Wood handles update

Wood vs engineered materials

Finished Trillium and raw Salal handles in pacific yew wood
Finished Trillium and raw Salal handles in pacific yew wood

Wood handles have been used on knives about as long as knives have existed, but nowadays, with engineered materials setting such high standards for durability, the expectations from a wood handle are higher than ever. Not only must it look good and feel good in the hand, it should stay that way and at least try to compete with the composites on durability. Our standard handle material is G10, a waterproof, practically indestructible engineered material that offers a nice grip and is a trouble free complement to a top quality modern stainless steel. But there is something about the unique grain and natural origins of wood that appeals to people at some fundamental level. People love the story wood tells and so do we, which is why we are preparing to offer wood as a handle option on at least some of our knives.

Making wood good

Using wood for full tang knives like ours requires taming wood movement. On a partial tang knife the swelling of a wood handle due to moisture uptake would likely go unnoticed. For a full tang design, swelling would cause the wood to extend past the tang and potentially create an unsightly and uncomfortable grip. The standard solution to that problem is some form of wood stabilization, of which there are many variants, some that still require a protective finish on the wood and some that don’t. For us that meant testing a lot of combinations of materials and processes. Adding to the complexity is that different wood species tend to behave differently to each process. We also had to take into account how each process would fit into our CNC milling methods.

Field testing

We have worked out most of the issues and locked down much of the process, including milling fixtures and wood stock form factors. We are now working with some selected customers to beta test our vacuum sealed epoxy finish which we expect will transfer well across most wood species.

First availability

All going well with the tests, we hope to start offering our kitchen knives with pacific yew wood handles at the end of November. We plan to follow that with the option for wood on some or all of our outdoor knives. Meanwhile, testing with other species is ongoing, the focus staying on west coast woods like western maple, salvaged old growth douglas fir, arbutus and others. Watch for further updates in the coming weeks.