Top row: Stabilized woods (maple, amboyna, buckeye, box elder,thuya, box elder). 2nd row: Hard woods (ironwood, ebony), brain coral, mammoth tooth, mammoth tooth. 3rd row: Sheep horn, bufallo horn, giraffe bone, mammoth ivory, elephant ivory, walrus ivory. 4th row: Turquiose, petrified wood, howlite, agate. Bottom row: Carbon fiber, G10, paper micarta with wood inlay, canvas micarta. For examples of these materials used in knives, see the Gallery page.
Softer woods are often stabilized to fill in the voids, keep the wood from expanding/contracting with temperature, and keep the grain from raising, resulting in a glossy, sometimes stone-like appearance that is lighter than it looks. Often times, dye is added to enhance the beauty of the wood. Commonly stabilized woods in knife handles include maple, buckeye, box elder, thuya, and redwood.
Hard woods do not require stabilization since they are already temperature stable and can produce a beautiful natural finish after sanding and polishing. Common hard woods in knife handles include iron wood, cocobolo, ebony, and snakewood.
Ivory was used long ago to make piano keys, billiard balls, and carved figures. It’s practical use today has diminished due to stronger man-made materials, and strict export laws. However, pre-ban and fossil ivory can still be found in jewelry and in knife handles. The term “fossil” ivory means the material is more than one hundred years old. While not practical for an everyday user knife, it can be found in high-end art/display knives. Natural ivory should be stored in a temperature stable environment. “Fossil” ivory comes in colors that range from light cream to dark brown on the “bark” outer layer, giving it character. Common ivories used in knife handles are mammoth, pre-ban elephant, walrus, and warthog.
Antlers are found on members of the deer family. They are shed and regrown annually. Antlers are made up of the same material as bone. Horn is found on bison, oxen, buffalo, sheep, and many other animals. Horn consists of a bone interior with an exterior made up a material similar to that found in your fingernails. Horns are not shed by the animal.
Both horn an antler can make beautiful, functional handle material. They are not indestructible, and can be prone to chipping, or cracking with age and environment.
Common materials used in knife handles include sheep horn, buffalo horn, and stag.
Stone can be very beautiful in a knife, but it care must be taken not to drop or jar the material, as it is generally brittle. Again, not the most practical material for a user knife, but it can make a very attractive art/display knife, or can be used as an inlay. A wide variety of stones can be used in knife handles. This also includes fossilized material like dinosaur bone and petrified wood.