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Handle material - making and use preferences

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25 June 2020, 22:09
Handle material - making and use preferences
Things still quiet and it's rained most of the past two days, so are some thoughts on handle material.

My knife building started as an attempt to get something better (without spending too much money) than the Boy Scout belt knife I used to hack through a first deer. I modified a couple of butcher knives, made some from used power hack saw blades, and old files. These worked much better, and my ideal handle material became walnut with heavy copper electrical wire as brads. I gave one of those to a classmate when we were both found ourselves at Fort Benning after first 'Nam tours.

We did some deer and quail hunting together when we could find the time...
Some years later after just getting married and trying to find less expensive ways to furnish than buying new, I discovered the Paxton Lumber Company in Kansas City. In the process, a very knowledgeable employee explained a lot about tropical hardwoods so I bought scrap pieces of ebony, rosewood, tulipwood in addition to the DIY needs that got me to the store. Since that time I've never even considered using wood for knife handles that doesn’t sink in water. In addition to ebony, rosewood, etc. I’ve used a lot of desert ironwood, some Cuban crocus (Jamaican ebony), African leadwood, and other dense oily tropical hardwoods. Those all proved to be very stable with little or no discernable shrinkage.

Over time I’ve also particularly fond of axis, elk, moose and caribou antler material; cape buffalo horn; plus quite a bit of elephant and walrus ivory. Most of the ivory I found in flea markets, garage sales and ebay back when that was legal. The last few years I’ve also used fossilized mammoth and walrus courtesy of a brother who moved to Alaska 30 plus years ago.
Now back to that classmate and the knife I gave him. Five years ago we ran into each other for the first time since Fort Benning. After we introduced spouses, one of the first things he mentioned was the knife I had given him. He’d used it on elk most years, deer every year, plus a few antelope. He might have used that knife on more game than the rest I’ve made have been used in total!

We detoured by to visit later that year and he showed me the knife. The blade had lost a third of its width with use and sharpening over the years, but the walnut handle was still perfectly functional. Actually, if I hadn’t seen that handle, I wouldn’t remember I used to use heavy copper wire for brads, and I’m not sure I’d even discovered epoxy when I made that one. I gave him a replacement with ATS34 blade and great looking mammoth scales. He said he’d keep that on his desk in case the old one wore out…

Now I’m going to see if I’ve learned to post photos. This has assorted handle material pending use. Across the top is an almost black piece of fossilized walrus that I haven’t cut into scales yet. The first four down the left side are cape buffalo horn with three axis sets below. Top center is another large chunk of fossilized walrus that’s probably good for three scale sets that highlight the surface character, and I’ll get another set from the interior. Below that are three nice mammoth scale sets that should show a lot of green coloration with golden browns when finished. The rest are various tropical hard woods plus a large chunk of desert ironwood on the right. Will also try to post a recently finished knife with cape buffalo scales.
27 June 2020, 01:27
Use Enough Gun
03 July 2020, 02:36
Well, I converted some of my limited mammoth stock to a handle. You never know just what some material is going look like as you get under the surface but mammoth, desert ironwood, etc. always seem to surprise and please.
I assume the green in this mammoth results from spending thousands of years buried in close proximity to copper deposits. I had one piece that had some green plus twinges of a fairly bright blue. Someone told me the blue might have indicated gold..?
05 July 2020, 14:59
Great post.
I am a beginner knife-maker and have had pleasure in using handle material I gather on the ranch. Old fenceposts provide wild olive and sneezewood (very hard), kudu, gemsbuck and wildebeest horn and it helps that I breed merino sheep with magnificent horns, though I find it difficult to cut it to shape with my limited tools.
I am very intrigued by the fossil ivory etc. that you in the Americas use and often wonder where you get it from. Jerry Fisk too comes up with the most fascinating historical material. (I suggest following Jerry on Instagram.)