Yes, quality is the top preference when you buy any product. The same applies to even knives. So, what contributes to the quality of a knife? When it comes to knives, most people will say that it is the build of the blade that contributes to the quality. This is regardless of the knife type, model, or brand.
Their focus is only on the blade. However, a blade contributes to only 50% of the overall quality. Not many people recognize in the beginning, but the remaining 50% of the contribution comes from the handle. So, the quality of the handle is as important as the quality of the blade.
Indeed, the handle reflects the personality of a knife, while the applications rely on the blade’s edge. If the handle has some defect or is poorly made, it minimizes the overall knife’s value as well as its utility.
Thus, just as you check the blade’s material at the time of buying the best knife, you also should keep an eye on the right handle material. While there are many materials to choose from, one of the traditional, as well as modern choices, is wood.
Wood is the most used handle material for making knives. There are many reasons for the same such as timeless beauty, flexibility, affordability, wide availability, and durability. Wood has a beneficial mix of usefulness, style, and longevity, which no other handle material can offer.
One can shape, carve, and pattern any wood, after which staining it is possible with any color. Nevertheless, the innate expansion and contraction differ from one wood type to another. For instance, oily woods such as the desert ironwood are pretty stable. Others require an external process of stabilization for improving the knives’ sustainability.
So, which of them is the best wood for knife handles? Let’s find out in this post.
Why Choose Wood as Your Knife Handle?
Wooden knife handles have a matchless visual appeal, provide an amiable feel, and never fail to render grip. Further, wood is widely available. This is why several novice cooks, passionate knife collectors, and professional chefs use knives with wooden handles.
A good-quality handle made of wood is not only attention-grabbing and long-lasting but even saves you money because it is an economical material when it is the matter of heavy-duty tools. To sum up, the following are the benefits of choosing the best wood for your knife handle:
- Large Variety: The market is filled with a wide variety of woods. Even the cut blocks are likely to have distinct traits, although belonging to the same wood piece. Thus, wood is an ideal option for those who search for a lot of handle varieties.
- Eco-friendly: Wood is a biodegradable, non-lethal, and renewable resource. Thus, it is not harmful to the environment. This is the main reason why environment-conscious people prefer wood as the best material for knife handles.
- Extra Grip: Did you know that wood is innately textured? This characteristic ensures an additional and smooth grip. This is hugely beneficial for those working in the kitchen.
- Great Feel: Wooden handles are slightly rounded due to which the feeling while holding is extraordinary.
- Visual Appeal: The unparalleled aesthetic appeal due to the creative work or just a smooth finish makes wooden handles superior to all other handle materials.
- Resilient: It is a fact that a few species of wood should not be exposed to water, or else they will start decaying. However, did you know that stabilized wood and hardwood do not decay even if the condition is wet? The credit for this goes to their powerful strength and high durability level. If you take good care, wooden handles will not rot or melt. Further, they can even endure the heat. What you only need to do is periodic sanding for discarding marks or stains.
Types of Wood Species
Different types of wood materials exist, but all of them split into three categories, namely, hardwood, softwood, and stabilized wood. It is wise to note that most handles are made using hardwood.
Hardwood, in a mild climate, is obtained typically from deciduous trees that have broad leaves and shed every winter. On the other hand, in tropical and subtropical regions, it is usually obtained from evergreen trees.
Usually, hardwood comes from color-changing trees with broad leaves, which are known as angiosperms. Some of these trees that give hardwood are maple, mahogany, oak, teak, walnut, balsa, beech, and alder.
Most hardwood species are naturally denser than their softwood equivalents. They are also harder as well as costlier than the latter. Nevertheless, a few exceptions exist. The wood from yew trees is a kind of softwood but is quite hard; whereas, that from balsa is softer than softwoods.
Softwoods are obtained from gymnosperm trees featuring needles and cones just as evergreen conifers like pine and spruce. They grow more quickly than hardwoods but are less dense and less costly than the latter.
Although fire resistance is low, a few species tend to be more resistant to woodworm influx. This is because a couple of these pests thrive on moist hardwood. Some trees that are famous sources of softwoods are yew, cedar, pine, redwood, juniper, and Douglas fir.
Infused with a chemical-based stabilizer, stabilized wood is typically dry wood in which the moisture level is below 10%. The stabilizer infiltrates the wood pieces fully. Once this happens, the stabilizing solution transforms into a solid-state.
In this way, the wood is stabilized to make it less susceptible to warping as well as cracking than the natural, untreated wood species. You can work with this wood just as a dense hardwood piece. In other words, you can use the same tools to cut, shape, and sand it.
Apart from ensuring increased durability and a lower propensity to trigger warping or cracking issues, stabilized wood is known for easily reflecting a good finish. This is possible, as the process of stabilization covers a few open pores and discards roughness or unevenness while leveling the hardness.
A few instances of stabilized laminates are Pakkawood, Dymondwood, and Staminawood. They are made from the birch trees and are infused with polymer resin as well as condensed under high pressure.
It is worth noting that the impact of stabilization is different from various wood species. For example, a few species such as maple and ash will gain significant weight. Wood species like redwood and walnut will lose weight due to which they may not be quite hard. Still, they are harder as well as more durable than natural wood species.
Note: A few handles are made up of a variety of woods. Thus, you need to choose as per the knife tasks you will perform and the type of environment to which the handle will be exposed, such as humidity and heat. For example, for frequent use in wet conditions, avoid choosing soft or fine wood species such as black walnut but go with stabilized wood or hardwood that is waterproof.
Best Species of Wood for Knife Handles
Below are some of the best wood species to consider for your knife handles. We have tried to provide you an example for each wood.
Oak: It is stunning, stable, affordable, lasting, and simple to inscribe. Thus, it is a commonly used material for making knife handles. If you have ever come across a gorgeous-looking knife handle with some kind of artwork or inscription on it, it was probably oak wood. Available in lighter shades, an oak handle will be typically light brown. Buck Knives 110 has an oak handle.
Birch Laminate: It is made from birch trees that are found almost anywhere, right from America to Russia. Thus, birch is a type of wood that is widely available. This is why it is used in making a variety of things such as knife handles, boats, and furniture. Apart from availability, there are some reasons why birch is so widely used. These trees are eco-friendly, as they grow fast, do not need processing, and demand only a bit of maintenance. The birch wood is ideal for those knives that have to face frequent use and continuous contact with water. Thus, they are ideal for survival and kitchen knives. Fallkniven SK18 has curly birch handle
Rosewood: It is darker than oak and is an affordable choice for your knife handles. Just like birch, rosewood is found all across the globe. At the same time, they differ in characteristics from one region to another. So, to get good rosewood, consider Indian rosewood, as it is resistant to cracks and all pests including termites and is durable. This wood is ideal for outdoor knives, kitchen knives, and even ornamental knives. Considering its level of longevity, it is an ideal choice for knives that are used daily. Yoshihiro Ginsan Knife, Rosewood Handle
Ebony: It is one of the most stunning wood species you will ever see. Thanks to is elegant dark tone due to which you are likely to choose it at first glance. Apart from being gorgeous, ebony is also strong, highly resistant to insects, including termites, and durable; thus, deserving to be a part of custom knives. It is mainly seen in West Africa. Due to the demand for ornamental work on ebony and the innate gorgeous look, knife handles made using it are likely to be very expensive. Buck Knives 112 with Ebony handle
Bloodwood Satine: This wood is stable, has beautiful color, is long-lasting, and delivers an adorable feel. Due to more preferred options such as oak and rosewood, bloodwood is usually not widely chosen for making knife handles. Still, it is a choice for those knife fans for whom common colors of rosewood or oak do not matter, but rather, they prefer a more intense red appearance. You can consider this wood for custom, hunting, and kitchen knives. On the flip side, expect to maintain it a bit for retaining its striking color. Gil Hibben Old West Bowie Knife, Bloodwood Edition
Amboyna Burl: This name may not be heard, but it is the choice of those who are searching for an expensive handle that will give you what you pay for. Yes, it is among the most expensive wood species. Found in many regions these days, amboyna is solid as well as stable looks elegant on handles, and is resistant to oxidation. Consider this wood material if you will be carrying your knife throughout the day but may not compulsorily use it daily. Due to its price, it is fine for custom knives, not kitchen knives.
Bocote: It is an exotic type of wood that makes a knife handle look unique. It features a yellowish color and black stripes crossing it throughout. Bocote is also durable but is also expensive due to which it is rarely spotted on a knife handle. However, due to its exotic characteristics, bocote is ideal for the handles of ornamental and custom knives. Although vulnerable to insect influx, it can stay protected if you take good care of it. Puma IP Chispero Bocote Hunting Belt Knife
Cocobolo: This Central America wood is highly durable as well as resistant to most abuses, especially those from pests. Its natural oils make it highly functional as well as good resistance to the impact of dry and wet conditions. Thus, regardless of how much you use it, a cocobolo handle lasts for a long time. The wood is available in a variety of colors such as purple, red, yellow, orange, and brown shades. However, all these traits come at a price; cocobolo is expensive. Still, it is in high demand across the globe. As durability is matchless, cocobolo seems to be a perfect option for any knife. Buck Knives 119 with Cocobolo handle
Right from the cozy grip and elegant look and longevity, wooden handles for knives give several benefits when you compare them to other handle materials. However, these are generic benefits. To enjoy specific benefits in terms of your chosen tasks and type of knife in use, you need to choose the right type of wood for the handle.
In other words, the best wood for knife handles is the one that suits your chosen type of knife and helps in increasing the overall efficiency of the tasks you perform. So, there is no single wood that will be the best for all knives or all tasks. It all depends on your personal preferences and functional requirements.
For example, the elegant look of ebony will not be ideal for a pair of knives but will be just perfect for a single long knife. For setting up pairs, consider oak or rosewood. If you want the right blend of exotic look and durability, nothing can beat cocobolo. However, here, you should also consider your budget. This is how you can select the best wood for your knife handle.
Hi, I am Jay. I am the creator of Knife Guides, your one-stop site for everything related to knives. I am a computer engineer by profession, knife aficionado by passion. Here I work with a group of people who’ve always had a passion for knives and blades. Over the years we’ve kind of become experts and decided to share our knowledge and ideas. I am also an avid hiker and enjoy offshore gamefishing.