Making a knife handle

November 7, 2022

When making a custom knife, you shouldn’t overlook the handle – the component responsible for the proper grip and operability of your knife. Here’s the project that features an assembly handle of several wooden and mammoth tooth slabs. Learn how to make a knife handle in several simple steps! 

knife handle makingMaking knife handle

A component that is sometimes underestimated, the knife handle is important for the proper functionality of a knife. A quality, properly crafted handle will ensure a comfortable grip – which is crucial for the operability. And quality materials, specifically chosen for your knife’s purpose, will provide long-term use and endurance of your knife’s handle.

Preparing yourself

In this project, we unpack the crafting an assembly handle for a through-tang knife. The handle consists of several pieces of ironwood and mammoth tooth, and is fixed on the tang with a titanium nut, the tang thus functioning as the tie-rod. The bolster and pommel are as well made of titanium. In this project, we’ll use both machine working and manual work (sanding and polishing).  Let’s prepare our raw materials. A mosaic Damascus blade with a thin through-tang is used for this knife. You should pick the handle material depending on what you want from your knife – in terms of both functional and aesthetic qualities. For this project, we’ve chosen wood that is extremely hard and firm – ironwood. It is so solid, it drowns in water. Stabilized mammoth tooth used as an insert will add more charm to our handle. When our insets, bolster and pommel parts are ready, let’s take a look at what tools and operating supplies we need. 


materials for knife handle

Materials and tools

For this project, we’ll need the following tools: 

  • vertical band saw 
  • milling machine 
  • knife making belt grinder
  • miniature cutoff saw
  • needle files
  • drilling machine
  • thread-cutting tool

The following expendable materials will be needed: 

  • grinding/sanding belts
  • sand paper
  • polishing paste

We’ll need no epoxy or rivets for this project, as handle insets will be snugged onto the tang and kept in place by the nut. 

materials for making knife handle

Cutting and grinding the handle insets and the bolster 

Grab your handle insets and cut them to the desired size using the vertical band saw. Leave up to 0.5’’ of additional material to have wiggle room for the grinding phase. Additional grinding to shape will be done using the milling machine. The bolster part and the butt part are processed with the same cutting and grinding procedures. 

Drilling apertures in the handle insets and the bolster

Drill the holes of required sizes in the bolster and butt parts to get them ready for assembling. Additional filing of the holes will make them smooth and neat. Do the same drilling and filing work with the handle insets. Sand and/or file each part, as needed, to make each part neatly fitting to the other parts. 

drilling and filing bolster

knife handle parts

Threading the tie-rod

Now, the end of your tang must be turned into a tie-rod to accommodate the nut that will fasten the whole handle assembly. Titanium, used in the bolster, pommel and nut, will impart superior strength and durability to these parts. 

Round off the end of the tang using the sanding belt. Apply your thread-cutting tool to incise a thread onto the tang. Now it has been turned into the tie-rod that will clamp all of the elements of your handle together. 

making bolster and pommel

Knife handle assembly

You may now assemble all of the handle parts – bolster, ironwood slabs, mammoth tooth inset and butt part – for the next stage of grinding and polishing. Make sure all of the components fit perfectly, and add more filing or sanding work as required. When you’re happy with how all of the components fit together when being snugged on the tang, the handle is ready to be ground as a whole. 

knife handle assembly

Grinding and sanding the handle

Your goal is to sand down all of the handle components, until they are flush with the bolster and the butt part. So, start sanding on the outside edges and rotate the knife over the sand belt as needed to achieve the desired form and the perfect flush. Apply more file work to shape the handle as you want it. 

When you are happy with the shape, finish up with sanding. Sandpaper of 400 to 600 grits is usually recommended. However, you can go above 600 grit if you require a glossier handle. 

In this project, furrows are cut between the handle sections, using the miniature cutoff saw and the fret saw, to emphasize the contrast between the handle components. The contrast will be even more flaring after the polishing phase.

grinding knife handle

Finishing the handle

Finally, polish the handle to give it a dainty, glossy look. Apply a wood polish across the handle and use the sander to smoothly sand down the entire handle. You may repeat the procedure as needed, adding another polishing layer. Leave the knife to rest overnight with a coat of polish on it. You may then repeat the process, until you are happy with your knife.

This is it! The knife handle is finished. This project features a demountable handle that can be easily dismantled by unscrewing the titanium nut, if you need your knife to be more compact for travelling, servicing or other purposes. 

As you can see from this guide, each component of a handmade knife requires much time, expertise and devotion to be crafted. This is why quality custom knives cannot be cheap. However, a higher price means superb quality, as each handmade knife crafted by a prominent knifemaker is supervised and checked, from butt to tip, multiple times during the manufacturing process. This is to make sure that the knifemaker brings to the customer only the utmost handicraft and excellent service properties. You can choose a handmade custom knife here. 

Knife handle making (video)

Related materials
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If no power equipment is available, this can be done with files if the piece of steel has not yet been hardened. Grinding wheels, or small belt sanders are usually what a beginner uses. Well equipped makers usually use a large industrial belt grinder, or a belt grinder made specifically for knife making. Pre-polish grinding on a heat treated blade can be done if the blade is kept cool, to preserve the temper of the steel. Some knife makers will use a coolant mist on the grinder to achieve this.
Knife making takes some skills in metalwork, woodwork and designing, much endurance, carefulness and tranquility. You’ll need to take it easy and not hurry to make sure you’ll succeed. Fine projects take practice, and you might craft dozens of knives before making your excellent one. 
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