handles can be found on many custom knives.

Occasionally, a leather handle will be seen on hunting or military knives, such as the KA-BAR. Leather handles may be produced by stacking leather washers, or the leather may simply be a sleeve that is attached to an underlying handle material.

Plastic and rubber handles are durable, inexpensive, and easy to maintain, though they are often found on inexpensive knives rather than top-end knives. Plastic becomes slippery when wet, and becomes brittle over time. Usually, rubber is preferred over plastic because of its cushioning abilities.

There are many exotic materials that are usually only seen on artistic or ceremonial knives, though occasionally they are also found on knives meant to be used. These include stone, bone, ivory, and antler (known as ‘stag’ when used for a knife handle). Many of these materials can be carved to produce a beautiful scene inset into the knife handle.

Construction – Many knives include a tang, which is a portion of the blade designed to extend into the handle. A knife with a partial tang or ‘stick tang’ includes a tang that only extends part of the way into the handle, not the full length of the handle. A full tang extends the full length of the handle, and is often visible (as a strip of metal) on the top and bottom edges of the handle. In some cases, the knife handle consists only of the tang. This type of knife style is referred to as a ‘skeleton handle’ when the visible tang has sections of material removed or cut out to reduce the weight of the handle.

An optional feature of the handle is a bolster, which affects the weighting and is used to balance the knife. This piece is usually made of brass or another metal, and is found at the front of the handle, where attaches to the blade. In the same area, a guard may also be found. This piece protects the hand from an opponent or from sliding down onto the blade itself. A choil, an indented, unsharpened area of the blade just before it meets the handle, protects the handle from scratches when sharpening the blade.

The end of the handle, or butt, may have special features like a hole to allow a lanyard. It may also have a stout surface, sometimes a protruding portion of the tang, as a striking surface for the purpose of pounding or glass breaking.

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