What is Micarta? – More than just plastic

Micarta is a material commonly used on knife handles. But it is often shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. I remember when I first started looking into knives, I had no idea what it was. Everywhere I looked had a different meaning, every time I looked up “what is micarta?” I got more confused.

After many years of research, and many nights without sleep I have finally come up with the answer. In simple terms micarta is a type of material that is commonly used for handles. It has many advantages over the traditional wood, plastic, rubber, or metal handles. Well after you’ve read this, feel free to run away, or you can stick around and I will go into a bit more detail on the topic.

This article will cover the following points:

  1. Structure and material
  2. Uses
  3. Advantages and disadvantages
  4. Similar materials

Structure and Material – The very basics


A fixed blade pocket knife manufactured by Herberts, it has a black micarta handle.

Micarta in essence is just many layers of base materials smushed together, then impregnated and held together by resin.

Traditionally the resin is phenolic resin, however these days you’ll see epoxy very commonly as well.

The base material can be quite varied, some common ones include cloth (e.g. linen or canvas), paper or even wood.

Putting that all together. In order to create micarta, all you do is create many layers of the base material (e.g. linen). Impregnate the linen with a resin (e.g. epoxy), then lay layers upon layers of your base material until you got your desired thickness.

Now all you do is keep the newly created micarta under pressure (Just get some G clamps and a piece of wood) and let it cure. After some time you’ll have a piece of micarta to play with.

The structure is called a laminate. It is also known as a composite material, meaning it is made up of different substances (i.e. resin and linen).

Uses – Straightforward


Knife scales…. Micarta is used for knife handle and knife scales. That’s what we are concerned with isn’t it? They are extremely popular as knife handles because they can do the job well.

I don’t even know why I included this section.

For those curious ones, micarta was actually invented for electrical insulation and other electrical purposes by George Westinghouse. Present day, it is still very useful for electrical insulation, but it diversified a lot. You can find it on spaceships, planes and cars as well!

Advantages and disadvantages


AdvantagesDisadvantages
- Durable
- Comfortable
- A lot of variety
- Water and shock resistant
- Common
- Release toxic fumes during production grinding
- Variability and manufacturer specification

Starting off with the advantage, it is TOUGH! This is very commonly known. Resin itself is very durable, but reinforced by the base material, micarta can take anything you throw at it. It is also shock resistant.

There is a lot of variety, in terms of both color and structure, it will be easy to find a micarta handle that you like. Depending on how the handle is processed you’ll also see different patterns too.

Micarta has a natural rough texture, it can be comparable to wood but you do not have to worry about warping or water damage with micarta. The rough texture also provides an easy grip. I’ve also noticed that unlike metal, micarta remains relatively warm even when the environment is freezing.

Looking at the disadvantages, it is really hard to come up with any. Personally, I like the look of the wooden handles more, I just can’t look past the wooden grains. So personal preference really comes in here.

When creating your own micarta, the resin that you grind off is actually toxic, while it does disappear over time keep this point in mind.

The final point here is surprisingly due to micarta’s variability. Micarta handles may actually feel different depending on the base material. You may have your favorite base material, but some manufacturers may not actually specify it, which is an issue when it comes to purchasing.

Recommended knives


A fixed blade pocket knife made by fiddleback forge, it is called the bushfinger. It has a brown natural micarta handle.

 

There are many options out there but I will recommend a knife with a micarta handle that you may not have seen before. Introducing Fiddleback forge!

Fiddleback forge are known to create quality hand made knives that use micarta handles.

For example, this Bushfinger. It has a good reputation in the knife community, and is one of the first knives designed by Andy Roy. This very model here features a natural micarta handle. Feel free to click on here or the image to go check them out!

The bottom line


Micarta is a very common material used for knife scales and knife handles. It is known to be durable and can take anything you throw at it. If you’ve never used a micarta handle before, it is definitely worth it to get a knife and check it out.

Hopefully you were able to learn something new and this article was able to help you. If you have any questions feel free to leave them down below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

 

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