Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Get A Grip: Knife Handle Basics

A truism of knives is that a knife without a sharp edge is no knife at all, and as true as that is, a knife without a place to hold it is equally useless. With that in mind, there are a whole lot of options regarding knife handles and reasons for choosing each. Today we'll take a look at the basic breakdown of a knife handle and give you the information you need to make educated choices about this part of your knife.

The two key elements of a knife handle are the tang and the scales. The tang is the metal portion of the handle that is connected to the blade. It ties the gripping part of the knife to the cutting part of the knife. Different kinds of tangs will affect the strength, weight, and balance of the knife.

The knives on the left and right are full tang knives: the metal in the handle runs top to bottom of the handle. This adds weight to the knife, but also contributes substantial strength. It also moves the balance of the blade toward the rear, making it a bit less forceful as a chopper, but far more delicate and controllable when slicing.

The Mora in the center is a hidden tang style of construction, with the tang contained entirely in the handle. It is lighter than a full tang, with a very comfortable handle, but isn't quite as strong and therefore unsuited for heavy batoning and chopping.

Scales are the gripping material of the handles. In the picture above, the knife on the left has rosewood scales, the center knife has a rubber and plastic handle, and the knife on the right has aluminum scales.

The natural rosewood handle scales are absolutely beautiful and traditional. Sadly, because of their smooth nature, they become very slippery when wet, such as with sweaty or bloody hands. While this knife is an entirely functional knife, these weaknesses limit its utility.

The rubber and plastic handle on the Mora in the center provide a very nice gripping surface. They can be damaged by chemicals, however, so be very careful using solvents or harsh substances around this knife. They are also the least aesthetically pleasing option, so if that is a consideration in your knife choice, be sure to keep that in mind.

Aluminum scales are virtually impervious to rust and chemicals. They make for an incredibly resilient tool. However, they are at least as slippery as the wooden scales, which necessitated the lanyard you can see at the end of the knife. This knife is my fishing/river/boating knife, because it will handle all of the abuse those environments dish out and keep coming back for more.

This picture gives a better view of a hidden tang on a Bowie knife project I'm currently working on. The knives are positioned such that the hand positions to use them are lined up. Notice how much shorter the tang on the Bowie is than the handles of the finished knives!

When I'm finished, there will be almost an inch of walnut beyond the end of that tang, giving a nice usable handle length while keeping the mass of the big blade down a bit.


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