Stabilized Handles

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I noticed on the current massdrop thread some kickback against stabilized woods in handles... Why?
Just a rough guess (I am not against it) but stabilized wood is heavy and looses its natural feeling. It basically feels like any plastic… Wood, in contrast, has a very nice, grippy surface and feels warm/natural.
 
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As @daddy yo yo noted they usually feel quite plastic-y/non-organic and often are slippery. I do, however, have stabilized handles from Kippington that both feel more natural and aren't slippery. Personally I think stabilized wood makes sense for ferrules but is less easy to justify for the handle proper. There are plenty of naturally decay resistant woods to choose from.
 

tostadas

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I mentioned in the massdrop thread but here is probably more appropriate. I don't think that the stabilization on its own is the reason for slipperiness, but is a result of the final finish that the maker puts on the handle. I've finished unstabilized handles to very high grits and after waxing/oil I personally would have a hard time differentiating from a stabilized wood.

I think a key difference would be the amount of shrinkage is greatly reduced with a stabilized vs nonstabilized. So for folks like me that are bothered when there's a lip in the handle between dissimilar materials, this is a benefit.

Additionally there is a decent amt of added weight from the stabilizing medium. So the overall weight of the handle can be expected to increase on the order of roughly 50% or more, depending on the type of wood. This is really a personal preference. Some people like dense handle materials like ironwood, ebony, African blackwood, cocobolo, etc. Some like super light like ho wood. I prefer them on the lighter side for balance but like the feel of denser woods. So my compromise is usually to shorten the overall length of the handle for denser materials. 130-135mm for a denser handle compared to 140-150mm for a ho version is not that different in terms of overall balance. Additionally you can adjust weight of the handle by other ways. Such as thickness of handle, adjusting the hidden tang, or using an internal dowel made of a less dense material.
 
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From your experience which finish is good for oak handle to not be slippery. I had a handle split a little with the grain during installation. I want to salvage it by gluing it with something like crazy glue, should work in theory. I am sure I will get the glue all over the surface so I am wondering what grid sand paper to use to clean up and to also make sure the surface is not slippery after.
 

tostadas

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From your experience which finish is good for oak handle to not be slippery. I had a handle split a little with the grain during installation. I want to salvage it by gluing it with something like crazy glue, should work in theory. I am sure I will get the glue all over the surface so I am wondering what grid sand paper to use to clean up and to also make sure the surface is not slippery after.
I'd try 120 or 180, maybe even lower. 220 will be definitely be slicker than a standard ho wood, especially if you wet sand. Also the exposed glue will be more slippery than the wood though. So if you still see a shiny part after sanding, my guess is that you would feel it.

Another option is to torch the oak to bring out the grain. If you do that, the grit you sand to prior to torching makes no difference.
 

esoo

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From your experience which finish is good for oak handle to not be slippery. I had a handle split a little with the grain during installation. I want to salvage it by gluing it with something like crazy glue, should work in theory. I am sure I will get the glue all over the surface so I am wondering what grid sand paper to use to clean up and to also make sure the surface is not slippery after.

Based on Raquin's handles, I would suggest burnt oak. The feel on them is awesome.

As for the OPs question, any handle I've had that I've thought was stabilized just missed that nice feel that you get with natural wood. Aside from the Raquin handle I've got, the next best feeling handles are some ho wood ones on some cheap Tojiros. I'd sanded them to ovals (from d-shaped) and oiled them and they just feel great.
 

blokey

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Like other said, depends on the maker. Alot of times cheaper stabilized wood can feel like just plastic without any desirable quality of a wooden handle. Some maker do it really good tho, I'm not sure if Shi.Han's Thermory handle counts as stablized wood but that stuff is awesome.
 

Corradobrit1

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Like other said, depends on the maker. Alot of times cheaper stabilized wood can feel like just plastic without any desirable quality of a wooden handle. Some maker do it really good tho, I'm not sure if Shi.Han's Thermory handle counts as stablized wood but that stuff is awesome.
Shihan's thermory material is heat stabilised. No plasticisers are used. So equivalent to burnt chestnut or oak.
 

EricEricEric

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Keep in mind if the wood is dense enough it’s neither needs to be stabilized nor can it be stabilized

If using those types of wood, then there is no argument to be had
 

Matt Jacobs

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I have a couple different knives that have stabilized handles. A couple of them absolutely exhibit the plastic feeling being mentioned. I have 1 or 2 that you cant tell, maybe they were sanded to a lower grit and not polished? Personally with a pinch grip it doesnt really bother me either way. As mentioned above the weight is the biggest drawback. I like stabilized on a stainless knife but I dont want it on a carbon knife, I dont care about water absorption since I keep my handles dry/waxed anyways.
 

tostadas

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Here's a piece of stabilized Tasmanian blackwood. Besides the part where the stabilizing resin was not completely sanded off yet, you really cannot tell by texture alone whether or not it's stabilized.
PXL_20220527_212911975.jpg
 

EricEricEric

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This particular species of wood is incredibly dense, can it even really be stabilized?

It should be around the same density as camaru burl which isn’t possible to stabilize as it won’t absorbed anything

Here's a piece of stabilized Tasmanian blackwood. Besides the part where the stabilizing resin was not completely sanded off yet, you really cannot tell by texture alone whether or not it's stabilized. View attachment 181631
 

tostadas

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This particular species of wood is incredibly dense, can it even really be stabilized?

It should be around the same density as camaru burl which isn’t possible to stabilize as it won’t absorbed anything
Tasmanian blackwood is similar to koa. You might be thinking of African blackwood which is extremely dense and cannot be stabilized.
 

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Good to hear everybody's thoughts and responses here, ta! I was going to throw my 2c in for what they were worth, as I use both stabilized and non-stabilized woods, though mostly the latter. But much of what I would have said has been said already by @tostadas and others so I'll try not to repeat too much of it.

I can understand the thing about the potentially plasticky feel of stabilized woods, though I don't find it particularly difficult to work around, in fact I think it can make them more versatile. A lot of stabilized woods looks pretty nice straight off a belt sander, you can finish them to a very low grit for grip and texture, while still having the stuff look nice, and be durable and stuff. Whereas some of the non stabilized woods I work with require very high grits and certain finishes, which probably gives them the same kind of plasticky feel anyway. But I think as long as someone making a handle understands that different things require different treatments, either should be fairly easily to manipulate successfully.

As pointed out above, many of the very hard, dense, and oil/terpene rich woods people like in handles effectively can't be stabilized. And the finished effect is quite similar to stabilized wood tbh.

The big thing for me is weight, which can obviously be either a blessing or a curse. Though like Tostadas above - I don't make handles according to set dimensions, and employ all of the various tricks he mentioned. But I work a lot with vine wood, which is very light, so I generally have more problem getting weight back than forward. I tend to aim for pinch grip balance points, and it sounds like a lot of people here quite like forward weighted knives. Though the general public seem to be the other way, people often comment on the 'lovely weight' in the handle when I use particularly dense or stabilized woods on smaller knives.

One drawback I do find annoying is that stabilized woods, particularly burl woods, are a bit of a nightmare to drill sometimes, especially as I don't have a drill press. They blunt drill bits quite quickly, which then heat up and I've often had bits stick and snap in stabilized handles, which are an incredible ballache to try to remove.

---

Anyway... interesting to hear everybody's thoughts. TBH it hadn't crossed my mind that people didn't like stabilized woods. But if anyone has one that they don't like the plastic feel of - if you sand it back down to 240 or lower and then just finish with mineral oil, you're going to have a hard time telling the difference I think.
 
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cotedupy

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From your experience which finish is good for oak handle to not be slippery. I had a handle split a little with the grain during installation. I want to salvage it by gluing it with something like crazy glue, should work in theory. I am sure I will get the glue all over the surface so I am wondering what grid sand paper to use to clean up and to also make sure the surface is not slippery after.

T has already answered this, but another vote for 120 if it's stabilized, and you want it nice and grippy. Maybe get a sheet of 80 and 240 as well and you can see what you like. Different oaks can vary quite a lot, and you can see what works best for you.

Depending on how the break is then you could look at epoxy too, which tends to sand nicer than CA glue. Though if it's just a little crack then CA glue will get in better, and the sanding won't matter.
 
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cotedupy

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Thanks guys. Yeah the split is very thin with the grain but goes all the way through to the tang hole. So I am thinking the liquid type of ca glue will work best.

Yeah liquid CA will be perfect for that kind of thing, and now you'll have a handle finished to exactly the level you want it :).
 

McMan

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A lot depends on the grain and how it likes wet/dry cycling.
Good stabilized wood won't feel plastic-y, it'll just feel like a 2000grit finish.
But there's a lot of DIY stabilized wood floating around that's really plasti-y.

Also, @tostadas Agree with everything you have to say about stabilized. My experience has been the same. Miles of difference between the cheap stuff and the stuff done right.

Horses for courses...
--Some non-stabilized woods are nice because they're grippier because the grain is raised--chestnut, bog oak, charred oak--which is a nice feature. And this is stable--the grain doesn't get fuzzy after multiple wet/dry cycles.
--Some non-stabilized woods thrive with stabilization because it prevents checking plus not all woodgrain likes to get wet they dry. Sometimes checking takes a while too. It helps burls too.
--Some non-stabilized woods just feel plastic-y regardless, like ebony, blackwood.

Thanks guys. Yeah the split is very thin with the grain but goes all the way through to the tang hole. So I am thinking the liquid type of ca glue will work best.
CA's strength is also it's weakness: It so watery it gets down into the grain easily and can be absorbed by the wood instead of just sitting on top of it. The crack will have a higher sheen. One way to really blend it would be to fill the crack and then put CA on the entire end of the ferrule end by the tang. Then sand/blend, embrace the PITA.
I like epoxy because you can color it with saw dust (or soot or whatever), it masks really well, it's easier to control because it's thick, and you can give it more of a matte finish with a lower grit sandpaper, which hides the repair better.
 
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A lot depends on the grain and how it likes wet/dry cycling.
Good stabilized wood won't feel plastic-y, it'll just feel like a 2000grit finish.
But there's a lot of DIY stabilized wood floating around that's really plasti-y.

Also, @tostadas Agree with everything you have to say about stabilized. My experience has been the same. Miles of difference between the cheap stuff and the stuff done right.

Horses for courses...
--Some non-stabilized woods are nice because they're grippier because the grain is raised--chestnut, bog oak, charred oak--which is a nice feature. And this is stable--the grain doesn't get fuzzy after multiple wet/dry cycles.
--Some non-stabilized woods thrive with stabilization because it prevents checking plus not all woodgrain likes to get wet they dry. Sometimes checking takes a while too. It helps burls too.
--Some non-stabilized woods just feel plastic-y regardless, like ebony, blackwood.


CA's strength is also it's weakness: It so watery it gets down into the grain easily and can be absorbed by the wood instead of just sitting on top of it. The crack will have a higher sheen. One way to really blend it would be to fill the crack and then put CA on the entire end of the ferrule end by the tang. Then sand/blend, embrace the PITA.
I like epoxy because you can color it with saw dust (or soot or whatever), it masks really well, it's easier to control because it's thick, and you can give it more of a matte finish with a lower grit sandpaper, which hides the repair better.
The crack is too thin, no way to get epoxy inside.
 

Perverockstar

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The only stabilized wood handle I have is made out of maple and came on my Shirou Kunimitsu from JCK.

I feels very solid and it is not slippery. It is worth noticing that I have sweaty hands.

The only hand that feels slippery from all my knives it is a Kazoku from Meesterljipers that I order with a Kyohei Shindo Gyuto. It is only slippery at the ferrule but enough for the grip to not feel secure, even when I'm using a pinch grip. I guess I'm gonna try sanding it just to remove the finish and oil it instead.

I know that magnolia handles get a lot of hate. My only gripe with them is that they get nasty when sharpening. But they do feel so safe with a very nice grip for me. Doesn't matter if they are oval or d-shaped.

The other handle that I feel with a very nice grip is made from Acacia wood. Only oiled. You can feel the grain of the wood but in good way. It feels very secure.

I can attach some pictures of any of them, in case someone is interested .
 

Tapio

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The best knife handle materials I’ve had in my hands are oiled/waxed wood and birch bark. They deliver reliable friction also in wet and icy contions. They won’t slip or generate blisters on your hands. They are light in weight which makes the knife more comfortable to use and carry. They don’t feel too cold when the weather is freezing. Stabilized wood is not as good.

For reducing wood’s natural water absorption, swelling and shrinking I prefer heat treating and kebony processing.
 
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JoBone

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The feel of a stabilized wood is largely due to the finishing used.

Often stabilized wood are full of figure (think burl) and to make the figure pop, a sealer is often used. It’s the sealer that can feel glossy, more so than the wood. Try finishing with tung oil for a more natural feel.
 

mikaloyd

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*I wonder if a less resinous and thinner stabilizer like wood hardener for dry rot might help prevent cracking while still preserving that pleasant feeling of wood? If any of the wet dry cycles are causing or inviting fungal spores into the wood , then hardener would stop that.
 
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