A Japanese knife is composed of a blade body and a handle. These two important parts of a Japanese knife determine the final flavors and the aesthetics of poultry, fish, and veggies. A knife handle, though, is often thought of just being a part of a knife responsible for the navigation of where the knife leads to. However, knife handles are extremely important.
While they might seem fragile, the simple wooden Japanese-style handles that you see on most Japanese knives are much more durable than one might think. These handles are designed to survive even the harshest kitchen conditions, however if they do get damaged, they’re extremely easy to fix or replace, unlike European knives.
Nowadays, there are a huge variety of materials used to construct Japanese and Western-style handles. With all the different types of materials available, is one type better than the other? What are the pros and cons of using one type of material over another? In today’s article, we’ll take a look at some of the more popular handle materials and the benefits of them.
Unique woods such as bird’s eye birch and black maple are extremely popular handle material options. They feature striking designs with varied aesthetics and are extremely eye-catching. These handles can be handled just like most synthetic knives as they’re not affected by common elements such as heat and water, and the wood doesn’t rot.
Chestnut and walnut are two types of wood that are both durable and lightweight, making them commonly used by many handle makers. It’s common to see handles made with this material burned, which is known as Yakisugi/Shou Sugi Ban. The material is burnt right until the point of carbonization and then sanded, making the wood nearly impervious to drying out or being susceptible to moisture damage.
When it comes to handles, there are two types of cherry wood: American Cherry and Japanese Cherry. Cherry wood is known for its straight, fine grain, and its natural luster when sanded and oiled. The wood is highly sought after by woodworkers for its reasonable workability and a distinct “strawberry blonde” hue which is adaptable to various climates.
Ironwood is renowned for its beauty as well as its durability. Due to the density of the wood, handle makers will sharpen their tools multiple times when working on ironwood. The material is so dense that it’ll even sink in water.
Magnolia wood is a lightweight and surprisingly subtle in appearance. Often, you’ll see pale-colored magnolia handles paired with colorful collars made of Pakka wood. While magnolia is often sanded to an extremely fine finish, over time it will darken with age and usage. The oil on your hand alone can darken the wood.
Micarta is a manufactured composite material made of a combination of layers of paper, linen, carbon fiber, cork, cotton, epoxy, and silicone. These handles are extremely durable, much more so than other handles made with purely natural or manufactured materials. One cool feature of Micarta handles is that the handles will have a ‘grippy’ feel if the handle or your hands become wet.
Pakka wood handles feature manufactured composites of a variety of woods and plastics. This material is found in many knives, and like Micarta, it’s durable and wear-resistant. Despite its industrial properties, this material is versatile, and handles can be made to look simple and classic or ultra-luxurious.
Rosewood is easily one the world’s most popular handle materials; however, it is becoming endangered. Alternatives have sprung up such as morado wood, also known as Pau Ferro, which is strikingly similar in appearance and working properties to rosewood. Both materials are very durable and feature striking appearances, however morado is slightly denser.
Now that you have an idea of the different types of materials used to make handles, hopefully you are able to choose one that catches your eye and suits your cutting style.