Despite what you might think, here are a few things you didn’t know about phenolic knife scales
As much as I love knives and am sure there are others out there with a similar dedication, for the first hundred or so times when I heard the phrase “micarta handle,” it left me completely baffled as to what it was. I was still not 100% sure what I was handling, even after handling a few Micarta knives. As a matter of fact, I became doubly perplexed when I picked up something that had G-10 scales, because it felt as if it was basically the same thing as Micarta, just not as good. Evidently.
Eventually I got tired of feigning ignorance and actually went and paid attention to what I was saying and found out for myself what I was talking about. Fortunately, one of the easiest ways of answering the question is that Micarta and G10 are actually what is known as phenolic laminates, and in that sense they’re the same thing, so we can now all make our way home.
Unless anyone who has handled both a Micarta handle knife and a G-10 handle knife insists there is a major difference and yells at us in the forums. Therefore, I took the time to provide as much information as possible here for anyone else who is tired of pretending to know what the material is in their knives.
MICARTA – WHAT IS IT?
- Extremely tough
- Expenses are higher
Micarta is a thermoset resin that is made up of linen fibers or fiber cloth material encased in a thermoset material. I suppose basically this is a fabric material that has been soaked in resin and then cooked till it becomes hard.
You are actually talking about a business when you talk about “Micarta”. It was Norplex Micarta that developed the materials that would end up on the majority of the resin handles on knives you see today, and over the years they’ve become so prominent they’ve been compared to Kleenex as far as resin materials go.
We don’t generally refer to any type of resin composite when we mention Micarta. Micarta handles are essentially the same thing as G-10 handles, except we talk about them separately.
Micarta typically refers to handles made of linen, canvas, or paper. However, wood and denim are included among the range of materials. In most cases, you’ll see canvas and linen on production knives, or perhaps some combination of materials throughout the layers.
Here’s how Micarta is made in a nutshell
There are almost certainly a host of DIY Micarta scales videos out there on the internet if you have done any research on this kind of thing yourself. If you check out most of those, you will get a good idea of the process: sections of cloth are soaked in a resin before being placed in molds, and then clamped together until they dry.
A slab of Micarta is left behind once the resin sets, which you can hopefully grind down into knife scales. Although it is a simplified version of what takes place at an industrial level, it does give you a good idea of what is possible.
By coloring the resin used to soak the layers and using the right mold, you can make all kinds of different styles depending on the material employed. Considering that you can buy everything you need from any hardware store, you can get started pretty quickly.
G-10 is, however, a much more complicated thing to make at home.
If you are looking for a knife with a comfortable handle, read our article on The Best Knives With Micarta Handle Scales.
What is the G-10?
- Absorption of moisture is low
- Reduced costs
- Color photography is better
- Not as comfortable or tough as before
- Work with this material at your own risk
A thermosetting resin is encapsulated in fiberglass. Less or more. It is, in fact, Garolite grade 10, which is a combination of composite materials that are mixed, heated, and pressed together to form something that is much tougher, smoother, and stronger than regular fiberglass. I will be damned if I can uncover the company that actually owns the copyright to the term “Garolite,” much like Micarta is a brand name.
I Don’t Think It’s A Good Project For Diy
The main difference between G-10 and Micarta is that it is produced with fiberglass instead of linen or other natural fibers. As mentioned before, the manufacturing of this stuff comes with some additional hazards due to the fact that, you know, fiberglass.
This is why you will find very few DIY videos on working with that stuff, and you will also see very few videos on making the raw materials necessary to work with it.
However, it is also cheaper just based on materials costs. There are two types of G-10, one made with resin soaked fiberglass cloth, while the other is made with a raw material that’s actually much cheaper. G-10 can be layered, pressed, and heat-treated just like Micarta, except it’s using a cheaper, bulk-economized version of the material.
G-10 is very customizable, which is one of the nice things about it. There are usually three or four colors available for knives with G-10 scales. Additionally, it is usually lighter than phenolic handles made from linen.
It is my expectation that most Micarta handles will be more durable than G-10, but I am pretty sure if you were to compare the two (assuming both are made to an appropriate level of quality) the results would be about the same, or close enough that it would make no difference.
That’s it, nerd, now get out of here
It’s said that phenolic laminates have different textures, but those differences are usually too subtle for us to notice unless we’re paying attention, or unless the base material itself is grooved.
The texture we see in the end product with Micarta and G-10 is added after the resin has been heated, which might add some labor costs but greatly increases the versatility. It is therefore not surprising that there is such a big difference between picking up my Kizer Begleiter and my much rougher, but more affordable, Esee Zancudo, despite the fact that they both have G-10 scales.
It is quite a versatile material, which finds a lot of use in industrial applications because it is fairly tough and cost-effective, as well as having a lot of useful characteristics, such as insulating electricity and being highly heat resistant. However, to our purposes, the blade handles are both lightweight and tough and are as close to a perfect balance as a knife handle could be.