Toughest Wood for Scales/Handle?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by St33L, Sep 27, 2016.

  1. herisson

    herisson Apple slicing rocking chair dweller Platinum Member

    Mar 11, 2013
    Bog oak and ebony are my most beloved woods. Not sure if they are the "toughest ever", as the OP asks for. As scales for a folder or scales for a full tang fixed blade do not suffer such a great deal of mechanical stress, the concern may not be that relevant. A hidden tang construction, on the other hand, would rely way more on the mechanical resilience of the handle material.
  2. DocT


    Mar 25, 2012
    Lignum Vitae is the hardest wood, but it might be difficult to work with. I prefer black Ebony and when polished is stunning.
  3. herisson

    herisson Apple slicing rocking chair dweller Platinum Member

    Mar 11, 2013
    The tough woods are generally a bitch to work with. In addition, some exotic woods are saturated with oils quite agressive for your nose, throat and lungs. Not speaking of the dust... Polishing oak is a pain of its own. To be honest, sanding any wood is a pain. Not to be compared with the stink of sanding horn or stag... Just don't think "modern" materials are "safe"... They aren't, they are probably worse. So, yeah, I'm back to sanding steel (which is no better for the lungs, for sure...)
    bigsurbob likes this.
  4. wackafew

    wackafew Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    I have a few knives with cocobolo that seem to hold up well.
  5. Phydeaux


    Mar 4, 2006
    I've rescaled knives with Lignum vitae, osage orange, ipe, and ebony (not sure what variety, but it is pure black, no streaks). They all are great. The lignum vitae I used has the edge grain exposed as the main surface. It has a nice chatoyance much like a tiger's eye gem stone. I have also had some pieces of osage orange that display some chatoyance.

    Another obscure wood that seems very durable is the heart wood from a manzanita bush. In my pre knife days I made a key fob with an inlaid cross (I was in high school). Gave it to my wife before we got married and it has been on her key ring ever since. No dents in it, just a few scratches in the varnish. We are celebrating out 38th anniversary today.

    To add to BERT2368's comments:

    Cocobolo is in the poison ivy family. Be careful with it, dust and splinters can be nasty. My skin will react to is a little if i handle it a lot.

    Lignum vitae. I found that roughing up the surfaces to be glued (epoxied) with rough sand paper really makes a difference. Also use the slow are JB Weld. My daughter has a cross necklace that she wears 24-7, so it gets washed in the shower regularly. I little wax or mineral oil ever several months makes it shine again.

    Ipe. Nice poorman's substitute for lignum vitae. The grain pattern pretty boring compared to the real stuff. I picked some up at a recycled building materials place as decking scraps.
  6. jbmonkey

    jbmonkey Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Jun 9, 2011
    so you agree with what I wrote. good to know.

    speaking of.....I wrote that almost 4 years ago. surprised this old thread inspired someone to start back up on.
  7. herisson

    herisson Apple slicing rocking chair dweller Platinum Member

    Mar 11, 2013
    I agree and I'm of the slow kind. Apologies... This said, the "toughest" , "baddest", "strongest" requests tend to get my goat...
  8. Stelth


    Jul 15, 2007
    Years ago I helped my daughter with a science project when she was in elementary school. The focus was wood hardness. I live near many businesses in the yacht industry and was able to get free scraps of various hardwoods for the experiment. Ipe was one of the samples. I made a rig that allowed a hammer to be dropped on the nail and ensured the same amount of force was used for each hammer blow. We then counted the number of blows it took to drive the nail a certain depth. Ipe was by far the most difficult to drive a nail through and I don't believe we were able to get a nail very deep without it bending. It's also an extremely heavy wood. I'd love a knife handled in it.
    jfk1110 likes this.
  9. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    Cocobolo is not related to poison ivy. It is a rosewood (dalbergia). But the oils in cocobolo induce an allergic reaction in some people.

    Toughest, along with lignum vitae, would include verawood, also know as argentine lignum vitae, which has physical properties that are similar to true lignum, and looks similar, too.
  10. mendezj


    Nov 24, 1998
    I have seen in Ecuador lignum vitae (guayacan) growing in the same area as cocobolo. I like them both. However, for knife scales it is very important for the wood to be dried properly, otherwise you won’t get it’s full potential.
    grybsh7 likes this.
  11. Sonnydaze

    Sonnydaze Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 6, 2009
    I would have guessed ebony's one tough and dense wood...hard as a rock...
  12. BERT2368


    Sep 19, 2018
    I've got a chunk of a wood called "axe breaker" in Spanish- red quebracho, It is supposed to be even harder than lignum vitae, the couple of cuts I have made in it and the slowness with which it sands or drills suggest that the numbers on wood database are correct... It's extremely dense and loaded with tannins instead of oily/waxy stuff like lignum vitae or the dalbergias. I tried treating a sample with Iron acetate solution made from vinegar and steel wool as is done to darken oak and other woods with a tannin content, never seen a piece of wood turn so black so fast, it looked like ebony in a few seconds.

    I intended to try using it for ferules on Japanese style wa handled kitchen knives, but the stuff is so hard to work and sands so slowly I expect that nearly any other wood adjoining it might get sanded to below the level of the quebracho instead of evening the two out.
  13. jideta

    jideta Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 8, 2020
    For readily available stuff I like walnut, osage, and maple. Preferably figured and with some flames.
    There's a reason they use maple for bowling alleys.
    Yellowheart and purpleheart seem hard and would probably work too.

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