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  • Modifly is Flytanium's way to bring you the finishes you want for the knife scales you want, when you want it! All made-to-order by our in-house artists!

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  • May 10, 2024 6 min read

    G-10. Copper. Ultem. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to knife handles, and even more variety with custom aftermarket parts. Each material has properties that make it unique and suited for different uses. We’ll break down the different materials we use in our handles and inlays to help you make the most informed decision on what would best complement your build.

    Part Two – The Synthetics + Specialties

    Last week we covered metals in knife handles, this week we’re focusing on synthetic materials, like carbon fiber, injection molded plastic, Titanium Damascus, and more!

     

    The Reinforced Resins

    Lightweight, grippy, and strong. These are all different composite materials reinforced with resin. They’re usually laminated in sheets to give stronger directional stability. They cannot be injection molded and need to be milled, due to their construction. Reinforced resin is perfect for when you need a light, flexible material that won’t break the bank.

    G-10 – AKA Garolite

    G-10 is the most cost effective of the three main reinforced resins. G-10 is created from stacked sheets of glass cloth and epoxy, making it the strongest glass laminate material currently available. It has a smooth texture, especially in comparison to Micarta. It doesn’t conduct electricity, has a decent strength to weight ratio, and holds up well in wet environments. It’s commonly used to reinforce the edges of fiberglass, as a base for circuit boards, in medical equipment, and as an insulator.

    G-10 comes in a variety of colors and patterns, ranging from transparent to fluorescent to multicolored. It can also be surface dyed for more depth and personality. G-10 is ideal for a lightweight, colorful addition to your build.

     

    Carbon Fiber

    Carbon fiber is the sibling to G-10, but instead of glass cloth it uses carbon fibers arranged in various patterns reinforced with resin. Carbon fiber is stiffer and stronger than steel, approximately 5 times stronger, meaning you can use significantly less material to achieve an incredibly strong result. Thanks to its lightweight nature and stiffness, it’s often found in the automotive and transportation industries. It has a high tensile strength, can resist various chemicals, and can withstand extreme heat.

    Carbon fiber is created from long, microscopic molecular strands that are heated in an oxygen free environment to prevent burning. This causes non-carbon molecules to eject from the chain, leaving mostly carbon. From there, the chain is braided with other carbon strands giving it additional strength. The carbon threads can then be woven into fabrics or made into a composite reinforced resin. We use the composite form of Carbon fiber for our knife handles.

    Pattens are formed during the composite process.  Using unique molds or different layering techniques can create dynamic and organic patterns across the face of the billet. A notable example would be Fat Carbon. Fat Carbon has traditional carbon fiber billets in a woven pattern but are best known for their design series composites which used colored compounds layered between carbon fiber sheets, allowing both carbon fiber and color to show through on the finished piece. Blocks of the finished composite are machined into the handle shape, and the milling process can accentuate the complex patterns.

    Between G-10 and carbon fiber, G-10 is usually grippier and carbon fiber is lighter. Carbon fiber only has one color but multiple patterns, whereas G-10 has many different colors and patterns available. It comes down to preference, as both are inert composites.

    Micarta

    Micarta is the overarching sibling of the reinforced resin family. Historically, it was any sort of composite set in a phenolic resin, including glass, carbon fiber, paper, cloth, and more. For the sake of taxonomic sanity, the modern day Micarta is used to refer to any textile/fabric in a resin, phenolic or not. The most common Micarta knife handles are linen or canvas, with other materials such as burlap and denim available. Micarta can be made at home by the adventurous amateur with resin, some wood for a mold, sheets of cloth, and some clamps.

    Micarta and G-10 both come in a wide range of colors and patterns. Micarta doesn’t have the same water-resistant properties that G-10 possesses, due to the cloth fibers and more open weave (0.10% vs 2.5% water absorption rate over 24/hrs). Micarta is more durable than Carbon Fiber, specifically in terms of impact resistance.

     

    Pattern Welded Metals

    These metals all have different patterns and visual properties, all thanks to pattern welding. Contrasting metals as combined under heat, folded, and reforged to create complex patterns. Techniques range from as far back as 300 BC to as recent as 2001.

    Damascus Steel

    Historical Damascus steel that gained its patterns from variations in carbon levels within the metal. Now, Damascus steel and Damascus adjacent variants are made from pattern welded steel. Visually contrasting steel and iron types are heated at high temperature and then combined via twisting, hammering, rolling etc. to produce a billet of metal. This process repeats multiple times until the desired look is achieved. The American Bladesmith Society requires Master Smith applicants to submit a Damascus blade with at least 300 layers. Given the exponential nature of folding and re-forging, some blades have half a million layers.

    There are many different types of Damascus patterns, ranging from geometrical to organic. Extreme precision is required to ensure the final product has the desired effect. Even organic designs like fishbone, ladder, vines and roses, or raindrop need careful construction to ensure organic shapes show up consistently across the face of the final piece.

    Titanium Damascus

    Different grades of titanium are pattern welded together (similarly to Damascus steel) to create Titanium Damascus. This can then be polished and anodized to create alternating bands of vibrant color. This craft has only taken off recently, after Tom Ferry, Bill Cottrell, and Chuck Bybee figured out how to create Titanium Damascus (Timascus™) in 2001. Titanium faces some unique challenges compared to steel through the welding process. Oxygen (yes, like the stuff in the air) can cause brittleness, fingerprints or sweat can contaminate and corrode titanium, powdered titanium is extremely flammable, etc. Titanium requires a gas shielding set up with inert noble gases to minimize the possibility of an ineffective weld.  

    Titanium Damascus is the ultimate upgrade. It has all the coveted properties of titanium along with a beautiful, unique pattern that can only be produced by skilled craftsman.

    Mokume Gane

    Mokume Game is a technique from Japan that combines gold, silver, and copper together to create decorative pieces. Mokume Gane translates loosely to “wood grain metal” as the final product has a similar look to the variations in wood. Historically this craft was used to create decorative elements for katana. Around the 17th century, swords became a status symbol, and as such unique and detailed elements soared in popularity. This craft slowly died as Japan re-instated the emperor to power and the katana that represented the old shogunate government were banned.

    Thankfully, the craft was passed down and has regained popularity after it was brought to the United States and taught to metal working students. It’s commonly used in jewelry and vases, and modern metalsmiths have expanded the range of metals used. The Titanium Damascus brand MokuTi draws its name from this artform. Mokume Gane is the perfect way to incorporate a historically beautiful and significant craft into your knife. It is still quite the status symbol.

     

    Injection Moldable Plastics

    Ultem

    Ultem is a thermoplastic with high strength and stiffness. Ultem acts as a non-conductive metal replacement, providing the strength and properties of metal as a plastic.  It can hold up under extreme environmental pressures including high temperatures, high electrical currents, and is also solvent/flame resistant. It is often used in electrical and medical equipment.

    Ultem is primarily machined instead of injection molded as ultem injection molding requires high-pressure compared to other plastics like polypropylene. It has a signature look – a translucent golden amber that’s reminiscent of honey. Ultimately, it’s great for when you want a long-lasting light-weight option for your knife.

    Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP)

    You’ve probably seen the acronym CFRP or GFRP or maybe even BFRP. These are all Fiber reinforced plastics, and they are fairly similar – they have a fiber compound that adds weight and strength to the polymer matrix. There are many different types of FRPs including Glass (GFRP), Carbon Fiber (CFRP), and even Basalt (BFRP). Unlike other reinforced resins, these lack directionally strengthened layers that come from sheets. They do gain the ability to be injection molded thanks to the lack of specific layered direction, which is a plus when making parts. It also helps to prevent water absorption or corrosion since injection molding results in closed cells versus the open cells in micarta.

    A common example of FRP would be the Benchmade Grivory stock scales. They’re lighter than G-10 with more flexibility, albeit with a slightly more plasticky feel. At Flytanium, we use Glass Reinforced Nylon in our UFO handles. Injection molding requires large batches to be cost effective, unlike sheets that can be milled in small batches.