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Hayden H.

Best coating for wood handles

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I'm fairly new to blacksmithing and knife making and I'm still trying to kind of figure everything out. On all the knives with wood handles I've made so far I have just left the wood as is without coating it in anything since I figure a coat of normal polyurethane or something will just wear off but I'm not sure. What is the best thing to put on handles to bring out the quality of the wood and keep it looking nice without wearing off after a little use? Also is staining handles a good idea before coating it in anything?

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For a working knife, mineral or vegetable oil work good. For something fancier thinned epoxy, my self I use spar varnish as I tend to partially wrap working knives with cordage.

 

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I like a multi layer oil finish. (Danish oil, linseed oil, tung oil,...)  It soaks into the wood and is easily "patched if you wear or scratch through it.

Of course if your handle will spend a lot of time in wet environments you would want to stabilize them---often with a vacuum system to penetrate the entire handle slabs with something like an epoxy. (I don't use wood for kitchen knives or skinning knives; but stuff like micarta or corian which can be aggressively cleaned.)

BTW the BEST thing doesn't exist without qualifiers; what is best for some environments is terrible for others!  Example: what is the best vehicle for me to buy? Of course I'm not telling you if it needs to cross open water,  carry 15 tons of gravel, commute 200 miles a day, carry 15 people or reach the international space station but what is the *BEST* vehicle for me to buy????

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I've started using a product called Real Milk Paint Half & Half for all exposed wooden handles, whether hammer, knife, or anything else. It is a blend of Tung oil and Pine oil with an orange solvent mixed in. It will not make a glossy finish if that's what you want, but it makes a lovely satin luster and is food safe. Plus it's really easy to use and requires no mixing. 

The only downside is that it isn't cheap. 

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Thanks, this stuff sounds really useful I may look into it. 

22 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

I like a multi layer oil finish. (Danish oil, linseed oil, tung oil,...)  It soaks into the wood and is easily "patched if you wear or scratch through it.

Thanks for the advice. I may try using some micarta handles as well as the oils you recommended. 

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I usually use Fornby's satin tung oil for most wood finishes, works for knives as well as gun stocks. I don't like over complicating things and it wears very well after about ten coats rubbed down with 0000 steel wool between coats.

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I've started using full strength epoxy on my knife handles. Gives it a glossy finish  and will keep the wood from getting to and soft.

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It's much better than I thought it would be. Plus water/other things won't stain the wood.

 

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I always use several coats of polyurethane. It's durable, brings out the natural color of the wood and gets a nice glassy finish if sanded well between coats. The grip probably wouldn't be suitable for work at the vaseline factory, but I've never had any issues if the handle itself is contoured to fit your hand. You definitely want to seal the wood though. I often use my knives for food, which means they get cleaned with a water and sponge. If the unsealed handle gets wet, the wood will swell and contract again as it dries so wont hold up long term.  

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