Which unstbilised woods work for handles?

Discussion in 'Shop Talk' started by Nemo, Jun 22, 2018.

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  1. Jun 22, 2018 #1

    Nemo

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    Obviously magnolia, ebony and various stabilised burls work.

    What about unstabilised woods? Do they need to be kiln dried? Would harvesting a long dead tree work? Do they need a surface treatment? What are the caracteristics of woods which work well or poorly (density, porosity, grain structure or other features)?

    Any other considerations?
     
  2. Jun 22, 2018 #2

    RDalman

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    Kiln dried is good yes. If you want to dry yourself it's worth looking into as a separate subject, takes time.. Most stuff will "work" just a matter of your preferences I guess. Heck you can make a handle from pine. But in that case it will not be very sandpaper friendly, so cutting tools might be nice to shape with. Open grain woods can be pretty nice feeling in hand, like ash, oak or elm.
     
  3. Jun 22, 2018 #3

    Nemo

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    Thanks Robin
     
  4. Jun 22, 2018 #4

    nevrknow

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    Ironwood, Ebony, just about any "straight" grained wood will. I highly recommend stabilizing any Burl's because the grain structure can produce a fragile handle that will break if dropped properly. 😀 That last part is from personal experience.
     
  5. Jun 22, 2018 #5

    jessf

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    The handle construction matters too. I wouldn’t use anything but stabilized wood for full tang. Less concerned with hidden tang and metal bolster (though i use it anyway) and not concerned with a hidden tang with no bolster.
     
  6. Jun 23, 2018 #6

    HRC_64

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    Hickory is famous for tool handles, never on knives anyone know why?
     
  7. Jun 23, 2018 #7

    milkbaby

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    Didn't Old Hickory knives have hickory handle scales? I dunno...

    My guess as to why not more popular is probably because they can be kind of boring?
     
  8. Jun 23, 2018 #8

    bahamaroot

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    Hickory is among the hardest and strongest of woods native to the United States. On average, Hickory is denser, stiffer, and harder than either White Oak or Hard Maple. The wood is commonly used where strength or shock-resistance is important.
     
  9. Jul 15, 2018 #9

    scott.livesey

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    yellow poplar is in the magnolia family but not too good for handle. walnut, cherry, maple, ambrosia maple, hickory or oak will all work well. they should be sealed whether you use varnish/polyurethane or a finishing oil(find out more here http://www.woodworkersinstitute.com...-and-abrasives/penetrative/oil-finishes-pt-1/) black locust, honey locust, or dogwood are the hardest and heaviest found in US. kiln dried is best, stuff from your yard needs to be cut to oversize(say 1"x2"x8") and dried for at least a year. stabilized is ok if you like plastic feel and extra weight, wood usually doubles in weight when stabilized.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  10. Jul 15, 2018 #10

    Nemo

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    Thanks Scott.

    The tree I had in mind is long dead. I'm pretty sure it's Grey Box (a dense and hard eucalypt, eucalyptus microcarpa). It's super dry. When It's this dry, it ruins saw chains in short order (less than a tank before I need to sharpen the chain).
     
  11. Apr 3, 2019 #11

    Bert2368

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    I have replaced handle scales on kitchen knives with hickory (unstabilized, I just bought a small plank from "Youngblood Lumber" in Minneapolis). Oil finished, soaked the back side a couple of times with linseed oil/mineral spirits then straight linseed oil over several days before riveting on the scales & sanding to shape. Then soaked the handle with same, several more times.

    Gave nicely re handled bread knife back to my landlord's wife, who proceeded to leave it overnight on the counter near sink in a puddle that same week. It swelled, warped and cracked...

    I suspect it is not sufficiently dimensionally stable against moisture changes for kitchen use. Plus, it's not a stunningly pretty wood.
     
  12. Apr 3, 2019 #12

    Bert2368

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    Pardon my thread necromancy- But this existing thread seems appropriate to my next question:

    Dessert Ironwood is known for dimensional stability. But it comes in smallish pieces, usually has defects, voids, checks. Expensive too.

    Looking for some other known dimensionally stable hardwoods, I read about a South African tree called variously "Kiaat", "Muninga" or "Mukwa", Latin species name is Pterocarpus angolensis.

    https://www.wood-database.com/muninga/

    Decent Janka hardness, yet density is low enough not to throw a knife's ballance totally out of whack. Pretty-ish grain too, not terribly toxic or irritating either.

    20190403_175106.jpg

    I can find listings on ebay or Etsy for finished wood products, furniture, art works... and 3/4" x 3/4" x 6" long pen blanks. Not finding anything large enough for a wa handle. On alibaba, all you could want is available! With a minimum order being one 25 metric ton, 40' long shipping container loads of logs...

    Has anyone seen this wood offered as turning blanks or other kitchen knife handle sized pieces in the USA? There ARE a couple of fixed blade knives using this wood listed on ebay.

    ---------

    I also found real lignum vitae being listed on ebay by people in Jamaica. Regrettably, the sellers which are affordable don't have certification allowing the (endangered species) wood to be imported into USA, so it wouldn't likely arrive.

    Available wood, stable without plasticizing, cheap. Pick any two qualities?
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
  13. Apr 3, 2019 #13

    HSC /// Knives

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    I use alot of desert ironwood, I get it in whatever sizes I want and it's one of the best value woods (cheapest) I can get, The burl has "defects, voids, checks." I've not found any problem in regular desert ironwood. LMK if u need assistance, I can put u in touch with my supplier.
     
  14. Apr 3, 2019 #14

    HSC /// Knives

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    yes, no figure, no one wants a dull custom knife.
     
  15. Apr 3, 2019 #15

    Tim Rowland

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    Bert you can find larger turning stock from a few wood turners websites with good prices that carry real lignum vitae and Kiaat. Word of caution on both, they will blunt your bandsaw blades quickly and you need fresh ceramic belts on your grinder!
    Take a look at www.woodturnerscatalog.com they carry a decent selection of exotics and a good stock of domestic species as well in 1x1x12 and larger.
    For some higher end exotics and hard to find species check out www.gilmerwood.com

    HSC3: please message me your desert ironwood supplier, I am always looking for new contacts/suppliers. Thank you
     
  16. Apr 3, 2019 #16

    daizee

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    I'm a fan of white oak. Just posted a picture in the Handiwork sub-forum. Sometimes you can get pretty pieces as drops from other things. Katalox is good. The only Lignum Vitae I've used shrank quite a bit, and quickly. Surprising. Really well-dried maple is pretty good. I've made some handles from a piece of VERY curly salvaged maple gym floor. It was well-dried and in service quite awhile without cracks, so it didn't bat an eye at being trimmed down for knife handles. Mixed results with other maple...
     
  17. Apr 4, 2019 #17

    milkbaby

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    Even though people say desert ironwood is rare, it is relatively easy to find and not super expensive. Arizona Ironwood sells their stock ironwood blanks 6" x 1.5" square for $13.50 each, so not super cheap, but less than what you'd probably pay for stabilized woods. And there are some sellers on ebay like sonoraironwood where they have lots of knife blocks 5.2" x 1.7" x 1.2". Right now they're offering one lot that is all seconds/flawed quality 37 blocks for $107 shipped in the US, for a non-seconds lot they have 37 high contrast blocks $199 shipped in the US. You'll pay more for burl and crazy figure but that's normal for all woods.

    I have one or two sets of scales of Muniga/Kiaat that I picked up from ebay 2 or 3 years ago. I believe it was from exoticwoods2000. They also sell large boards and slabs, the scales and knife blocks are just a side thing for them, for people like me who don't want to buy a big slab of wood to cut down. There was a wood that I got from them that was crazy hard and dense, I think they called it canela but I haven't found the species name elsewhere. katalox is another choice for a very hard and dense handle wood. But these won't necessarily be a lot cheaper than the ironwood as sourced above.

    From the muniga/kiaat that I have, it looks kinda boring. I'd choose padauk or movingui which are similar or higher density/hardness for woods that have more interesting grain, both which will show some depth, movement, and chatoyance when sanded to high grit and sealed. I've used both unstabilized but kiln dried without issue on full tang handles (well sealed with oil-varnish finish like Tru Oil).
     
  18. Apr 4, 2019 #18

    daizee

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    I've purchased a couple blocks of desert ironwood. One or both came with some voids, I don't recall if both handles with voids came from the same block or not.

    One with voids I cut into scales and subsequently wrecked being stupid on the drill press.
    The other I turned into a wa handle on an usuba, carefully placing the void in a safe spot, and then filling it with clear epoxy (not my usual yellowish G-Flex) mixed with my late friend's hand-ground lapis powder.

    I decided the stuff is affordable enough compared to micarta blocks, and some flaws are manageable. It has a beautiful luster once it's finish-sanded and waxed:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  19. Apr 4, 2019 #19

    Bert2368

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    Padauk is of the same family of trees as kiaat/muninga, I did just look at the several related Pterocarpus species of trees, all of which have similarly good dimensional stability, many also have a higher Janka hardness and some more interesting coloring/prettier grain.

    One of these related tree specicies is "Zitan", AKA "Red Sandalwood" (Pterocarpus santalinus) which the Chinese are so in love with it seems to be going extinct.

    Dessert ironwood is sounding better all the time.
     
  20. Apr 4, 2019 #20

    HRC_64

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    Last edited: Apr 4, 2019
  21. Apr 4, 2019 #21

    Barashka

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    I'll second African Blackwood/Ebony .. very stable just being raw. However, quite difficult to work with as it's quite dense, and it will throw off your balance because it's a bit heavy.
     
  22. Apr 4, 2019 #22

    Michi

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  23. Apr 4, 2019 #23

    Bert2368

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    https://www.wood-database.com/zitan/

    Mentioned this wood up thread a bit. Looks nice. At 63 lb./cubic foot, Janka hardness of 2,940, it's actually NOT quite as hard or dense as some of the other woods mentioned.

    A very fine grained, non brittle species, Chinese furniture makers over at least 10 centuries liked they way it carved. Which is why you won't find it available much. That, and as it is essentially a non renewable resource with constantly rising prices, durable enough so 1,000 year lifespans for such furniture are possible, it's a place for wealthy Chinese to INVEST MONEY.

    http://www.chinese-furniture.com/c_furniture/m_zitan.html

    "Tree poachers" supplying an illegal international market supplying China will kill for this wood. Litterally.

    https://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/rosewoods-bubinga-really-banned-cites/

    Just say "yes" to dessert ironwood...
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2019
  24. Apr 4, 2019 #24

    HRC_64

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  25. Apr 4, 2019 #25

    Bert2368

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    Thanks.

    The ethics of using endangered species sourced natural products vs. the legal entanglements and real world repercussions are confusing, to say the least.

    I was in Fiji a couple of years back. These islands had a number of VERY interesting tree species endemic to the various islands, with mechanical characteristics coupled to the specific biome they had grown in (I speak as to uses in ocean going outrigger canoes, primarily, at one point I had pursued an interest in naval architecture).

    In addition, the British Empire had started plantations of commercially desirable tropical woods previously found in their other posessions, such as "Teak" (and other tree species) before the empire largely dissolved, post WWII.

    So there I am, hiking WAY back in a jungle to reach a white water river and go boating down stream past a couple of hundred waterfalls... And I look down at the wooden blocks someone has helpfully embedded in the soil for tourists like myself to walk on.

    Yep. I was walking on chunks of tropical hardwood I recognized as being worth more back in USA than my airline ticket to this island. And which the locals couldn't easily put on the world market due to international law. ***. It was plantation grown timber and in no way endemic to this island?!

    "The law is an ass", sometimes. Other times, it is blind. Occasionally, it's spot on. Enjoy trying to figure out which is happening when...
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  26. Apr 5, 2019 #26

    GoodMagic

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    Ringed gidgee from the Timber Joint. The wood is very dense, does not need stabilizing, takes a great polish and has great figure. I’ve used for western handles. Would look great with big oak in a wa. Ironwood is another great choice, as others discussed. I’ve also used teak- easy to work, and it’s held up well to home use.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2019
  27. Apr 5, 2019 #27

    inferno

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    I have used masur birch, turkish walnut, bocote, ziricote, olive. These all works good and look killer. My absolute faves are masur and turkish walnut, aaand olive (if you get pretty pieces with many lines and good contrast, I would opt for the most premium pieces here if I could).

    They glue well, saw well, file/rasp/sand well and are pretty straight forward to work with.

    I do all my handles with pure tung oil. first diluted 50% with white spirit (naphta) or acetone, then after the third or so application I go only tung oil. They look nice and they feel nice. And its also very low maintenance.
     
  28. Apr 7, 2019 #28

    Bert2368

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    Still waiting to hear back about the dessert ironwood, in the meantime, I found a listing for "Argentine lignum vitae" AKA "Verawood" (Bulnesia sarmientoi).

    https://www.wood-database.com/verawood/

    Anyone ever used this stuff?

    Super hard, oily, resinous like the true lignum vitae. Said to smell nice, Chinese call it "green sandalwood". Good against water dammage, rot and insects, an acceptable replacement for true lignum vitae in underwater applications, marine bearings, etc.
     
  29. Apr 8, 2019 #29

    milkbaby

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    I haven't used verawood yet though I have some in my wood stash. It's very hard and waxy but supposedly not as hard as the real deal lignum vitae. I think verawood is more attractive than lignum vitae when quartersawn to show a feather looking pattern. Expose it to sunlight or UV to turn it greenish.

    In my opinion, if you make sure your wood is very well seasoned and relatively low movement with changes in humidity (some woods are inherently not as stable tho), then you can get away with using many different woods for handles, especially wa/hidden tang handles, even better if you use dowel construction. If you're not shipping handles from one place to another but keeping them for yourself, you'll most likely be okay with kiln dried woods after local equilibration or air dried woods that have stabilized in weight (which shows they are not drying anymore under the current conditions). Where people often seem to get in trouble is buying green or not fully dried wood and using it right away.

    See what Daniel, who does rehandles for Epicurean Edge, says about woods here in post #13: https://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/threads/rehandle-jobs-gallery-pic-heavy.12272/

    He says that he waits 5 years after purchasing woods for them to "settle down" before use, and that he feels resin stabilization restarts the clocks so to speak, i.e. he waits another 5 years after stabilization to use the wood.
     
  30. Apr 8, 2019 #30

    Bert2368

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    I will be VERY tired by the time my latest purchases are ready, by that time table...

    I do have some 15 YO + hard woods in my posession, but it was all leftovers from remodeling work I did before 2004, was not chosen as knife handle materials.

    20190407_220451.jpg


    Another question: There is a "bronze" family alloy called "gun metal" which was once used for ship's cannons. Very corrosion resistant, fairly strong, Copper/tin based with a little Zinc but NOT yellow brass colored, nor does it patina the way copper does.

    I was considering it for handle spacers on more rustic looking blades, dark, hammered looking Iron clad blades don't seem to call for bling-bling shiny yellow metals in the handle to me.

    Have any tried using "gun metal" in a knife handle?

    http://www.oecam.eu/index.php/en/copper-and-alloys-en-3/gunmetal
     

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