Knife handle finishing with Woodoc

What is the best finishing technique for knife handles? We explore the answer with Woodoc and find the best way to prevent warping, enhance colour and ensure a durable finish.

South African knife makers are looking for the best possible materials for their knives. It’s no different when choosing a high quality finish your knife handles, to ensure your knives look like a million dollars and hold up over time.

Many knifemakers already use the Woodoc range of oils and finishes but with so many unique processes circling the interweb, there was a need to get the information directly from the source, Woodoc themselves.

Why is a high-quality finish needed?

As knifemakers, we send our knives around the world and experience a multitude of different climates. As wood is a living material, it responds to environmental changes by swelling (humid) or contracting (dry) which isn’t ideal given the detrimental impact on the knife’s fit and finish. What happens, gaps appear between surfaces, the edge of bolsters become sharp, scales warp or even crack. This is not desirable.

Knifemakers spend a lot of time and in most cases money on the finding and selecting beautiful woods, both exotic and indigenous to adorn their knives. Many of the exotic burls can cost between $40 and $100 USD per piece, so it’s important that the finishing treatments enhance the characteristics and beauty of the wood, rather than leaving it dull and lifeless.

Handles by virtue of being attached to knives are also exposed to some pretty nasty conditions. For instance, hunting knives get all bloody, and chef knives end up in the sink or dishwasher. All these are unfavourable conditions for the wood and affect the look, feel and lifespan of the handle.

Byron’s Advice

Byron Briscoe from Woodoc KwaZulu-Natal spent some time with the North Coast Knife Makers Club engaging with the guys and drawing upon his knowledge and experience to suggest the best products based on their needs.

Byron recommends using an oil / solvent-based finish in order to give the wood depth and help pop the chatoyance/figure present in the wood. This really highlights the natural colours and grain of the wood.

For protection from the elements, Bryon recommends Waterborne Floor 25W as this product will penetrate and provide a hard-wearing, water-repellent, and flexible finish. Marine and exterior finishes are good but are specifically formulated for UV protection and weather resistance.

As mentioned above wood is a living material and as such will always have a tendency to acclimate to the relative humidity around it. Byron recommends regularly applying a nourishing wax to the handles to keep moisture in the wood and prevent it from moving. Woodoc Antique wax or Woodoc Maintenance Wax are good options and can be applied over the sealers regularly.

It’s important to educate your customers on proper maintenance as it will ensure the knives have a long and happy life. The adage is true, “prevention is better than cure.

Can Woodoc be used for stabilising wood?

The use of stabilised wood has become almost the norm these days with many makers favouring these over natural woods. However even after stabilising it is still surprising the amount of movement, as well as the amount of finishing oils stabilised wood can still absorb. So it is safe to say it is still not a perfect science and while we have products like Cactus Juice or Aluminite available (both costly), we’re still searching for better and better solutions.

Stabilising wood with Woodoc 25 is probably the best option for “stabilising” wood as it is thinner than Woodoc 20 (which is the thickest product available) to aid penetration and as it’s a Polyurethane it will harden inside.

Ideally, wood should be baked for 4 hours at temperatures between 95 and 200 degrees Celsius. This baking of the wood turns it from a living material to a more stable “dead” state. Perfect for introducing stabilizing agents into. To prevent the wood from warping or cracking, various techniques are used to bring the wood back down to room temperature. Some techniques are out of the realm of DIY, which is unfortunate but who knows what the future holds?

Tips for fantastic finishes on knife handles

One recommended method for finishing knife handles was:

  1. Soak the handle in Woodoc Transit Stabilizer or Deep Penetrating Furniture Wax soak for 2 days.
  2. Wipe and then apply a sealer such as Woodoc 10 or 25.
  3. It is far better to use a number of thin than one thick heavy coating.
  4. A light sanding with fine steel wool is essential as it smooths down the wood fibres which tend to stand up when the sealer is applied.

Why this works. Transit stabilizer or Furniture wax deeply penetrates, feeds and nourishes the wood helping to prevent movement. Applying the sealer over the top of this gives your handle a tough and durable finish that can stand up to life’s challenges.

To thin down any of the Woodoc products, it’s recommended to use Mineral Turpentine but not with more than 10%. Do not use Thinners, or other white spirits as it will degrade the compounds within the product rendering it useless.

It was a great morning of learning and sharing of knowledge. We hope to further collaborate with Woodoc to possibly develop a product specifically designed to meet the needs of Custom Knifemakers and further establish Woodoc as the best food for wood there is.

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