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Guide to Knife Handle Materials
The sharp and stunning blade may be the star of the show, but the knife itself would be nothing without a functional and aesthetic handle system. For those just getting their start in bladesmithing or reading for educational purposes, we cannot stress enough that handles must first serve function and then look to impress. In this article we debrief what a basic handle system consists of and the materials we offer that could be suitable for them.
A basic handle system will consist of some (or all) of the following:
- The Guard, located between the handle and the blade, is there to guard your hand from slipping up the handle and onto the blade.
- The Bolster, usually found between the blade and the handle if there is no guard, provides balance to a blade or can be used to “bolster” or strengthen the weak points on a knife.
- The Tang is the stock material portion of the blade steel that extends from the blade for the purpose of attaching the handle and hardware. There are several types of knife tangs, but they can be broken down simply into a few major categories Full Tang, Through Tang, Hidden Tang, and Partial Tang.
- The Scales refer to two pieces of handle material that sandwich the tang between them and are attached to the tang by adhesive and/or rivets /pins
- The Butt / Pommel, most often found on hidden tang knives, can serve multiple purposes aside from a method to attach and secure a handle and guard, a pommel can be used to add balance to a knife, or it can even be used a striking surface.
Most Common Metals Used in Blade Handle Systems:
Materials for Guards & Bolsters
From the materials offered at Online Metals, brass, bronze, copper, mild steel, and stainless steel are the primary choices for guards and bolsters.
The nonferrous options are great for this application because they are typically softer and easier to grind and shape (360 or 385 free machining brass, 954 aluminum bronze, and 110 copper).
For the ferrous materials, we recommend mild steel (either 1018 or A36) or a free machining stainless (304) for the same reasons as the nonferrous materials, the softer they are the easier they are to shape.
Although not used quite as much, Titanium would also make a fine guard or bolster!
When buying stock, most bladesmiths purchase a width and thickness just oversized for the planned piece, usually 1”x ¼”, 1"x 1/2", or 1”x 3/8”
Materials for Pins & Rivets
Most bladesmiths will try to match or complement the pin material with the guard or bolster. Grades/alloys on pin stock, however, are not as important when compared to a guard or bolster. Pins don't need to be heavily shaped in any way and the nonferrous and ferrous materials offered at Online Metals have plenty of shear strength to perform the job.
For example, Eric Hemker’s from Hemker Blacksmithing used a 1/8" brass pin and a peened through tang to hold together his Forged in Fire round 1 and 2 weapon together, and it survived J. Neilson smashing it against bamboo staffs.
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Aluminum Bronze provides a soft / easy to grind material with a beautiful look that will take you back.Shop 954 Aluminum Bronze Round Bar