Tips & Tricks for working with our materials

If you are new to knife making or just trying a new type of material, we will try to help you create a stunning design.  Some tricks and tips we've learned from crafting our material and working with master craftsmen are included below.  If we haven't answered your question here please feel free to contact us.


Plumb scales: At Bitterroot Handle Works, we try to ensure that the back sides of your scales are as flat as possible. Generally, the use of epoxy will level the backs of the scales and marry them to your handle perfectly. You may occasionally find that you need to resand the back sides to ensure a precise fit to your handle. Should you find that the scales need to be addressed, use 220 grit paper or belt and reduce any high spots gently while frequently rechecking the fit until you are satisfied with your results.

Working with resin scales or blocks: You work hybrid/resin materials with the same tools you would work wood, with one exception: due to the fact that resin materials do not like to be overheated, it is recommended that you use a coarser grit abrasive to remove excess material and/or shape, using light pressure to avoid overheating the material through friction. You can progress through the final grits as normal, remembering to always use lighter pressure. After sanding to 400 or 600 grit, we recommend buffing with Tripoli, White Diamond and Blue Plastic compounds in that order. This will result in a crystal clear finish. In summary, take your time in sanding and buffing the resin.

Sanding and buffing: Sanding and buffing are the most critical steps in ensuring that your knife handle represents the best possible finish. After you have shaped your handle, you should sand to AT LEAST 400 grit (600 if you want a very mirror-like finish). After sanding, the use of a two-step buffing system using Brown Tripoli and White Diamond on separate wheels at a maximum of 1800 rpm will result in a polished finish. Please note: most stabilized woods will not absorb oils and other normal wood finishing products. Although they may look shiny and smooth, the oil will simply rub off onto your hands or anything else the handled comes into contact with. We highly recommend the use of the Beall Buffing System. This product can be found online with a simple Google search and will dramatically improve your finished handle results.

Working with oily woods (including cocobolo, rosewood, ironwood, etc.): Working with oily woods results in a very lustrous end product, but you will need to modify your process slightly. Because of the high oil content in these woods, you should avoid excessive heat build-up during shaping, sanding and buffing. Use a very coarse grit for removing and shaping the wood, with very light pressure to avoid creating heat. Take your time, as patience will prevent burning and smearing of the wood. When preparing scales to be mounted to the knife handle, use the same technique and immediately epoxy and pin your handles. It is important that you wipe both the back side of the scales and the knife handles with acetone, and allow to dry, prior to mounting. If you do have too much heat, the scale may cup. Immediately mounting the handles will prevent this from happening. When you are ready to put the finish on your handles: again, light pressure and step up to at least 400 or 600 grit. When buffing your handles, use only White Diamond and very light pressure. If you do not have the results that you want, it is better to let the handle cool off and buff again, rather than continuing to buff for long periods of time. Utilizing these techniques, you should be able to achieve a mirror-like finish on your handles, if you so choose. If you have any problems, feel free to contact us for technical support.

Working with ancient cypress: Due to composition and mineral buildup in ancient cypress logs, this wood has varying hardness even after stabilization. As with ironwood, light pressure in sanding and buffing is required to prevent heat buildup and avoid bringing out a texture in the final product. We recommend that you sand to a very fine grit prior to buffing and only buff lightly with White Diamond or Pink Scratchless compound. This method will result in a glass-smooth finish and prevent raised-grain structure.

Working with palm: While black and red palm are extremely dense materials, they fall into the plant category containing bamboo and grasses and are formed by bundling of grass-like fibers. This will make a very durable knife handle but requires some special handling during shaping and mounting to prevent cracking and splintering.  The most important issue: this wood does not tolerate shock from striking prior to mounting, which can cause cracking along the fiber cores. Try not to hit or tap with a hammer or other tools prior to epoxying and mounting. Once it is mounted and dried it is bullet proof. When shaping, use sharp tools and coarse grit. Take your time and do not try to remove material too fast. Take care to file or sand end grain fibers and edges in one direction; try to move toward the edge rather than from the edge to reduce loosening of fibers. The final result will be a handle that is hard, stable and takes a highly polished finish.