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What's your favorite handle wood?


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Maybe this has been asked before, but I can't find it.

 

What are your favorite woods for knife handles, and why? Could you give your favorite 2 or 3?

 

I'm most interested in native North American woods (I ask this as the steward of 40 acres of Appalachian forest. ...)

 

Thanks, hope I'm not treading old ground--

 

Lee

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Curly maple...has the pretty, and is light and strong, has so many finishing options, and sucks up finishes and stabilizers awesome.

Use clear rock maple as well, sometimes birch, also strong and light.

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Yes, I love maple. Soft enough to be nice to work on with files, hard enough to be durable, and you're not stressing about it splitting every two seconds.

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I will third Curly maple, great stuff! I also like black walnut and cherry for domestics. Also Ash and hickory for axe/hammer handles. aspen for scabbard cores

 

MP

Edited by Matthew Parkinson
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As for american woods, I prefer vine maple. To date I have not found a superior wood in terms of chattoyance or maintaining its form. It's durable, does not dirty easily considering the shine it can take, and will dry very fast, even in the Northwest. I've taken a piece green and make a handle of it in less than 4 months, with no cracking to this day (2 years of regular kitchen service). I also value it for the strength of the tree, and the beautiful forms it takes in the places it grows. I think there are similar variants across the US, but I don't know their names.

 

For exotic woods, I really love lignum vitae, especially when it's figured and a mix of heartwood and sapwood. It makes a nice smoke when doing pyrography (gives you a bit of a buzz, actually, it's very pleasant). It is, however, very heavy.

 

-Dan

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Within Appalachian forests, Black Walnut is by far my favorite. I also have enjoyed using hickory, because of its density I find it can help balance a heavier blade when needed, and the compact grain reveals a subtly elegant pattern in my opinion.

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I'm a big fan of figured rock (sugar) maple, let's just say it lives up to it's name... black walnut is outstanding as a burl, it is a bit on the soft side but it makes up for it in shear beauty. I also like various species of oak in burl form.

 

As far as exotics go, I love African blackwood, it is extremely stable, dense, and heavy. I've developed quite a fondness for masur birch, it is dense but light weight and has outstanding beauty. Right now I am on a bog oak binge, there is just something so cool about using a 5000 year old piece of wood, and it brush-textures wonderfully.

 

All of these woods, with the exception of blackwood, really soak up the finishing oil, and can darken quite a bit with a good oiling. Blackwood is like, well, it is a classic tropical hardwood, and doesn't need stabilizing even if you could...

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Here's a novel one...Crape Myrtle. At least the stuff I have worked with was dense, easy to work with, and actually had a tighter, more interesting figure than most curly maple I've seen. Birch and maple are of course still awesome woods to use.

 

Kind of a new wood I've gotten into is osage orange. Very dense, weighty, and durable, and a pretty yellow/golden color.

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Birch all the way, curly, burly, durly, straight, weavey.... Every variety of birch is all good in my book. Good to carve and work, takes on a nice finish and just looks nice and clean, or gnarly and knotty. But maybe i´m biased since its everywhere here.... African blackwood is nice too, and oak in some circumstances

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Box and apple. Box is really hard and dense, and has a lovely subtle structure, very fine. Apple has a great color and mirror. And you can also get nice two tone colors between the core and sap wood. I used to like yew a lot, but I'm not touching that again as it nearly killed me.

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Living up on Lake Superior I like to take advantage of the old growth stuff that the divers salvage from the deep water.. the stuff that sunk from the logging rafts on their journey from Canada to the US. I can get bird's eye maple, curly maple, curly birch, black oak... all sorts of stuff. I just got a big plank of old growth white pine for saya making. I also like manzanita and osage orange. As to exotics... African blackwood.

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Box and apple. Box is really hard and dense, and has a lovely subtle structure, very fine. Apple has a great color and mirror. And you can also get nice two tone colors between the core and sap wood. I used to like yew a lot, but I'm not touching that again as it nearly killed me.

I too would be interested in this. Was it allergy related?

 

Also, I am going to say Black walnut is probably my favorite to work with. When cut for effect, the grain structure can really surprise you. My grandfather (rest him) was a gun smith, as is my father, so I was exposed early to how wonderfully this wood carves and finishes. To me it has te perfect balance of workability and durability.

My second choice would be hedge apple (you guys call it osage orange). The roots take forever to dry properly, but I don't think you can get a harder and more durable handle material short of african Iron wood. It also naturally patinas to really bring out the grain structure.

My third would be cherry root. It dries beautifully, takes on a beautiful burnt umber patina, carves nicely, and is very durable after stabilization. The only problem I find is that if it wasn't dried properly, it will crack around rivets and pins due to shrinkage.

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Please do elaborate, good sir.

 

I've had a very bad allergic reaction on my lungs due to breathing in some dust (toxic). It resulted in me coughing non stop, so bad that I had a really hard time breathing in. I got medication to suppress the coughing (after about 5 days without any sleep), but my lungs were ruined, and I got asthma reactions causing me to have to use inhalers to be able to breath. It took months before I got over it completely, and I still have a bad itch in my lungs since everytime I get a cold now. Worst months of my life. I wasn't even using any electric tools to create dust clouds, just a bit of dust from sanding it with sandpaper. So I'm rather terrified of it right now, even if using airfilters I'm not going to use yew again.

Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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I like African Blackwood and old world Lignum vitae because all you have to do it sand them to a fine grit, buff them and give them a coat of wax. The Lignum vitae can also have some nice grain. I am also found of North American Osage Orange. It's stable on it's own and develops a nice Russet brown in time.

 

Doug

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After making a big score in old English Boxwood, I must say that I have fallen in love with that.
It is very hard, yet seems to carve very easy. And at only 220 polish starts to feel like silk.

At higher polish, it starts to feel like worn bone. And has the most interesting swirls of darker patches, and nifty branch junctures.
Being a maker of mostly medieval blades, I doubt I will use anything, else now that I have a great source.

Just lucky enough to live in the land of old Boxwoods.

 

Mark

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Black locust: hard hard hard, not much figure Makes a good bow if it's straight grained. Persimmon: Beautiful stuff, but also hard hard hard. Remember they used to make golf clubs out of the stuff, and it's actually a type of ebony. American Chestnut: much like oak. Can be chippy to carve, somewhat open grain, but inimitable cool factor.

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Heck, if you have some nice, straight grained, black locust... Make bows, not knife handles! Honestly, picking favourite woods, even domestic ones, is virtually impossible. I think some are a lot more accessible than others. Root bulbs/burls are a good source of wood for handles, they often have figure that is otherwise lacking and the root dries differently than the rest of the tree. Maybe less prone to cracking? Not to mention it is virtually worthless otherwise. The open grain of the chestnut gives a real nice contrast if dyed/colored somehow, it will soak up the color and provide some neat contrast and texture.

 

~Bruce~

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Most of my favorites have already been mentioned, but I will toss in one Appalachian native I haven't seen mentioned yet, Dogwood. I recently used some for chisel handles and it was a pleasure to work, hard enough to feel durable but still workable with sharp tools or fresh sandpaper. Very similar to Oak, but less porous and more defined figure that really came out with a linseed oil finish worked in with 400 grit paper. The definition in the figuring surprised me, not beautiful in an exotic sense but more interesting than I expected. In a burl, it might get downright purdee.

James

Dogwood handles.JPG

Edited by James Spurgeon
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