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Woods for Knife Handles: A Comprehensive Guide

Written by:
Aleks Nemtcev
Updated:
February 27, 2024
exotic wood for knife handles

This article delves into the various woods for knife handles, highlighting their unique characteristics, durability, and aesthetic appeal to help you choose the perfect material for your blade.

Today we are looking at rare and exotic types of wood for making knife handles. The original drawing of each of the listed types of wood gives the product individual beauty and unique design. It is important that the custom knife has a high quality and comfortable handle made of durable and stable wood. Knife makers use about 20 to 60 types of wood from a whole variety of wood types. Also, we use some of them to make our custom wood knife boxes.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Woods for Knife Handles

Selecting the ideal wood for a knife handle is akin to a craftsman choosing the right steel for a blade – it’s a decision that profoundly affects the knife’s balance, resilience, and overall character. When considering hardness and density, one must seek a wood that can withstand the pressures and impacts of routine use while maintaining its structural integrity. Woods with a Janka hardness rating that’s neither too soft to dent easily nor too hard to make crafting a chore are ideal.

Moisture and decay resistance are equally vital. A good knife handle should be like a steadfast ship in a storm, impervious to humidity and resistant to rot accompanying repeated exposure to adverse conditions. With their natural oils, tropical hardwoods often provide this impermeability, ensuring longevity and ease of maintenance.

Workability, the third pillar in this triad, is about the wood’s willingness to be shaped and fashioned. It should be malleable enough to allow for the intricate workmanship that a fine handle requires, yet firm enough to hold the fine details and resist wear over time. The wood’s grain structure, too, plays a part in this, as it affects not just the ease of work but also the final aesthetic—grain patterns can transform a simple knife into a piece of art. Thus, the selection process is a meticulous one, where one weighs these factors, often finding the sweet spot in wood for knife handles that offer the perfect amalgamation of beauty, functionality, and working pleasure.

Best wood for knife handles

Hardwoods are ideal for making knife handles. Also, the beautiful pattern of wood is highly valued, which in itself is an excellent decoration for the knife. Properly chosen Woods for Knife Handles will complement the finished knife and add functionality and durability to it. For knife scales use hardwoods such as Ebony, African Tamboti, Rosewood, African Blackwood, Merbau, Wenge, Boxwood, Bubinga, Rosewood Santos, Paraguayan Quebracho, Tigerwood, Leadwood, Lacewood, Paraguayan ironwood, Arizona desert ironwood, Cocobolo, Bocote and other.

Ebony (Diospyros Ebenum): A Luxurious Choice in Woods for Knife Handles

Density is 1200 kg/m3

This is one of the most expensive and valuable types of wood for knife handles. Very hard, heavy, and dense with high wear resistance. Ebony is perfectly polished to a mirror-like gloss and has a beautiful pattern of alternating straight black and brown stripes.

woods for knife handles

 

African Tamboti (Spirostachys Africana)

Density is 1000 kg/m3

Also known as African sandalwood. A rare and very dense breed of golden brown color with dark stripes. In some areas, fine marble patterns formed by the fibers are visible. The natural oils in the wood give it a vibrant natural sheen. Wood has excellent working characteristics. Durable and despite the high density, it is well processed on the machine. It has a pleasant sweetish aroma. This valuable wood species is used in the manufacture of luxurious furniture.

wood handle for knife

wood handle for knife

Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia)

Density is 900 kg/m3

This type of wood for knife handles is heavy, hard, and highly durable. It is excellently polished and varnished. It has a beautiful chocolate brown color with dark stripes forming an unusual pattern. This type of wood is rated as very resistant to decay and resistant to insect damage. All over the world, this wood is considered acoustic and is used in the manufacture of expensive musical instruments.

wood for knife handles

Indian rosewood for knife handles

African Blackwood: The Ultimate Wood Handle for Knives

(Dalbergia Melanoxylon). Density is 1500 kg/m3

The Hardwood Champion in Woods for Knife Handles. The only wood that is processed like metal. After an electric planer or thicknesser, it gives shavings that look like metal. The only type of wood for knife handles that can be carved like metal. This tree is resistant to changes in humidity. It is one of the three hardest woods in the world. (Janka’s hardness is 4500, for comparison, Eben is in 40th place). This type of wood is not only hard but also very durable. African Blackwood is 3 times harder to break than ash.

african blackwood for knife handles

Merbau (Intsia Palembanica)

Density is 880 kg/m3

The texture of this type of wood is quite homogeneous with a wavy arrangement of fibers that create a decorative texture. Merbau is characterized by high mechanical properties and endurance. Red-brown exotic wood of high density and strength.

merbau knife handles

Dark Wenge (Millettia Laurentii)

Density is 850 kg/m3

It is a rare and valuable species of tropical wood. Being heavy, resistant to deformation, having toughness and resistance to bending, together with exceptional wear resistance, make it an excellent material. Wenge wood has a large, straight-grained texture. Its golden and chocolate colors create a beautiful canvas, and thanks to the black veins, the tree acquires a special expressiveness and coloring.

wenge knife scales

Boxwood (Buxus Sempervirens)

Density is 980 kg/m3

Boxwood is the hardest and densest wood for knife handles found in Europe. Heavy, homogeneous wood species is used for products that require high wear resistance and strength. It has a uniform light yellow color. Over time, boxwood wood acquires a darker color with the same yellowish tint, but closer to brown-yellow and becomes matte. This wood is well-processed. It has a unique color and characteristics. Looks great polished. After polishing, the wood becomes similar in color and texture to mammoth tusk.

boxwood knife handles

Bubinga (Guibourtia spp.)

Density is 900 kg/m3

Heavy hardwood is red-brown with beautiful pink and red veins. It has an unusual texture owing to frequent changes in the direction of fiber growth and other growth deviations. Wood is well processed by all types of tools and polished to a mirror finish.

Bubinga for knife handles

mosaic damascus blades

Rosewood Santos (Machaerium Scleroxylon)

Density is 900 kg/m3

Decorative dense wood for knife handles of chocolate color with longitudinal dark stripes. In addition to its high strength and beauty, it has an impressive weight. Wood is characterized by high hardness, resistance to the negative effects of external factors and pests, wear resistance, decorative and aesthetic qualities. When processed and finished, it gives an exceptionally smooth surface and polished surfaces bring to the fore a magnificent pattern.

 

Rosewood santos knife handle

Rosewood Santos blocks

Paraguayan Quebracho (Schinopsis spp)

Density is 1200 kg/m3

A very hard wood of golden red color, the density of which exceeds the density of water. The word “Quebracho” comes from the Spanish “to break an ax” and is explained by the high hardness of the wood of these trees. Wood is widely used in furniture production, the construction of bridges and port facilities, as well as for the manufacture of various parts, decorative figurines, and knife handles.

Quebracho wood knife handle

Tigerwood (Astronium Fraxinifolium)

Density is 1000 kg/m3

Also known as Tigerwood/Goncalo Alves. The wood is brown-red in color with a contrasting striped pattern. Heavy and hard, belong to durable breeds. Wood is excellent for processing: it is easily sanded and polished. Often used in the manufacture of handles for pistols and butts of weapons.

tigerwood blocks

Leadwood (Combretum Imberbe)

Density is 1200 kg/m3

Also known as lead/crocodile wood. Rare wood, very heavy and dense, has an interesting structure. After polishing, it acquires a slightly gray metallic tint.

Leadwood for knife handles

Leadwood blocks

Lacewood (Panopsis spp.)

Density is 580 kg/m3

This type of wood for knife handles is also known as silk/leopard/snakewood. Ornamental wood is pinkish or reddish-brown in color with shiny silvery spots. The clearest sign of Lacewood is the large medullary rays, which form a well-marked silky pattern of fibers. The wood pattern resembles snakeskin. The wood is dense, hard, and moderately heavy

Lacewood for knife handles

Libidibia paraguariensis (Caesalpinia Paraguariensis)

Density is 1420 kg/m3

The wood is chocolate brown. On the radial cut, there is a very small pattern similar to the wing of a partridge. The wood is very beautiful when polished. The wood is slightly oily, but not like Blackwood.

Libidibia paraguariensis wood knife handles

Arizona Ironwood – Premier Wood for Knife Handles

(Olneya Tesota) Density is 1210 kg/m3

Drowning in water. Extremely dense wood that is polished to a mirror finish. It is famous for its strength and beauty. It has colors from red-brown to yellow-sand. With a beautiful striped pattern. Used this wood for knife handles as well as for carving and handicrafts. Difficult to handle manually. Ironwood products do not tend to crack but can give a chip if there are sharp corners. It is recommended to adhere to smooth forms during processing.

best wood for knife handles

Lignum vitae (Guaiacum Officinale and G. Sanctum)

Wood density ranges from 1.1 to 1.4 kg/m3

Hard, dense, and stable: Lignum vitae is a hard, dense, and stable wood with good resistance to rot and wear. Sinking in water: Due to its high density, it does sink in water.

Lignum vitae for knife handles

Bocote: A beautiful and popular wood for knife handle

(Cordia Gerascanthus) Density is 770-1040 kg/m3

This wood for knife handles is known for its intricate patterns. Several varieties of Cordia grow on the islands of the West Indies, in Central and South America (Brazil, Argentina). It is rare in its habitat and highly valued for its aesthetic properties. Bocote wood has an oily surface with variable luster and a fine to medium texture. The wood is solid.

wood for knife scales

Bocote knife scales

Bocote wood for knife handles

Cocobolo (Dalbergia Retusa)

Density is 1095 kg/m3

One of the most beautiful woods for knife handles. The color is dark orange to deep dark red, darkening to black over time. Cocobolo is perfectly processed on a lathe and planned, but it is almost impossible to process it manually due to its high hardness. The wood contains a lot of resins that provide shine when polished, but this makes gluing difficult. Cocobolo is used for flooring, knife handles, and inlays. This type of wood is considered very valuable and has a high cost, but due to its properties, the high price is justified.

Cocobolo blocks

Jacaranda (Jacaranda Mimosifolia)

Density is 870 kg/m3

It is a hard and heavy wood for knife handles. The color is chocolate, brown with a beautiful pattern. Dries slowly in the open air, and may crack. Jacaranda wood is very durable. It is rather difficult to machine due to increased hardness, which leads to rapid blunting of the cutting edge.

Jacaranda blocks

Where to buy better knife handle wood?

Video credit: Tyrell Knifeworks

Specialty Woods for Knife Handles and Their Unique Qualities

 

Burl Woods: Unique patterns, prized for beauty

In knife handles, specialty woods are the gems that elevate a knife from a tool to a treasure. Burl woods, for instance, are the aristocrats of the timber world, boasting mesmerizing patterns and swirls as unique as fingerprints. These woods for knife handles come from tree growths where the grain has been disrupted, creating complex, eye-catching designs. Collectors and artisans prize burls for their beauty, knowing each piece is a unique natural art form.

burl wood

What is stabilized wood for knife handles?

Stabilized wood for knife handles is a process where natural wood is impregnated with a special resin under high pressure. This technique significantly enhances the wood’s durability, water resistance, and overall strength, making it less prone to warping, shrinking, or cracking over time. Stabilized wood combines the unique beauty of natural wood grains with increased functionality and longevity, making it a popular choice for high-quality knife handles among craftsmen and enthusiasts alike.

Stabilized Wood

Hybrid Handles: Combining wood with other materials for performance

Hybrid handles are the innovative mavericks, where tradition meets modern engineering. By combining wood with materials like resin, metal, or even carbon fiber, craftsmen create handles that offer the warmth and natural feel of wood with the strength and resilience of synthetic materials. These hybrids are tailored for performance, providing exceptional grip, balance, and aesthetic appeal, making them a favored choice among those who demand both functionality and style in their knives. Each of these specialty woods brings its own set of unique qualities to the table, offering knife enthusiasts a broad canvas to find the perfect match for their blade and their personal taste.

Hybrid knife scales

Handle material options (video)

Video credit: Emberleaf Workshops

Wood Handle for Knife: Caring & Tips

Caring for wooden knife handles is akin to nurturing a fine piece of furniture—it requires attention, regular maintenance, and a gentle touch. A wooden handle needs to be cleaned with care; use a soft cloth and avoid harsh chemicals that can strip the wood of its natural oils. Periodic oiling with a suitable wood conditioner is crucial; it keeps the wood from drying out and cracking, much like moisturizer protects the skin. Choose oils that are food-safe if the knife is used for culinary purposes.

When it comes to protecting your handles from extreme temperatures and moisture, think of them as you would a cherished leather jacket. Avoid the dishwasher, don’t leave them soaking in a sink, and store them away from the heat of the stove or the prolonged dampness of a shed. These precautions prevent warping, cracking, and other moisture-related damages.

For those with a fondness for antique or well-worn handles, restoration is a labor of love. Begin by gently sanding down the handle to remove the old finish and smooth out imperfections. If the handle is very dry, a more intensive oil treatment might be necessary to rejuvenate the wood. In cases of significant damage, a skilled woodworker can often replace sections of the handle or reinforce it. With the right care, even the most time-worn handles can be brought back to life.

The Best Oil for Wooden Knife Handles

There isn’t a single “best” oil for all wooden knife handles, as the ideal choice depends on individual preferences and priorities.
Here’s a breakdown of some popular options:

Mineral oil: Food-safe, readily available, and easy to apply, but it doesn’t dry fully and might not enhance the wood grain as much as other options.

Linseed oil and tung oil: Dry over time, providing a more water-resistant and durable finish that can better accentuate the wood’s grain. However, they require longer curing times and may not be ideal for those seeking a food-safe option, as their safety for food contact surfaces is debated.

Ultimately, the best oil for your wooden knife handle depends on your desired balance of food safety, aesthetics, and water resistance.

In conclusion

The best woods for knife handles share a triumvirate of characteristics: durability, resistance, and workability. Hardwoods with a balance of toughness and density ensure longevity and resilience. At the same time, those with natural oils offer a bulwark against moisture and decay, crucial for maintaining form and function over time. Workability allows the artisan to shape the wood into a handle that’s comfortable and a pleasure to behold.

As you select the wood for your knife handle, let personal needs and aesthetic preferences guide you. Are you crafting a knife that will see the rigors of outdoor use, or are you creating a kitchen heirloom that will slice through generations of family dinners? Your choice of wood can make all the difference.

The beauty of wooden knife handles lies in their ability to blend the natural charm of wood with the precision of a well-crafted blade, resulting in a tool that is both a pleasure to use and to display. The wood’s grain, color, and texture add a unique personality to each knife. Remember, a knife handle is more than just a functional tool; it’s a statement of craftsmanship and taste, a connection between user and utensil that grows deeper with every slice and every dice. Choose well, and your wooden-handled knife will serve you in the kitchen or the great outdoors, and pass on a story crafted by nature and honed by your hands.

Author: Aleks Nemtcev | Connect with me on LinkedIn

References:

African Blackwood en.wikipedia.org

Walnut woodworkerssource.com

Oak britannica.com

Ebony en.wikipedia.org

Indian Rosewood edis.ifas.ufl.edu

Desert Ironwood wood-database.com

Bocote bellforestproducts.com

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