Micarta: A Do-Everything Handle Material


Micarta Is One Of Many Materials Used For Blade Handles. Used For More Than A Century, Micarta Continues To Be Incredibly Popular.

Micarta is not a new material, in fact, it has been used for over 100 years. Unlike naturally-occurring materials, Micarta offers properties other materials don’t. We’re going take a look at what Micarta is and what makes it probably the best material available for making knife handles today. 

What Is Micarta?

Micarta is the name of a commercially-owned product, and isn’t just a generic material. Micarta is a durable type of composite made of a base material suspended in epoxy resin. Norplex Inc. owns the trademark on the term.

The material is compressed under heat and is classified as a thermoset product. The main name associated with the invention of Micarta is George Westinghouse. During his life, Westinghouse never stopped creating new things, and the first developments of what we know now as Micarta occurred somewhere between 1900 and 1910. 

Because of the way that Micarta is made, it has extensive applications for insulation in electrical systems. It is unknown when this material became a popular knife handle option, but it is safe to say it’s never been more popular than today. Like many materials of the era, such as Bakelite and Celluloid, Micarta found its way into craft use.

How Is Micarta Made?

It’s hard to pin down Micarta. In the old days, fabric and paper were used as the base material, but today we have a wide variety of other types that exist, including carbon fiber and glass. Knife handles are actually a fairly narrow category of end-use for Micarta.

The process by which Micarta is made is relatively simple. Materials are soaked in whatever type of thermoset is going to be used, and, once impregnated by the resin, it is subjected to intense heat and pressure which causes a sheet to be formed. Decades ago, Micarta was also made in large blocks. 

These large blocks are a favorite for revolver grips and other large, three-dimensional forms. There are people that shop garage sales and estate auctions looking for fixtures or items made using these older types of Micarta. The most prized is a type of paper Micarta that is about the closest thing to elephant ivory in terms of texture and color that grip makers can get.

Who Uses Micarta?

Mini knife makers that work with the material end up ordering large quantities to their specifications. Smaller companies tend to work with what is available through existing supply chains, which is a large reason why you end up seeing very similar colors across the board. 

It is possible to get Micarta in custom colors and textures, though you may have to spend thousands to get it. If you find that you are looking to put a nice handle on a knife, it is a good idea to call around and see if any companies have scrap that they are willing to sell.

Micarta Vs. G-10

True Micarta is not the same thing as G-10 or other types of thermoset laminates. Many people tend to use the terms interchangeably, but in a strict manner of speaking, true Micarta will be made using paper, burlap, canvas, or linen set in resin. G-10 is different in that uses glass cloth, a type of material made from carbon fiber filaments. 

Micarta is usually heavier than G-10 and carbon fiber laminates, but, in terms of knife handles, the difference is negligible and is not too far apart from the weight of standard hardwoods. Bakelite, while common on a tremendous number of products and weapons, isn’t the same type of material as Micarta even though it occupied many of the same roles. 

Comparing Micarta To Other Handle Materials

As Micarta has become more popular, more companies have offered it as an option, but sometimes incorrectly. A true Micarta material is not quite as durable as G-10, but it is going to hold up better than wood or leather. G-10 is an essentially absorption-proof material. Most handle materials out there, Micarta included, will absorb a degree of water, sweat, or blood. 

Though it is unlikely to permanently stay in the material, it is recommended you keep Micarta clean. Usually, hot soap and water does the trick, and, while you can get oil on it, expect it to stain a bit. This has to do with the fact that the materials in Micarta are either paper or fabric, and many of these materials are exposed, though fully impregnated by resin.

Wood handles are subject to small problems, and if installed incorrectly, they can split or crack quite easily. Wooden handles are not especially great for heavy outdoor tasks, such as chopping or batoning. Wood also has the problem of absorbing ambient moisture. In especially humid environments, handles can swell and crack on the pins. Micarta has no grain in the way that wood does, although it is typically applied to knives along its length.

When comparing Micarta to carbon fiber it comes down to durability and weight savings. Carbon fiber is not an especially durable material, though it is very lightweight. As far as knife handles go, carbon fiber is excellent for inlays and panels, though it is not as good of a material for making full scales. When compared directly to Micarta or G-10, carbon fiber is harder to shape and is more difficult to apply a working textured finish. 

Best Knives With Micarta Handles

Linen and canvas Micarta is my hands-down favorite material for knife handles. The reason I find these types of Micarta the best is that they provide the greatest degree of function in the hardest environments. I like G-10, but I have found it too slippery across the board when covered in blood and fat out hunting and it becomes ice cold to the touch very quickly. While it is a very durable material, it feels much more like plastic than Micarta and, for lack of a better way of saying it, never develops the character like wood, leather, or Micarta. 

Linen or canvas Micarta offers the texture I want on a grip across the board, and I have put several products through an insane amount of daily use without any negative effects. Each of these knives I list here I have used for months or years, and I can strongly recommend them. 

Winkler Utility Knife

winkler utility knife

The utility knife was the first Winkler I ever owned, and it is still a constant companion. I have used this knife extensively for everything from opening paint cans and cutting heavy-duty straps to prying apart pallets and even building out countertops and interior demolition. 

I have logged hundreds of hours with this knife in hand and it has been extremely comfortable the entire time. The green Micarta handle has held up extremely well, though it now has some gouges from use. It is not on the cheap side, retailing at $450, but it has been worth every penny. 

Case/Winkler No.6

case winkler #6

A collaborative project between Case Knives and Winkler, the recurve utility No.6 is a heavy-duty knife built for some of the hardest projects. I have taken this knife with me out to the field and have also lent it out as a skinning knife for deer hunting. 

Due to its deep, recurve belly it is exceptional for chopping tasks and is just as good in the kitchen as it is blasting through small limbs. While no longer available on the Case website, my version has a tan canvas Micarta grip and it has held up exceptionally well. While it’s not contoured exactly to my hand as I have experienced with knives direct from Winkler, it feels good in its own right and will provide a lifetime of use. The MSRP is $430. 

White River Knife And Tool FC7

White River FC7

An extremely attractive, large knife, the FC7 is my go-to hunting knife for deer. While it may seem like a large knife, my experience in the field has taught me that it is probably the best big-game knife money can buy today. It is gorgeous to look at and the orange liners on the green Micarta definitely add to it. I see no reason why I will not continue to get years and years of use out of this product. The MSRP on the FC7 is $330.

White River Knife And Tool Exodus 4

White River Exodus 4

The Exodus 4 is the knife that I use in the kitchen every day for almost all tasks. It is probably the most washed knife on this list. It has been constantly exposed to soap, oil, and all other manner of kitchen materials. It makes an excellent carrot peeler using the square edge of the spine. 

My version has black Micarta panels, and they have held up extremely well to the constant washing and use. This knife and its grip have arguably been exposed to more caustic materials across-the-board than any of the other products, it was even put through the dishwasher several times by accident. The Exodus 4 is easy to hold even while in the direst of kitchen nightmares. The MSRP is $175.

ESEE Camp Lore RB3

ESEE Camp Lore RB3

The knife itself had some shortcomings. The steel is sharp but requires maintenance, and it is not very resistant to blood. My original version of this knife has been discontinued, Esee has a dimensionally identical, but cosmetically different, version for sale now. The MSRP on that knife is $190. 

I don’t remember what the Camp Lore version cost many years ago, but it has held up to my abuse. The grip panels are Micarta, and they have seen more than their fair share of punishment. The blade shape was less than ideal for working on four or five deer in a night, and I quickly learned my lesson and moved to a bigger knife. I will say that in the years that I used this knife, it was a good friend for the field, and I look forward to passing it on to my kids when they are older.

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