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Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker


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"Vulpecula" obverse side view in D2 extremely high carbon die steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Petrified Fern fossil gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with rayskin
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Custom Knife Handle Materials: Woods

Please note: I do not sell woods or wood stock.
I only use woods on my own knife handles.
This page contains:

Questions, answers, pictures, descriptions, and synonyms of domestic and exotic hardwoods used in modern knife handles, knife stands, cases, and blocks. It is my goal to make this the best page of exotic woods used in knife handles on the net. I've worked hard to illustrate and describe the woods used in custom knife handles, components, stands cases, scabbards, sheaths, and fittings. Although I'm better known for my gemstone custom knife handles, I've worked extensively with woods in this field for over 30 years. I'll continue to add to this page as I complete new projects and find pictures of other uses of these fine woods. All of the knives pictured on this page are my own, all the woods listed I've personally worked with. The comments are based on my personal experience with these woods.

Remember, woods vary in appearance and texture even within the same board, so there is no absolutely uniform dictate on a particular wood's performance. Being porous, woods can absorb and release moisture and other agents that they're exposed to which will change their makeup, appearance, and sometimes size.

I am committed to making completely and clearly the best knives in the world.

--Jay Fisher

More



Exotic Hardwoods: Jobillo, African Sandalwood, Black and White Ebony, Mora
See my New Materials page for the latest additions of fine knife materials.

Various hardwoods used in knife display and presentation case: American Black Walnut, Bloodwood, Padauk
More about this "Duhovni Ratnik" and case

Why wood knife handles?

Wooden knife handles have been used ever since the invention of the knife. Woods are organic, warm to the touch, comfortable to hold, and can be long lasting. Wood handles are used on nearly every kind of fine tool, instrument, or even vehicles, including a ship's wheel. Hardwoods exhibit a distinctive class of fine taste, and throughout time, will always be cherished for their value. Hardwoods compliment metals very well, and are artistically sound, choice exhibits. In knives, they have been, and will always be a standard.

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Desert Ironwood comes in various colors, figures, and forms
More about this "Sanchez"

What is the difference between hard woods, soft woods, and just plain wood?

The word "hardwood" actually refers to trees that are deciduous. Deciduous trees are actually angiospermous trees: trees that loose their leaves every winter, bear flowers, and have broad leaves. Softwoods refer to conifers. Coniferous trees have needles or are evergreen, and have cones. Because most of the deciduous trees have wood that is physically dense and more resistant to penetration, they were coined "hardwoods." This may not necessarily be the case though, as some conifers have very hard, tough wood, and some deciduous trees have wood that is fairly soft.

There is also confusion about which part of the tree has the most usable wood, and in knife handles, it's almost always the heartwood that is used. The heartwood of the tree is the inner core, extending from the pith to sapwood, where live cells have been converted to gums, resins, minerals, and other substances resistant to decay. The heartwood is almost always harder and more durable than the sapwood. The sapwood is the living layers of the tree, is almost always lighter in color and density than the heartwood, and is more permeable to liquids and susceptible to decay.

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Thuya Burl is a hard, tough, and durable knife handle material
More about this PJLT

Are there original or unique hardwoods just for knife handles?

Looking at the availability of various exotic hardwoods, one would think that only a dozen or so rate use for a custom knife handle. This is simply not true as there are hundreds of applicable woods, and many of these woods exist in a group that has hundreds of species. For example, in the family of ebony (Ebenaceae), there are about three hundred species of shrubs and trees distributed throughout the temperate and mild regions of the world.

Though it may be said that each piece of wood is unique, many are so uniform that distinctive differences cannot be claimed. In example, one piece of ebony looks pretty much like another, uniform and black. But most woods exhibit some figure, color variation, or pattern that makes them attractive. In other species, every piece of wood is different, and slabs cut from the same block look like distinctly different woods.

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Amaranth, also called Purpleheart darkens with age to a deep purple. Here it is the main supporting component on a custom knife display stand
More about this Desert Wind

What makes one wood usable on a knife handle, and another not?

Woods used for handles (any kind of handle) must be fairly hard to be long lasting. They must be durable, able to hold fine curves and thin sections like the high points of finger grooves, flutes, and bolster dovetails without breaking, chipping or splintering. They must be smooth to the hand, polish well, and fairly close-grained so debris, staining, and contamination is kept at a minimum. They must be attractive. Another point not often considered is their tendency to expand an contract with moisture and temperature changes. All organic materials change to some extent. Good knifemakers strive to use stable woods and minimize movement that can loosen the wood handle from the metal knife tang. Makers also judiciously apply pins, screws, and attachment hardware to secure the wood to the knife tang, and should also bed the wood with modern adhesives and compounds to secure and seal the critical wood-to-steel junction.

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Desert Ironwood is hard and durable, long-lasting and elegant
More about this Paraeagle

What about Stabilized Laminates like Dymondwood®, Staminawood®, and Pakkawood®?

These are actually plywood products, usually constructed from birch. Dyes are vacuum-impregnated into the wood, then the wood is pressure impregnated with polymer or phenolic resin at very high pressures, then highly compressed into plywood blocks. With the high compression rates and solid massing of the material, this creates a very dense, tough, and solid wood product, that is pretty much waterproof when wet. Though I don't use these often (some of the colors are quite garish), some clients request them and I'm happy to accommodate them. These stabilized laminates are very durable, polish brightly, and are long lived. Read more details about these manmade wood products and see a color chart and comparison on my "Manmade Knife Handle Materials" page at this bookmark.

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Kingwood was so named because it was the preferred wood of kings and used in thrones and furniture
More about this Mercator

What about stabilized woods?

Woods that are stabilized are woods that are usually too weak, too porous, or too plain to be used without treatment. Like the laminates described above, dyes are sometimes impregnated into the wood, then the wood is pressure-impregnated with polymer or phenolic resin at very high pressures. With the high rates of pressure, this creates a very dense, tough, and solid wood product, that is pretty much waterproof. I use stabilized hardwoods like Box Elder Burl, Buckeye Burl, Redwood Burl,  Maple Burl and a host of others. The process creates a very durable plasticized wood, unique in color that polishes brightly, and is extremely durable and long lasting. For woods that are not naturally self-sealing, oily, or resinous, this is the only way to get woods that are waterproof for kitchen use and marine environments.

Here are some examples on this page of stabilized woods with photographs of finished handles:

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Tulipwood is used in the sculputural rings of this custom knife display stand
More about this Izanami, Izanagi stand

What is the difference between a burl, straight grain, or wavy grain, figure, and texture?

There are many terms used to describe woods. In the individual wood type descriptions below, you'll find descriptions of hardness, durability, and appearance. Though all of these terms may not be used in my work (I seldom taste the hardwoods, unless I'm really hungry), these are the accepted and general descriptive features that identify specific woods in most scientific and detailed texts.

  • Grain: the direction and orientation of wood cells, particularly the fibrous elements. There are six general types of grain:
    • Straight grain
    • Irregular grain
    • Diagonal grain
    • Spiral grain
    • Interlocked grain
    • Wavy grain
  • Figure: The natural design or pattern seen on the surface of the wood and may include:
    • Growth rings
    • Vascular rays
    • Knots, burls, buttresses, crotches, swells
    • Variations in color
    • Blisters, quilting, ribbon, stripes, wavy, fiddleback
  • Texture: the size and variation of size of the wood cells; the "feel" of the wood surface
    • Coarse: wide vessels, broad rays
    • Fine: narrow vessels, thin rays
    • Even: woods that show little or no contrast between seasonal growth
  • Color
  • Odor and Taste
  • Luster: the ability of the wood to reflect light

All of these features and distinctive attributes determine the value, longevity, and durability of woods used on knife handles.

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This Ebony is from Gaboon. Solid black ebony is a very expensive hardwood
More about this Hooded Warrior

Aren't the darker woods harder than lighter colored woods?
Not every light colored wood is as soft as pine.
Not every dark wood is as hard as ebony.

--Jay

It is a common misconception that darker woods are harder and thus, more desirable than lighter colored woods. It reminds me of the 1970s when every den had to have dark or walnut colored paneled walls, furniture, and accessories. This may be the very reason that these dens were later called man-caves, because they were almost always dark. Guys would stain pine to a walnut color to darken it, and make it seem more valuable, as the most valued North American hardwood is American Black Walnut. But I'm sure the practice goes back much further, as even in historic pieces, they were ebonized to make the wood seem richer and more valuable.

There is often a persistent belief that the darker woods are harder, and more durable as well as more masculine and bold in visual punch. This is wrong; there are many very hard, tough, and durable woods that are light in color and well-outlast darker woods like walnut. Woods like Olive, Bois d' Arc, Peach, Pear, Apple, Pecan, Hickory, and Ash are all very hard, dense, and durable woods, and every one of those will outlast Walnut. Even Red and White Oak are harder and more durable than European, American, or Tropical Walnuts. Simply put, darker does not mean harder or more valuable.

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Olive hardwood on tactical combat knife handle. This wood is very hard and durable, wear resistant and solid
More about this Macha Navigator

Various hardwoods use in chef's knives display, storage, presentation case: Pecan, arririba, cordia, bocote, padauk, bloodwood
More about this Chef's Knives Set and case

Are some woods more expensive than others?

You bet they are. Woods like snakewood and pink ivory come at a high price. Sometimes, certain cuts of woods (like Desert ironwood and burls) that show plenty of figure and interest cost up to ten times per handle for the knifemaker, a cost that increases the value of the knife, and the final cost of the knife to the client. There is also a lot of misinformation on the internet and in reference books about woods, their availability and their value (a good example is the listing about Desert Ironwood below).

Environmentalists will decry all cutting and usage of wood, yet most woods are completely renewable, and many sources of "rare and exotic" woods we use come from wood farms and plantations. It is in their best interest to hype woods as extremely rare and irreplaceable, as this will drive the price up, giving suppliers more profit. Could it be worthwhile for lumber interests to allow some environmentalists claims to go unchallenged while the price of wood increases because of "rarity" or "limited supply?"

There is also a difference in use and volume. The smaller a piece of wood is cut, the higher the price per pound. For example, go to a hardware store and look at a piece of all-thread rod. A one foot bar will cost three to five times as much per foot as a six foot bar. Why? Is the cut more expensive? Is the little piece more valuable per inch than the larger one? No, the store knows that if you don't need a six foot piece, then you're willing to pay more per foot for a smaller piece just to get the job done. Knife handle scales are that way. You can go to Mexico and pay $30 US for fifteen pounds of ironwood, enough material to make 30 or more handles, or you can buy a pair of scales from a knife making supply company for $30 each. Sure, you sometimes get to pick and choose the particular cut, and they do tend to weed out the unusable scrap. But sixty times the price? Makers and knife clients will pay that though, if they think they're getting something original. Yet there are thousands and thousands of knives out there with similar handles.

There are more expensive woods, and there are less expensive woods. Many cost more than the steel in the blade. The cost is not usually dependent on durability, hardness, or longevity of the wood handle material, it is almost always the appearance, and nearly all of them are beautiful in their own way. Of course, I have to consider my costs, working costs and expendables, and rarity in the final evaluation of the price of the knife, case, stand, or artwork, so that too, figures into the pricing.

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Black Palm is the only palm tree wood that is durable enough to be used on a knife handle
More about this Hooded Warrior

What about the names of hardwoods?

Hardwood names can be bewildering. Every country has a host of names all for the same wood, other countries name the same wood in their host of names, then dealers and suppliers add their own name to the wood, and before you know it the wood has twenty different names.

Take Ironwood, for instance. There is a lot of confusion as the term "Ironwood" refers to many trees in many nations. The Latin term iron wood is Pau Ferro, another host of descriptive wood types bear that name. It seems that every country has some hard wood or tough tree that deserves the name Ironwood, and there are over 80 distinct species from all over the world that are commonly named Ironwood. Common trees that bear the Ironwood name are: American hornbeam, Black Ironwood, Desert Ironwood, Olive trees, Hop Hornbeam, Persian Ironwood, Ipe, Ekki, Rose Chestnut, Ceylon Ironwood, Australian Ironwood, and even Lignum Vitae, the densest wood known. Then there is Pau Ferro, Pao Ferro, Pao Fierro: from two different continents, all different trees. Some of the woods referred to have several species (and some have hundreds of species!), so the traits I've experienced and noted may not apply to all the woods of the same name. At the synonym list at the bottom of this page, I've tried to nail down the types of each, including cross referencing the common and trade names of the woods. This page consists of a lot of research, and I learned a lot compiling it.

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A trio of hardwoods used on this knife sheath: Wenge, Cocobolo, and Amaranth (Purpleheart)
More about this Desert Wind

What about general descriptions of these hardwoods?

I've compiled quite a bit of information on this page, and in doing so, found a lot of errors in the texts of reference manuals on woods and on the internet. Some woods are listed in the books as "non-durable," and in my experience, they are extremely hard, durable, and long lasting. Many woods are listed as rare or nearly impossible to get, but look on the internet and there are literally hundreds of sources to acquire them.

The information and descriptions below are derived from over 30 years of my experience using the woods for knife handles, cases, stands, and in other cabinet, furniture, and turning projects. So, while many dealers and suppliers of exotic and domestic hardwoods make claims about their usefulness and applications, I've actually used them: sawn, cut, drilled, carved, sanded, and polished them, and my clients have used them in the field, in their collections, and even in active military combat. I've applied that real world experience with valid information to nail down a specific description of the wood. If I've missed something, please let me know!

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Lignum Vitae is the hardest, heaviest, densest hardwood known on the planet!
More about this Azophi

Notes, disclaimer about web photos and wood appearance

I've tried my best to give an accurate color and figure rendering of these exotic and domestic woods and handle materials. Some things to consider are:

  • some woods change color over time (mostly due to regular oxidation processes)
  • some woods change appearance when exposed to fluids or contaminates (some even change with normal oils from human hands)
  • the wood selected for handle material may vary in grain, grade, and color (I can't regulate the exact appearance, even in the same board stock).
  • there may be additional considerations that apply to your choice in a knife handle material (like thin sectional support, impact resistance, and texture)
  • no two pieces of wood are alike, even when book-matched.
  • There are some considerations also for photographic rendering of these knife handle materials:
    • The color may vary depending on original photography, scanning methods, color rendition of editing programs, and the color setup of your monitor
    • The color of your actual handle may vary depending on the above factors and what light and intensity you view it in (the color of light depends on the source; florescent lighting, incandescent lighting, and daylight all vary greatly in color)
    • The grain and figure may be more or less pronounced than the actual material. This is also due to limitations and setup in the computer viewing components, like the photo editing program, your monitor and settings, and the horribly weak limitation of the internet overall, which can only display photos at 72 dots per inch.
    • Some pictures have been borrowed from suppliers and sources, and I can't absolutely guarantee their accuracy (but they're very close!)
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Honduras Rosewood Burl is a rare find, as the tree has to be dug up by the roots to get the burl below the stump. This is a rosewood burl, very hard and durable.
More about this Alegre

On to the woods!

Here is a list of hardwood materials I've used in custom knife handles. Many of these I have in stock, and most are available if I don't stock them. Email me here for prices and availability if you plan to order a knife from me. Please remember that I don't sell wood stock, only use woods on my own knife handles!

Wood Knife Handle Materials List, with links to descriptions, photographs, and other names.
African Blackwood Guayabillo Padauk Ziricote
Amaranth (Purpleheart) Gum, River Coming Soon! Palm, Black  
Amboyna Burl Coming Soon! Honduran Rosewood Pau Ferro (Tropical South American)  
Arririba (Canarywood) Honduran Rosewood Burl Pau Ferro (African)  
Australian Blackwood Imbuyia Peach  
Birch Laminates (Stabilized) Ipe Pecan  
Bloodwood (Satine) Ironwood (Desert) Persimmon (Chinese Beeswing Rosewood)  
Bocote (Bucote) Jobillo Coming Soon! Pink Ivory  
Bog Oak Kingwood Quebracho (Argentina) Coming Soon!  
Bois de Arc (Osage Orange) Lacewood Redheart (Chakte Kok)
Box Elder Burl (Stabilized) Lauan (Philippine Mahogany) Redwood Burl  
Buckeye Burl Lignum Vitae Sandalwood, African (Tamboti)  
Bubinga Maccassar (Macassar) Ebony Snakewood
Cherry Macassar Rosewood Tamboti (African Sandalwood)  
Cocobolo Maple, Rock (straight grained) Thuya Burl
Courbaril Maple (fiddleback, burl, bird's eye, tiger, big leaf) Tulipwood
East Indian Rosewood Mesquite Walnut (domestic)  
Ebony Mora Walnut (tropical)  
Fruitwoods, Nut woods Oak (Red) Wenge  
Goncalo Alves Olive (Olivewood) Zebrawood  
Wood Handle Material Descriptions with Thumbnail Photos

African Blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon:
Origin: Mozambique, East Africa. Exceptionally hard and dense species, black, but not as solid black grain as ebony. Straight grained. It is actually a rosewood, not an ebony. It makes a great knife handle, and is strong, long lasting, a bit aromatic and holds details and pins well. It is actually more stable than ebony. Used in musical wind instruments (like clarinets, oboes and bassoons), bearings, pulley blocks, carvings. Polishes smoothly, holds well, oily and resinous.
African Blackwood Exotic Wood African Blackwood Exotic Wood African Blackwood Knife Handle African Blackwood and Australian Tiger Iron Gemstone Knife Handle African Blackwood hardwood knife handle with nickel silver

Amaranth (Purpleheart) Peltogyne spp. F. Leguminosae:
Origin: Tropical America from Mexico to Brazil. Moderately hard an medium dense hardwood, initially brown when cut, but turns dark purple when oxidized or heated. Although a bit open grained for knife handles, it offers interesting color patterns with torch work. Straight grained. Polishes easily, slightly porous. Occasional streaks of grain with white lines. Used also on cabinets, heavy outdoor construction, gymnasium apparatus, diving boards, skis, chemical vats.
Purpleheart (Amaranth) Exotic Wood Amaranth (Purpleheart) Custom knife stand with horn

Arririba (Canarywood) Centrolobium spp.:
Origin: Brazil. From a small tree, color yellow to tan with red and black streaks. Used also in naval architecture, cabinet veneers. Polishes well, is very stable, holds its color which is bright and interesting. Tight grained, stunning in knife handles, knife hard sheaths and scabbards, and stands. Straight grained, some wavy grain.
Canarywood (Arririba) Exotic Wood Canarywood (Arririba) Exotic Wood Knife Handle Canarywood (Arririba) Exotic Wood Sword Scabbard

Australian Blackwood Acacia melanoxylon:
Origin: Hundreds of species of the Acacia genus: South America, South Africa, India, Australia, Tasmania. Despite the name, the heartwood is reddish brown, bands of dark brown with a reddish tint. Some oxidizes deep red over time. Makes a dense, tight, solid and long lasting knife handle. It's very hard, moderately dense, straight grained, polishes very brightly, with a fine finish, and is stable. Used in high quality furniture, billiard tables, gun stocks, ornamental turnery and musical instruments.
Australian Blackwood Exotic Wood Australian Blackwood Australilan Blackwood Australian Blackwood Hardwood Knife handle, with nickel silver fittings

Birch Laminates (Stabilized) usually Betula papyrifera:
Origin: Factory modified and created from birch. These laminates are sold by the name Dymondwood®, Pakkawood®, Staminawood®, and others are vacuum dye impregnated and then pressure treated compressed laminate plywood products. Most of the wood used is birch, and these composites are made currently by Rutland Plywood Company. These are tough, durable, long lasting and waterproof wood products, and sometimes have bold colors, stripes, and figure. They are a popular wood product for knife handles, so yes, I use them too, occasionally. The shocking patterns can look a bit ridiculous, so I try to stay away from the types that look like a carnival clown. But, since I do custom orders, and clients get what they want, some opt for these products because of durability as well as color, and they are quite durable on the knife handle. Important: see also my page on man made handle materials which has extensive information on these wood products at this bookmark.

Bloodwood (Satine) Brosimum paraense:
Origin: South America. This is a fairly common hardwood, bright blood red. Moderately hard, takes a good polish, very durable and long lasting. Straight grained, heavy. I've used this in custom knife handles for decades, and in stands, hard sheaths, and fittings, it lasts very well with moderate sealing with wax or cyanoacrylate. Used in turnery, fine cabinets, ornamental woodwork. There are several species of this group, and some distinguish between Satine, Bloodwood, and Cacique. The only differences I've seen is that Caciqe occasionally has small white deposits in some of the grain (silicates).
Bloodwood Exotic Wood Sample Bloodwood Knife Handle Bloodwood Exotic Wood Custom knife handle, hard sheath Bloodwood hardwood with nickel silver fittings Bloodwood custom knife handle Bloodwood, Walnut custom knife stand, with brass pique work, articulating

Bocote (Bucote) Cordia alliodora:
Origin: Mexico, Central and South America. A very dramatic figured wood, with light tan background and sometimes wild dark brown stripes in both straight grain and knots, occasional burls, and waves. Medium density, very porous, takes sealers well, somewhat permeable. In knife handles, great care must be used in finishing, as the grain picks up polish and metal swarf, but once finished, is a bold and long lasting handle. Used in fine cabinetry, furnishings. Mildly fragrant. Porosity can be a problem when finishing, as it takes polish and debris unless carefully sealed.
Bocote (Bucote) Exotic Hardwood Bocote Knife Handle, Nickel silver Knife Handle Material: Bocote hardwood Knife Handle of Bocote, Bloodwood Exotic Hardwoods Knife Handle of Bocote Hardwood, Chalcedony Gemstone

Bog Oak Quercus Species:
Origin: Ancient wood, some in Europe, Ukraine, Croatia, Western Europe. Also called Morta, Bog-wood, This is a very special wood, long prized for its rarity, darkness, and stability. Some ancient bog oaks were even said to possess magical powers. This is not plain contemporary oak (below). Modern use of the term Bog Oak may refer to many species of mineralized and buried woods, but this is not correct. True bog oak is of the oak (quercus) species. It is wood that has fallen in a peat bog, into anaerobic wet bog, and therefore does not decay, but is preserved for hundreds to thousands of years. As it sits in the bog, water carries minerals into the cellular structure of the wood, darkening and hardening it. The longer the oak has been in the bog, the darker it becomes. This makes a very stable and strong wood, highly resistant to decay, in actuality, mineralized oak. A very prized and expensive wood, used to make primarily knife handles and even sculpture and jewelry. Important to this wood is a dating method or record of provenance; without it, it could be just darkened oak. Many sources of bog oak in western Europe have played out an its extraction and sale is tightly regulated, though I've had a writer inform me that in Western Ireland, great amounts are being "cleared out of the way to make room for trees for telegraph (electricity) poles." If this is true, this could be a great supply of a material that is expensive and hard to acquire. It's also sad that this very special material is ignored and left to rot. Once it's gone, there will be no more...

Bois ď arc (Osage Orange) Maclura pomifera:
Origin: Southwestern United States. The name "arc of the bow" is from the wood's use as bows for Native American tribes. This smallish tree was encouraged in Oklahoma and Texas as hedgerow, and produces some of the hardest, toughest wood in the Americas. It's been planted more than any other tree in America. The wood is bright, clear, straight grained lemon yellow in color. It is hard, dense, heavy, and takes a bright glossy polish on knife handles or other implements or tools. Care must be taken not to overheat when working with the wood, as it darkens and burns easily. Little change occurs on the knife handle during aging. When applied to a knife handle, it stands alone in color and clarity; I know of no other wood that can be confused with Osage orange. The tree bears inedible "oranges" and the wood has an almost citrus scent when working. It's also been used for veneers, wheels, archery bows, accents in inlay and marquetry, and for dyes.
Bois d Arc Hardwood, Osage Orange, Bodark Osage orange, Bois d' arc hardwood Osage Orange, Bois De Arc, Hedge Apple Hardwood Knife handle

Box Elder Burl Acer negundo, F.Aceraceae:
Origin: Northeastern United States. Box elder is a member of the Maple family. It is a medium sized tree, and is planted often for shade, the form of the tree has multiple branches and therefore whorls and crotches in the wood. The wood of interest in this tree is the burl wood, hard, twisted, knotted, with beautiful figure, whorls, and curves. It is a favorite of mine in knife handles, original, wild, and highly figured. The burl is often pressure treated and impregnated with dyes and either polymer or phenolic resin (see stabilized woods on this page) for a gorgeous and striking knife handle material. As with all stabilized woods, it is mostly waterproof, long lasting, takes a fine polish and finish, and is very stable.
Dyed and Stabilized Box Elder Burl Hardwood Knife Handle Gray Stabilized Box Elder Burl Knife Handle Stabilized Box Elder Burl Knife Handle Dyed and Stabilized Box Elder Burl Hardwood Knife Handle Box Elder Burl hardwood, pressure stabilized for longevity and water resistance. Stabilized Box Elder burl, natural color. This is a very lightweight and durable wood

Buckeye Burl Aesculus glabra or Aesculus flava:
Origin: Central United States from Alabama to Pennsylvania, originally imported from Germany. Most people know this tree associated with the name "Buckeye" and Ohio, it is the state tree and the name of college teams. Many people have seen the buckeyes, the seeds of the tree, they are hard, dark brown, round about an inch in diameter, and glossy. The are supposed to resemble the eye of a buck deer, hence the name. The seeds are poisonous. The tree isn't much to look at, small to medium sized, resembling a horse chestnut, with smelly twigs and flowers, and for the most part the wood is soft. But the wood has rippled, wavy figures, and the burl is magnificent when stabilized. I've used stabilized buckeye burl for years and it makes a beautiful, serviceable knife handle. I've even got a buckeye burl table in my home, and it has fascinating figure. The wood is also used for paper, splints, wooden limbs, and veneers. It's even used for coffins!
Stabilized Buckeye burl knife handle

Bubinga Didelotia africana or Guibourtia Demeusei:
Origin: Gabon, Camerouns.  Reddish brown fairly hard and dense exotic wood with interesting broad bands of figure, sometimes wavy, takes a very nice polish and finishes well. Durable, resistant to stains and doesn't darken with age. Varnishes or oils well. Makes a great knife handle, sheath, knife case, or stand component. Used in veneers, fine cabinetry, building small boxes.
Bubinga, Bloodwood custom knife stand with jasper, engraved 304 stainless steel, articulating Bubinga hardwood sample Bubinga hardwood base, nylon riser, Brown Alabaster sculpture Background Wood: Bubinga Bubinga hardwood illustration

Cherry (Black Cherry) Prunus serotina
Origin: Eastern North America. This is not your domestic cherry tree, nor is it the decorative cherry that is imported from Japan and is the focus of cherry blossom festivals. This is American Black Cherry, a staple in building fine cabinets, furniture, turnings, carvings, and musical instruments, so it's not surprising that it's important in knife making, too. In the domestic wood trade, it's simply called cherry. While I don't use it for handles (there are more striking woods), I do use it in the studio in both my sole authorship and collaborative works for cases, stands, and chef's knives blocks. It's stable, predictable, and takes a very nice finish. It's got a very fine grain, with small, tight pores, and not much figure, but this does not stop it from being one of the most valued and dominant premier domestic hardwoods.

Cocobolo Dalbergia retusa:
Origin: Pacific seaboard of Central America from Mexico to Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua. This is probably the most popular wood for fine knife handles and gun grips. It is a very dense, very oily, very resinous hardwood. When first cut, it exhibits striking patterns of color, rich reddish browns, tans, oranges, yellows, dark reds, and dark browns and can be straight grained of highly figured. After a year or two in service, it darkens considerably, sometimes to near black, but keeps some visual interest. It's very stable. The wood gives off a rich, attractive odor when worked, but has none when finished. This wood has a long reputation for dependability. It's used for turnery, handles, bowling balls, sculpture, carving, scientific instruments, boat wheels, forks and spoons, limited veneers, and wooden jewelry. Working it is tricky, as the dust can induce a reaction similar to poison ivy. I know of one knifemaker who can never be exposed to the dust again, because of a severe reaction. I've used it for years, but take full safety precautions. This has nothing to do with the final use, though, as once it's finished, it's completely stable and non-reactive. Probably the most popular material for handmade custom knife handles.
Cocobolo Hardwood custom knife handle Cocobolo Straight figured exotic hardwood knife handle Cocobolo hardwood and rose quartz gemstone knife handle Cocobolo hardwood hidden tang knife handle Cocobolo hardwood and chrysocolla gemstone knife handle Cocobolo full tang knife handle Cocoolo is a very hard, tough, and durable exotic hardwood Cocobolo hardwood knife handle scales with 304 stainless steel fittings Cocobolo hardwood on fine chef's knife is highly water resistant Cocobolo makes a very fine chef's knife handle due to natural oils and resins in the wood Cocobolo is a beautiful accent in any kitchen. Cocobolo has graceful figure throughout.

Courbaril (Jatoba) Hymenaea courbaril:
Origin: Southern Mexico through Central America and the West Indies, Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. This is a heavy, dense hardwood, with reddish brown and darker brown stripes. Takes a very good polish, is lustrous, rich, and seems to glow from within. Takes a very long time to dry, I had a piece that took over five years to season before it quit moving! It's difficult to work, but worth it. It makes a bright, glassy polished finish on a knife handle. High shock resistance leads to its use in handles, looms, wooden gear cogs, high class furniture flooring and stair treads because of its great resistance to wear. It is interesting to note that the tree is the source of copal, the gummy, resinous substance used to seal boats, and in glues and adhesives. Ancient copal became fossilized, creating the gemstone amber.
Jatoba (courbaril) hardwood Courbaril (Jatoba) exotic hardwood

East Indian Rosewood Dalbergia latifolia:
Origin: India, Southern Asia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Java. A medium density wood, naturally oily and resinous, but with large open pores that must be sealed with a sealant, or debris will accumulate, and polishing will dig out or undercut the sanded finish. Because of this porosity, it's more suitable to knife cases, stands, and holders than handles, in my opinion. It's dark purple with black streaks, occasionally light to dark brown, reasonably attractive, and fairly inexpensive. Cracks along the grain easily. Used in guitar fingerboards sides and backs, pool cues, fine furniture, doors, veneers, shuttles, turnery, pens, furniture.
East Indian Rosewood Hardwood

Ebony Diospyros spp:
Origin: Africa: Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroons, Zaire, Gaboon, also Ceylon, India. A very popular exotic wood, in demand since ancient Egyptian times. The heartwood is black, the sapwood is called "white ebony." Straight grained, some curliness, fine, even texture, smooth, lustrous finish. It's very stable, high in strength, and can be brightly polished. It's been used in handmade knife handles for centuries, with dependable, uniform results and longevity. Used in sculpture, carving, inlays, door knobs, billiard cues, piano and organ keys, stringed instrument finger boards, guitar backs, castanets, and for fine veneers.

Fruitwoods:
Origin: Domestic. Fruitwoods used in custom knife handles can be very stable, beautiful, and long lasting. Pear wood is rosy pink, cream background, and fine and close grained, and finishes and polishes well. It's used on instrument quality rulers and drafting instruments and marquetry. Pecan, which is a species of hickory, produces fine, even grained reddish wood with brown stripes. Some prime pieces make great knife handles, cases, and stand components. It's used in veneers and furniture. Apple, once cured, makes very fine knife handles, with close grain, with a reddish brown color, and is used in golf club heads. Peach is a very hard, tight-grained hardwood that is very limited in supply, but makes a great hardwood knife handle. There are other fruitwoods and nut woods that are suitable for fine custom knife handles.
Apple wood sample Wood Pearwood sample

Goncalo Alves Astronium fraxinifolium:
Origin: Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay. This is a very nice hardwood, with striking patterns in medium golden reddish brown to dark brown streaks and waves. It finishes well, is very hard and heavy, and looks great on a knife handle, taking a glassy finish. Because of the wild figuring, it's been used for picture inlays and is also used for dampers of grand pianos, boatbuilding, fine furniture. It has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful exotic hardwoods.
Goncalo Alves base with brass pique work, fiddleback maple knife stand Goncalo Alves Custom knife stand with brass, red oak base Goncalo Alves Exotic Hardwood Custom Knife Handle Goncalo Alves Hardwood Knife Handle Goncalo Alves Hardwood Knife Handle Goncalo Alves Hardwood custom knife handle Goncalo Alves Knife Handle material Goncalo Alves Exotic Hardwood Knife Handle

Guayabillo (Verdolago) Terminalia oblonga or Terminalia Amazonica:
Origin: Tropical forests of Central and South America. This is a smooth, even grained and textured wood, of fairly hard and dense. The color is red-brown, with straight figure and darker brown growth lines. It has high impact strength, polishes well, and is very durable. I haven't used it much for custom knife handles, but like what I have and will continue to use it in future projects. It's also used extensively for flooring, decks, utility poles, tool handles, furniture, turnery, structural timber, and veneers.
Guyabillo Exotic Hardwood Custom Knife handle Guyabillo Wood Sample

Honduran Rosewood Dalbergia stevensonii:
Origin: British Honduras, Brazil, Belize. This hardwood has a long history of usage and export, it's pinkish brown with some purple and darker and lighter bands. It's hard, heavy, oily and resinous, and makes a superb knife handle. The color doesn't change (like cocobolo), and it takes a very keen polish and stays that way. It makes a great knife handle, and keeps it's pattern and figure even through rough and long term handling. It's used for the manufacture of xylophones and marimbas, furniture, cabinets, bank fittings, paneling, carving, sculpture, bowls. This is a very highly prized exotic wood rumored to be diminishing in supply, but I see plenty of it on the market all the time. Makes me wonder if this is a ploy to keep the prices high.
Honduran Rosewood custom knife stand with brass inlays Honduras Rosewood khukri knife handle Honduran Rosewood, brass custom knife handle Honduran Rosewood Sample Honduras Rosewood Knife handle, nickel silver fittings

Honduran Rosewood Burl Dalbergia stevensonii:
Origin: Same as Honduran Rosewood above. Unlike the listing above, this wood IS very rare; I was lucky enough to come across a burl of Honduran Rosewood years ago, and have some of it left. I've never seen any more of it it my whole career of knife making. The burl is filled with knots, wild circular forms and waves, there is not one straight line on it. Most of the ringed patterns are smaller than a dime, and it's hard to get pieces uniform enough for a knife handle, but when I can, it's worth it. Very beautiful stuff.
Honduran Rosewood Burl Exotic Hardwood custom knife handle Honduras Rosewood Burl Custom knife Handle Honduras Rosewood Burl Custom knife handle Honduras Rosewood Burl on "Alegre EL" handmade custom knife handle Rare Honduras Rosewood Burl on "Alegre EL" handmade custom knife by Jay Fisher

Imbuyia or Imbuya Phoebe porosa:
Origin: Southern Brazil. Chocolate brown to olive-yellow, and may be variegated, fine textured, mostly straight grained, but sometimes wavy. It takes a medium high polish. This is a medium weight, medium hardness wood, and is decorative. I've had good luck with it in knife handles, when well sealed, and it makes a beautiful case or knife stand. It looks somewhat like walnut, but with more figure, and is used for cabinets, furniture, joinery, sculpture, turning, rifle butts and gun stocks. Some veneers are made from it.
Imbuyia Exotic Wood Custom Knife Case

Ipe Tabebuia avellanedae:
Origin: Tropical America. Olive-brown colored heartwood, with yellow lapachol powder in the grain, so there are tiny yellow lines in the finished wood. It's similar to teak in appearance. Satiny finish. It's very dense, moderately hard, and very long wearing. The grain is straight. It's not a common knife handle material because it's a bit boring, with pretty much olive straight lines and bits of yellow. Good for cases, stands and other decorative knife components. It's used for decks, docks, fine veneer, railway ties, and work requiring high wear resistance and resistance to decay. A very tough wood

Ironwood (Desert) Olneya tesota:
Origin: Sonoran Desert, Americas. Ironwood deserves special attention. There is a lot of confusion as the term "Ironwood" refers to many trees in many nations. It seems that every country has some hard wood or tough tree that deserves the name Ironwood, and there are over 80 distinct species from all over the world that are commonly named "Ironwood." Common trees that bear the Ironwood name are: American hornbeam, Black Ironwood, Desert Ironwood, Olive trees, Hop Hornbeam, Persian Ironwood, Ipe, Rose Chestnut, Ceylon Ironwood, Australian Ironwood, and even Lignum Vitae, the densest wood known. The Ironwood that knifemakers mostly use is Desert Ironwood, that comes from the Sonoran desert in Arizona and Mexico. It is very hard and dense, naturally oily and resinous, and takes a very bright glassy polish. It's impervious to just about any thing, and long wearing. The colors and patterns of Desert Ironwood can be wild and beautiful, straight grained, or demure. Some of it has an almost chatoyant (cat's eye) effect in the figure. In custom knives, it's probably the second most common handle material, next to Cocobolo. Outstanding pieces with high figure are very prized in the custom knife field. It's also used in carvings, sculpture, and small boxes, as well as inlay, accents, and even jewelry. There is a lot of misinformation around about how rare it's becoming and how hard it is to find, but it's commonly for sale everywhere, and often marked up outrageously. One only needs to go to any market in Mexico, and you'll find hundreds of badly done carvings out of really nice Ironwood at a very reasonable price (they slab out nicely). It's probably enough to know that much of it is used to make charcoal, which speaks to the volume of trees and ironwood out there.

Kingwood Dalbergia cearensis:
Origin: Brazil. This fine wood is a member of the rosewood family. It has a rich violet-purple striping to black, with cream undertones. It has a fine texture, is uniform and mostly straight grained, somewhat waxy, and finishes and polishes brightly. It's a very heavy, dense wood, and moderately hard. The name is derived from its preference by French royalty and the Georgian period of English furniture, and was the preferred wood for thrones and royalty. I've used it extensively in fine knife handles, and it's a great, long lasting, hard, dense glassy handle, wonderful to touch. It's use is mostly decorative, though, because the tree is rather small. Used in turnery, sculpture, veneers, marquetry, and to restore that old French and English furniture. Another wood claimed to be scarce, yet there are many sources of it.
Kingwood knife handle on "Hooded Warrior" with 304 Stainless steel bolsters Kingwood hardwood knife handle on "Hooded Warrior" Kingwood exotic hardwood custom knife handle with snowflake obsidian gemstone Kingwood exotic hardwood custom knife handle Kingwood hardwood on custom handmade knife "Mercator" by Jay Fisher Kingwood exotic hardwood on custom handmade knife "Mercator" by Jay Fisher

Lacewood Cardwellia sublimis:
Origin: Australia and Europe. Often called Silky-oak, but is not an oak at all, and there seems to be confusion between Northern Silky Oak and Southern Silky Oak; we'll deal with the Northern Silky Oak. This is a striking wood, with a "basket weave" or "fish scale" rayed appearance of the figure, from 1/4" down to 1/16" lacelike patterns, though it's mostly straight grained. It is only of medium density and light hardness. It's tan to shell pink and light brown, very open grained, so sealing is necessary, but it makes a fine knife handle. Long term, the grain raises somewhat, and that helps to increase the tactile feel and grip on a knife handle. Also used in decorative boxes, marquetry, ornamental cabinetwork, and veneers. In Australia, where it is common, it's used as a shade tree, and the lumber for building and shuttering, wood floors, plywood, and paneling.

Lauan (Philippine Mahogany) Shorea negrosensis or Shorea contorta
Origin: The Philippine Islands. Lauan (White Lauan, Red Lauan)  has been called Philippine Mahogany for decades but it is not a mahogany at all, though the name persists. This wood is light weight but fairly strong, and open-pored so does not make a good knife handle. I've used it before in knife stands, cases, and scabbards, because it is tough, durable and predictable. It has a very nice color when oiled and waxed, and is dimensionally stable. It's used also in furniture and sliced for veneers.
Red Lauan (Philippine Mahogany) hinge and display case, with Rock Maple Knife block, black cherry hardwood with Lauan spacers Knife block, lauan with poplar spacers Lauan flat base, with mesquite sockets and namestand

Lignum Vitae Guaiacum officinale:
Origin: All of the central Americas, from southern Florida to Venezuela. The name sometimes refers to three species of trees, all called Lignum Vitae (The wood of life), whose resin was believed to cure illnesses. The wood is greenish black, mostly straight grained, and incredibly dense, heavy, hard, and tough. It's known as the hardest, heaviest wood in the world. It's three times as hard as oak. Its density is almost equal to iron, an it withstands a working pressure of 2000 psi! A full one third of its weight is comprised of gum, so it's used in mechanical devices such as bearings, and is resistant to most chemicals and decay. As you can probably guess, it will outlast all other woods in knife handles, and many manmade materials. Bearings have been made of Lignum Vitae and used in clocks, fans, air conditioners, underwater marine equipment, and hydroelectric plants. It's been used as thrust blocks, cable guides, wheels, and propeller shafts for ocean liners. The ornamental uses are as sculpture and turnings. As you can imagine, it makes an almost indestructible knife handle.
Exotic Lignum Vitae Wood Lignum Vitae Hardwood knife handle with 304 stainless steel Lignum Vitae Hardwood Lignum Vitae Hardwood Sample Lignum Vitae on a tactical combat knife is extremely durable. Lignum Vitae is very resinous and waterproof. Lignum Vitae on "Creature" utility knife. Lignum Vitae has beautiful, soft figure.

Maccassar (Macassar) Ebony Diospyros spp.:
Origin: East Indies, Sri Lanka, and Ceylon. This is a colorful ebony, sometimes streaked with yellow or yellow-brown to golden lines. Like other ebonies, it's hard, resinous, self-sealing and waxy with a fine grain. It makes a stunning, rich knife handle. It takes a very bright polish, and is very durable and long lasting. Also used in musical instruments for its good tonal properties, and carvings, sculpture, furniture, inlays, and pool cues.
Maccassar Ebony Hardwood Custom Knife Handle

Madagascar Rosewood Dalbergia greveana:
Origin: Madagascar, other islands. This is a very dark, reddish, burgundy rosewood, which is dense and polishes well. It maintains color well, is slightly open pored, but makes a fine knife handle. Also used on musical instruments, furniture, and turnings.
Madegasscar Rosewood Custom Knife Handle, Brass Fittings Madagascar Rosewood exotic hardwood Madagascar Rosewood and Stainless steel Madegascar rosewood with serpentine gemstone and brass knife handle

Maple, Rock Acer saccharum:
Origin: United States, northeastern. This is a very well established hardwood, also called "Sugar Maple." There are two types of maple, only the hard maple is used in knife handles. It is a moderately heavy and hard wood, dense and tough, creamy white with a bit of pink, and can be curly or wavy figured (fiddleback) or with bird's eye. The texture is fine, even and lustrous, and it takes a high polish. Usually it is stained chemically in the finishing process to bring out the chatoyant effect in the wood before it is sealed. It makes a permanent, hard, tough knife handle. It's been used extensively for skating rink and gymnasium floors, bowling alleys, butcher blocks, musical instruments, piano actions, sporting goods, furniture, pool balls, veneers, and the tree is the source of maple syrup.
Rock Maple (hard Maple) knife block, with Padauk Hardwood and Scapolite Gemstone

Maple (Fiddleback, Curly, Bird's Eye, Wavy, Tigertail, Tiger) Acer saccharum:
Origin: United States, northeastern. Same in every way to Rock (hard) Maple, but with wavy, curly, or bird's eye figure. Sometimes, specialized treatments (usually acid washes containing iron) are used to bring out the figure. When properly applied, these chemical agents actually react with the wood, bringing out iridescence and deep luminosity. What most people call "stains" today are simply pigmented stains and dyes, and are not the true stains of old. These types of maple make great knife handles. see Rock Maple above.
Stabilized Maple Burl Hardwood Custom Knife Handle Fiddleback maple with brass pique work, goncalo alves base custom knife stand Curly (Wavy) Maple hardwood custom knife Handle Fiddleback (curly) maple custom knife case Bird's Eye Maple Custom Knife handle

Mesquite (Honey Mesquite) Prosopis glandulosa:
Origin: Southwestern United States, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma. Also known as (go figure) Ironwood. This is a medium density wood, takes a decent polish, but must be well sealed on a knife handle, due to open pores. It is light reddish to pinkish brown, sometimes with darker lines, and wavy to curly figure, and is sometimes chatoyant when well polished, sealed and finished. Great in stands, cases, knife sheaths, and knife components
Mesquite Wood Knife Handle Honey Mesquite Custom Knife Handle Stabilized Mesquite Wood Burl Custom Knife Handle Mesquite hand-turned socket and feet on this custom display stand

Mora Morus tinctoria:
This hardwood typically comes from Guatemala, but is native from Mexico to Bolivia. It has a heavy figure with large stripes of dark reddish brown contrasting with brighter stripes of golden brown. It is extremely hard and moderately heavy, taking a high, lustrous polish. Another Mora, often confused, is Fustic, a yellow dye-yielding tree that is actually Chlorophora tinctoria, a different species. There is also Morus nigra (black mulberry) and Morus lactea, from different continents, and are different trees. Technically, the word morus is latin for mulberry, and all of these are in the mulberry family.  It's used in turnery, pool queues, and fine bowls. Photos coming soon!

Oak (American Red Oak) Quercus rubra:
Origin: Though there are over 60 species of oak that grow just in the United States, probably the most common oak used is red oak. I've even got a tree of this in my yard, and it's beautiful in the fall, with the leaves turning dark red. The wood of red oak is almost common in the U.S., but as a general building timber it is expensive. I don't use it in knife handles, it's too large grained and porus and needs a lot of sealing, but I use it extensively in stands, boxes, cases and components, mostly as base and foundation parts. It takes staining well, carves fairly good, and is a moderately strong, dense wood. It's also used in furniture, flooring, and joinery.
Ebonized Oak Base, Honduran Rosewood Custom knife stand with engraved brass inlays Red Oak base, Goncalo Alves custom knife stand Ebonized Oak base, walnut custom knife stand Red Oak case inside, frame

Olive Olea europea or Olea hochstetteri:
Origin: The Mediterranean, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda. Also called Olivewood, the small, twisted olive tree produces some fine curly figured hardwood for knife handles. it is pale brown with attractive figure in darker streaks, the texture fine and even. It's very hard and dense and takes a fine polish, and is very resistant to abrasion. Its figure makes it very attractive for fine knife handles. It's also been used for furniture, cabinets, bowls, sculpture, carving, and veneers. If properly finished, it is smooth and silky to the hand.

Padauk Pterocarpus dalbergioides:
Origin: Central and West Africa. The finest type (Andaman) from the Bay of Bengal is harvested by convict labor. This is a commonly used exotic wood of medium hardness and density, it's only drawbacks being the large open pores that require filling or sealing, or they will hold debris on a knife handle. It's a wood that when first cut is bright orange-red, then darkens some with aging and oxidation, sometimes to dark purple. Its grain is very straight and it wears well. I rarely use it on knife handles, because of the sealing required, but it works well as an accent material and on stands and boxes. It does darken with oxidation, handling, and time. It's also used on cabinets, fine furniture, fancy turnery, in wooden levels, sculpture, and boat building. Its abrasive resistance make it usable for flooring.
Chef's Set Hardwood Block of Padauk, Rock Maple, Scapolite gemstone Padauk Exotic Hardwood Custom Knife handle

Palm, Black Borassus flabellifer
Origin: Myanmar, India, and southeast Asia. This wood is interesting because of its striking pattern. One of over 1200 palm species, this is the one wood that is of interest in general carpentry and fine ornament. It is of medium hardness, and takes a bright, glossy, hard finish. In the sunlight, the dark streaks glisten with orange translucency. Tight grained and stable, this is a beautiful wood. Good for small projects, like pens, bowls, jewelry, and knife handles

Pau Ferro (Tropical South America) Machaerium Scleroxylon:
Origin: Guyana, Brazil, Tropical South America. Not to be confused with Palo Fierro which is the desert Ironwood listed above. This is a hard, dense wood with a orange-brown striping, medium density and hardness, and takes a fine finish and polish. Often substituted for Brazilian Rosewood. Makes a very nice knife handle. It's also used in making musical instruments, carving, sculpture. A similar hardwood, not as dense and with different appearance is below.

Pau Ferro (African) Swartizia Madagascariensis:
Origin: Africa: Cameroon, Nigeria, Zaire, Ivory Coast, Congo. Not to be confused with Palo Fierro which is the desert Ironwood listed above. This is a dense, dark brown striped wood with some reddish-brown highlights and some lighter areas. Its grain is coarser and more wavy than South American Pau Ferro, and polishes well. Also a fine knife handle material. Also used in turnings, carvings, sculpture, veneers, furniture, and musical instruments.

Peach Prunus persica:
Origin: Domestic United States, but native to China and is actually a member of the rose family. What I'm describing is not the tropical wood called "Peachwood" which is a tropical tree in the Caesalpinia family; what I'm describing is the wood of the small peach tree, found domestically in our United States. Known more for the fruit, the peach is a tree that has some very fine wood if you can harvest enough of it for a project or knife handle. The wood is extremely limited because the tree is small, it frequently has trunk and bark splitting due to its cold sensitivity, and can be susceptible to borers, leaving holes in the wood. If you can harvest it carefully though, the wood is definitely worth the trouble. Peach tree wood is very hard and dense, and extremely durable. It cuts, turns, and takes a polish well, has a very attractive figure and is tight-grained. Because of limited sizes, peach wood is only available for small projects and use of this wood is actually rare.

Pecan Carya illinoensis:
Origin: Domestic United States. Great history, has been a true American tree valued for its nuts at least 8000 years. One source says the word "Pecan" was derived from the great Algonquin Indian "Peccan," and another source says the word is derived from "pecane" an Algonquin word meaning "nut so hard it takes a stone to crack" This is a good example of the confusing amount and accuracy of information circulating about woods. Pecan is the third most valuable hardwood in America, behind Black Walnut and Black Cherry. Pecan is a member of the hickory family, and as such is a very hard, dense, close grained wood. The color is tan with reddish brown and darker brown streaks, and can be highly figured, because straight lengths of grain are not common, due to branching in the wood. I've used it for knife boxes, knife stands and components, and handles. It's used for furniture, for fine flooring, veneers, carvings, turnings, and paneling, and even used in the smoking of meats.

Persimmon Diospyros virginiana:
A small amount of this wood was given to me by a former knifemaker. He called it Chinese Beeswing Rosewood. It certainly has a nice, small wavy design in the grain. Makes a great knife handle, with a noticeable, bold figure and lines. After research I found that Persimmon wood panels were used in early Chinese, Korean, and Japanese reproduction furniture, so that is probably why he called it Chinese Beeswing Rosewood. In sizeable amounts, the wood is rare and valuable, since the heartwood core of the tree is very small. It's medium brown, moderately dense, and has a unique wavy figure in the grain. It has a sharp, peppery smell when cut. It polishes moderately well. It's been widely used for golf club woods, tough textile shuttles, turnery, and striking tool handles. It' is highly resistant to impact.
Persimmon hardwood knife handle

Pink Ivory Rhamnaceae:
Origin: Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Rhodesia, Transvaal, Natal. A "buckthorn," this wood is supposed to be the rarest wood there is. It is certainly priced so. It is the royal wood of the Zulus, and only the chief of the tribe and his sons can cut it. Well, those boys must be pretty busy, because you can find the wood all over the internet. In the 1980s, it was pretty pricey, but now, it's almost reasonable. Not a striking wood, you're paying for the legend here more than anything. In fine custom knives, makers tout the rarity, not the color or figure. Hard, close grained, moderately dense, but with very little figure and a light pink in color. It takes an excellent polish, and has been used for turnings, carvings, pens, jewelry, pool ques, and musical instruments.

Redheart (Campeche) (Chakte Kok) Sickingia salvadorensis (also Sikingia tinctoria)(also Erythroxylum spp) :
Origin: East coast of Mexico, Central America, tropical America from southern Mexico to southern Paraguay and Brazil. The name redheart refers to several different species of wood, and currently, there is no absolute clear distinction between them available in the research. They are so close, for our knifemaking purposes, they are the same. The name Campeche was used in older sources, probably for the state in Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula where this wood is found. It's important to note that the place names of woods are almost useless; there is another wood named Campeche (Haematoxylum campechianum) that is used to produce a blue dye!
This wood is red, red, red. Sometimes has lighter shades, almost golden, and often dark, even violet stripes. It has so much red that it is used to produce red dye. The finish darkens on application of oils or waxes, so don't expect the initial red color of the new knife handle to stay bright. Strong exposure to UV light will cause flattening and fading of the intense red, so it's best not to store it (or any other knife!) in direct sunlight or intense lighting. It has fairly straight tight grain, finishes well and is of medium to high hardness. Very stable, similar to teak. Takes a medium luster, but the somewhat open grain can pick up polishing compounds and darken unless sealed. Used also in turnery, inlay, boxes, trim, and carvings. Finding matching colors is somewhat difficult, so it's not used much in veneers.
Redheart or Chakte kok exotic hardwood Redheart (Chakte kok) knife handle with nickel silver bolsters

Redwood Burl Sequoia sempervirens:
Origin: Western United States, California. Redwood is a fairly soft wood, so its use on knife handles is only possible when the wood is pressure stabilized, that is injected with thousands of pounds per square inch of polymer resin. The burl of the redwood is especially attractive with reddish brown swirls, curls and knots, and makes a very fine knife handle (when stabilized). Also used in turnery, bowls, carvings, fittings, and fine furniture.
Stabilized Redwood burl custom knife handle Stabilized Redwood Burl Custom Knife Handle

Snakewood Piratinera guianensis:
Origin: South America, British Guiana, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, West Indies. One of the finest woods available, and highly prized in all its uses. All sources claim that it is highly rare and scarce, and it's very expensive, but there are hundreds of sources. It's extremely hard, dense, tight grained, with a spotted figure that is distinctive and unique. Colors range from reddish brown background to dark brown spots. It takes an extremely high glassy polish, and is naturally oily and resinous. It makes a fantastic knife handle, very stable and long lasting, with a unique appearance that cannot be imitated. Also used in violin bows, fine umbrella handles, fishing poles, fine canes, veneers, inlays, and fine furniture.
Snakewood exotic wood custom knife handle, brass Snakewood Hardwood exotic custom knife handle with snowflake obsidian, brass Snakewood knife handle

Tamboti (African Sandalwood) Spirostachys africana
Origin: Eastern Africa and Mozambique. This is not the traditional Australian or Indian sandalwood, which are different species, but the rich, spicy and long-lasting aroma of this wood makes it clear why it's often called African Sandalwood. The smell is sweeter than that of sandalwood, and freshly cut, can scent for a long time. This is an oily, hard, colorful and dense wood, used for walking sticks, turnery, necklaces, and furniture and has high longevity, durability and stable appearance. It takes a rich, lustrous shine. Though I've seen it claimed to be rare, this wood is very available at numerous sources. On the knife handles, a brisk rubbing brings out a hint of the rich aroma.

Thuya Burl Tetraclinis articualta:
Origin: Along the Mediterranean in northern Africa, Malta, Cyprus. Thuya burl has a long history, being mentioned in the bible and having been used during the time of the Roman Empire. Thuya is almost always used in burl form, which means digging out the root ball of the tree, which is an expensive way to harvest wood indeed! Thuya burl is worth it though, yielding dense, solid, and compact burls of wavy figured hardwood that is strangely uniform for the convoluted banding, shapes, and forms that appear. It is much harder than American Redwood burl and Amboyna burl which are also frequently used as knife handles. Some sources claim it is brittle, but I have not found this to be the case at all; it is very tough. Otherwise, it could not be used as a veneer, and it frequently is. Also used for fine cabinetry, joinery, trinkets, pens, and veneers.

Tulipwood Dalbergia variabilis:
Origin: Northeast Brazil, Bahia, Pernambuco. Tulipwood is very distinctive, with pink-rose and sometimes yellow stripes against a cream background. This is a very heavy, dense, and hard wood, and takes an outstanding high glassy polish. The colors fade just a bit with time. It's been described as strikingly beautiful, and the boards available are small, coming from a small, twisted tree. Makes a great knife handle, hard sheath, scabbard, case, or knife stand. It has a long history of use in fine cabinets and furniture of the 18th century, marquetry, inlay, turnery, keys, caskets, jewelry boxes, and musical instruments.

Walnut: (domestic American) Juglans nigra:
Origin: Throughout North America. This is the wood of the American Black Walnut tree, one of the most valuable hardwoods from North America. It's generally unsuitable for knife handles, because it is soft, very open grained, and can easily be damaged. It's almost uniformly dark brown, with very little figure, but occasionally can be found in burl and wavy grain. Once and again, a client will ask specifically for it on a knife handle, but it is just not hard and durable enough. I use it extensively in knife stands and knife cases, though. It's used extensively for rifle butts and stocks, high quality furniture, turnings, plywood, veneers, clock cases, musical instruments, and wood sculpture.

Walnut (tropical) Juglans australia or Juglans neotropica:
Origin: South America, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina. Similar to domestic American Black Walnut, but often with some inclusions of white minerals and silicates in the grain. Not quite as uniform as domestic walnut, all other traits similar. Like American Walnut, I stay away from knife handle use, but use it extensively on stands, cases, and sometimes sheaths.
Walnut, Bloodwood custom knife stand with pique work, articulating Tropical Walnut Hardwood Custom Knife stand, articulating

Wenge Millettia laurentii:
Origin: Zaire, Cameroon, Gabon. Pronounced "when-gay" or "when-gee." This is a stunning-looking wood, with very profound light and dark brown bands in the figure. It has high density, but medium strength, and splits very easily, so its use on knife handles must be carefully considered and well executed to prevent splitting. Its texture is coarse, and the pores are open and need sealed well. It has great shock resistance. I like using it in stands, if it doesn't detract from the knife. It's used also in flooring, joinery, turnery, and wood sculpture, boxes, veneers and cabinetwork.
Wenge Exotic Hardwood custom knife stand Wenge Hardwood Sample

Zebrawood Microberlinia brazzavillensis:
Origin: East Africa, the Cameroons and Gabon, but there are a whole assortments of tropical hardwoods called Zebrawood, also in Central and South America. This is a very hard, dense wood with a medium open grain. It's true to its name, with dark brown bands of figure running through a light tan background. Since the grain is somewhat open, it must be well sealed on the knife handle. The wood's appearance lasts and doesn't fade after many years of use. Makes a stunning knife handle, not suitable for smaller handles, as the figure is wide and may not be noticeable. This fine wood is also used for marquetry, inlays, cabinets, furniture, turnery, sculpture, and carvings.

Ziricote Cordia sebestena:
Origin: Florida, West Indies, Central America, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico. Ziricote is a beautiful hardwood, extremely dense and close grained and has often bold and wild figure. It's almost brittle, but that doesn't limit its use, as it takes a high polish and great finish and stays that way on a knife handle. The color ranges from olive brown, medium brown to dark almost black-brown, and often has a "checkerboard" type of figure. It's also used on musical instruments, carvings, fine furniture, animal calls, canes, cabinetry, carvings, sculpture.
Ziricote exotic hardwood khukri knife handle with stainless steel Ziricote custom hardwood knife handle Ziricote exotic hardwood knife handle Ziricote on "Vega" and "Neried" chef's knives

Other local names and synonyms for listed hardwoods:

Note:  This list was put together with my own hours, painstakingly researching and writing each name. This I have done as a service to my tradecraft and art, and not for any personal gain. I do this because there needs to be this resource, for all to see! What you won't see anywhere else is the size and scope of this list, and the links to more descriptions and photographs of these woods used in custom and fine handmade knife projects and accessories. Also, while publications and books will always be of value, there is one thing that they cannot do, and that is to grow. This site, my work, and this very list, links, descriptions, and photographs will continue to grow, and will, simply, outgrow any published list or works. This is the nature and scope of the internet, and I'm glad you are here!

Thanks,
Jay Fisher


Other local names and synonyms for listed hardwoods:
 
Acajou de Cuba: Redheart
Acajou de Dominique: Redheart
African Coralwood: Padauk
African Rosewood: Bubinga
Aguano: Redheart
Akite: Pau Ferro (African)
Akume: Bubinga
Alga: Courbaril
Algarroba: Mesquite
Algarrobo: Courbaril
Allen ele: Zebrawood
Allene: Zebrawood
Amapa: Ipe
Amapa asta: Ziricote
Amapa Prieta:  Ipe
Amarante: Purpleheart
Amaranth: Purpleheart
Amarela: Imbuyia
Amarillo: Arririba (Canary wood)
American Ebony: Persimmon
Amouk: Zebrawood
Amourette: Snakewood
Anacahuite: Ziricote
Andaman Redwood: Padauk
Arizona Ironwood: Ironwood
Asomanini: Pau Ferro (African)
Australian Silky-oak: Lacewood
Awong: Pau Ferro (African)
Awong: Wenge
Azucar Huayo: Courbaril
Babanus: African Blackwood
Bahia Rosewood: Honduran Rosewood
Balaustre: Arririba (Canary wood)
Bannia: Pau Ferro (African)
Bara Bara: Persimmon
Baria: Ziricote
Barwood: Padauk
Bastard Lignum Vitae:Ipe
Beefwood: Lacewood
Bethabara: Ipe
Biti: East Indian Rosewood
Black Acacia: Australian Blackwood
Black American Walnut: Walnut
Black Hickory Nut: Walnut
Boa: Persimmon
Bodark: Bois ď arc
Bombay Blackwood: East Indian Rosewood
Bois de Arc: Bois ď arc
Bois de Gaiac: Lignum Vitae
Bois De Roe D'Afrique: Bubinga
Bois de rose: Tulipwood
Bois de Zebre: Goncalo Alves
Bois Violet: Kingwood
Bokonge: Wenge
Bolivian Rosewood: Pau Ferro (South American)
Bosona: Goncalo Alves
Boto: Pau Ferro (African)
Bourra Courra: Snakewood
Bow wood: Bois ď arc
Branca: Arririba (Canary wood)
Brazilian Cherry: Courbaril (Trade name)
Brazillian Copal: Courbaril
Brazilian Walnut: Imbuyia
Brazilian Walnut: Trade name for Ipe
Buckthorn: Pink Ivory
Bull Oak: Lacewood
Bulletwood: Lacewood
Burokoro: Snakewood
Butter Wood: Persimmon
Buvenga: Bubinga
Cabinet Cherry: Black Cherry
Cacique: Bloodwood
Cacique Carey: Snakewood
Calamader Wood: Macassar Ebony
Camagon: Macassar Ebony
Cameroon Ebony: Ebony
Campeche: Redheart
Camwood: Padauk
Canadian Walnut: Walnut
Canalete: Ziricote
Canaletta: Bucote
Canaletto: Walnut
Canella: Imbuyia
Caoba: Redheart
Caoba de Santo Domingo: Redheart
Caoba dominicana: Redheart
Caobilla: Redheart
Cardinal Wood: Bloodwood
Carreta: Redheart
Caviuna: Pau Ferro (South American)
Caviuna: Cocobolo
Cayenne Copal: Courbaril
Chiculte: Redheart
Choke Cherry: Black Cherry
Cimbe: Pau Ferro (African)
Citron Burl: Thuya Burl
Chamisa: Guayabillo
Cobano: Redheart
Comwood: Padauk
Copal: Courbaril
Corail: Padauk
Coralito: Redheart
Coromandel: Macassar Ebony
Cortex: Ipe
Cuban Mahogany: Redheart
Cupane: Ziricote
Cylil Date Palm: Persimmon
Cyp: Bucote
Demarara Copal: Courbaril
Dikela: Wenge
Dina: Pau Ferro (African)
Dominican Mahogany: Redheart
East Indian Mahogany: Padauk
Ebano Verde: Ipe
Ebenholz: Ebony
Ele: Zebrawood
Embuia: Imbuyia
Eravadi: East Indian Rosewood
Essingang: Bubinga
Faux Hickory: Pecan
Fetid Buckeye: Buckeye Burl
Flor Amarillo: Ipe
Freijo: Ziricote or Bocote
Gaboon Ebony: Ebony
Gandoe: Pau Ferro (African)
Gateado: Redheart
Gateado: Snakewood
Giac Femelle: Lignum Vitae
Gomme Animee: Courbaril
Granadillo: Cocobolo
Greenheart: Ipe
Grenadilla: African Blackwood
Guapinal: Courbaril
Guapinol: Courbaril
Guapinole: Courbaril
Guarabu: Purpleheart
Guayabóón: Guayabillo
Guayacan Blanco: Lignum Vitae
Guayacan Negro: Lignum Vitae
Guayacan: Lignum Vitae
Guayacancillo: Lignum Vitae
Guiana Locust: Courbaril
Hard Maple: Rock Maple
Hedge: Bois ď arc
Hedge Apple: Bois ď arc
Honey Locust: Mesquite
Honey Mesquite: Mesquite
Honeypod: Mesquite
Horse Apple: Bois ď arc
Icoje: Pau Ferro (African)
Imbuia: Imbuyia
Indian Blackwood: East Indian Rosewood
Indian Ebony: Macassar Ebony
Indian Palisander: East Indian Rosewood
Indian Redwood: Padauk
Indian Rosewood: East India Rosewood
Iron Wood: Pau Ferro (South American)
Ironwood: Lignum Vitae
Ironwood: Mesquite
Ironwood®: Trade name for Ipe
Ipe Tabaco:  Ipe
Izerheart: Courbaril
Jacaranda Pardo: Pau Ferro (South American)
Jacaranda Rosa: Tulipwood
Jacaranda: Honduran Rosewood
Jamaica Mahogany: Redheart
Japanese Claro Walnut: Tropical Walnut
Jatai: Courbaril
Jatai Amerelo: Courbaril
Jatai Vermelho: Courbaril
Jatoba: Courbaril
Java Palisander: East Indian Rosewood
Jutaby: Courbaril
Kalaruk: East Indian Rosewood
Kevazingo: Bubinga
Kisasamba: Pau Ferro (African)
Koroboreli: Purpleheart
Kribi Ebony: Ebony
Lapacho: Ipe
Lapacho Negro: Ipe
Laurel: Ziricote
Lechero: Snakewood
Leopard Wood: Snakewood
Letterhout: Snakewood
Letterwood: Snakewood
Locus: Courbaril
Loksi: Courbaril
Loro negro: Ziricote
Louro Faia: Lacewood
Louro pardo: Ziricote
Louro: Bucote
Madagascar Ebony: Ebony
Madera Negra: Ipe
Madiera: Redheart
Mahog: Redheart
Mahogany: Redheart
Malabar: East Indian Rosewood
Maracaibo: Lignum Vitae
Marbre: Courbaril
Mbe: Padauk
Mbil: Padauk
Meranti Bunga: Lauan
Meranti (Light, red, dark red): Lauan
Mibotu: Wenge
Mongo: Redheart
Morado: Pau Ferro (South American)
Morado: Purpleheart
Mozambique Ebony: African Blackwood
Mpingo: African Blackwood
Mucarane: Pink Ivory
Muenge: Padauk
Mufunjo: African Blackwood
Mugembe: African Blackwood
Muirapiranga: Bloodwood
Mukelete: African Blackwood
Mura: Goncalo Alves
Mututi: Padauk
Mututy: Pau Ferro (African)
Nacuata: Pau Ferro (African)
Nadara Rosito: Redheart
Nambar: Cocobolo
Naranjillo: Pau Ferro (African)
Naranjo Chino: Bois ď arc
Nargusta: Guayabillo
Nazareno: Courbaril
Nazereno: Purpleheart
Ndina: Pau Ferro (African)
New England Mahogany: Black Cherry
N'guessa: Pau Ferro (African)
Ngula: Padauk
Nicaraguan Rosewood: Cocobolo
Nigerian Ebony: Ebony
Nogaed: Honduran Rosewood
Northern Silky-oak: Lacewood
Nsakala: Pau Ferro (African)
Nson-so: Wenge
Oken: Pau Ferro (African)
Orura Barrialera: Pau Ferro (African)
Okwen: Zebrawood
Okweni: Bubinga
Osage Orange:Bois ď arc
Ovang: Bubinga
Palisandro de Honduras: Honduras Rosewood
Palissandre du Congo: Wenge
Palmyra: Black Palm
Palo de Fierro: Ironwood
Palo de Hierro: Ironwood
Palo de Oro: Snakewood
Palo Fierro:  Ironwood
Palo Negro: Cocobolo
Palo Rosato: Redheart
Palo Santo: Lignum Vitae
Panga-panga: Wenge
Pau Brazil: Redheart
Pao d' Arco:  Ipe
Pao Rosa: Pau Ferro (African)
Parakusan: Pau Ferro (African)
Pau de fuso: Tulipwood
Pau Lope®: Trade name for Ipe
Pau Preto: Pink Ivory
Pau Preto: Cocobolo
Pau Rosa: Tulipwood
Pau Roxo: Purpleheart
Perawan: Lauan
Peruvian Walnut: Tropical Walnut
Peterebi: Ziricote
Pinkwood: Tulipwood
Philippine Mahogany: Red Lauan
Planch: Lignum Vitae
Pois Confiture: Courbaril
Possum Wood: Persimmon
Princewood: Bucote
Queensland Silky-oak: Lacewood
Quina Roja: Redheart
Red India Ink: Redheart
Red Ivorywood: Pink Ivory
Rifari: Guayabillo
Rio Rosewood: Honduran Rosewood
Rode Locust: Courbaril
Rosa: Arririba (Canary wood)
Rum Cherry: Black Cherry
Saka: Purpleheart
Sakavalli: Purpleheart
Salmwood: Bucote
Sandalo: Tamboti
Sandalo Africano: Tamboti
Sandarac Tree: Thuya Burl
Santos Rosewood: Pau Ferro (South American)
Satine Rubane: Bloodwood
Satine: Bloodwood
Selena: Lacewood
Seraya: Lauan
Shisham: East Indian Rosewood
Silky Oak: Lacewood
Siricote: Ziricote
Solera: Bocote
South American Locust: Courbaril
Spanish Elm: Bocote
Speckled Wood: Snakewood
Stinking Buckeye: Buckeye Burl
Stinking Toe: Courbaril
Sugar Maple: Rock Maple
Sungangona: Pink Ivory
Surinam Greenheart:  Ipe
Sweet Maple: Rock Maple
Tahuari: Ipe
Tambootie: Tamboti
Tambotie: Tamboti
Tananeo: Purpleheart
Tanimbuca: Guayabillo
Tasmanian Blackwood: Australian Blackwood
Temru: Macassar Ebony
Tendu: Macassar Ebony
Tesota:  Ironwood
Texas Ironwood: Mesquite
Thombothi: Tamboti
Tigerwood: Goncalo Alves
Timbruni: Macassar Ebony
Thyine: Thuya Burl
Tomboti: Tamboti
Tshikalakala: Wenge
Tunki: Macassar Ebony
Umgoloti: Pink Ivory
Umnini: Pink Ivory
Urunday-para: Goncalo Alves
Verdolago Blanco: Guayabillo
Vermelha: Arririba (Canary wood)
Vermillion: Padauk
Violet wood: Kingwood
Violetwood: Purpleheart
Violete: Kingwood
Violetta: Kingwood
Violetwood: Purpleheart
Virginia Date Palm: Persimmon
Virginia Walnut: Walnut
Waka: Bubinga
Wamara: Pau Ferro (African)
Wassiba:  Ipe
West Indian Locust: Courbaril
Whiskey Cherry: Black Cherry
White Ebony: Sapwood of Ebony
White Ebony :Persimmon
White Maple: Rock Maple
Wild Cherry: Black Cherry
Yachuspana: Guayabillo
Yomo: Padauk
Yuyúún: Guayabillo
Zebrano: Zebrawood
Zebrawood: Goncalo Alves
Zingana: Zebrawood
Zorrowood: Goncalo Alves
Zunvorre: Tamboti

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