Western Knife Handles

While Japanese Knife handles maintain traditional design, natural materials and offer user replaceability, Western style knife handles can cover the entire spectrum of handle materials, finishes and shapes. Below, Sakai Ichimonji introduces some of the materials, manufacturing processes and finishes commonly used in Western Style Knife handles. We also discuss the benefits and risks of Western style handles in comparison to their Japanese counterparts.

Western Handle Construction and Form

The most classic of Western knife handle construction consists of a blade with a full tang (the steel extends all the way through the handle) with 2 scales, one on either side and rivetted (Silver, Stainless or Brass) together to form a tight fit. This has been and continues to be the dominant construction method for Western Style Kitchen knives, though these days some manufacturers are adopting the hidden tang method, whereby the blade's tang is inserted into a solid block of wood or other material (Similar to Japanese style but with Western Shape.)

Western Knife handles are contoured to fit the hand, unlike Japanese knives where the hand contours to fit the handle. They are also ambidextrous, as opposed to some Japanese handles that are for the right or left hand only.

Benefits of Western Knife Handles

FV-10 Series: Compressed plywood handle with nickel silver brim

The main benefit of a western knife handle construction is the solidarity of the handle. These handles are tough and unlikely to break or split.

They often feel heavier in the hand compared to Japanese handles, which is preferred by many people.

Many people prefer the contouring of western handles, making it easier to grip for long periods of time.

Other benefits depend more on the material used rather than the construction method.

Issues with Western Knife Handles

For some people the extra weight of the handle is a problem, though there are lighter options available in a similar shape.

Western handles are not replaceble and once damaged or water has penetrated the handle, the knife is useless or you need to completely destroy the handle and grind off the rivets to fit something new.

Some people find western style handles less appealing aesthetically and prefer the design of Japanese as they see it as more "natural." This of course is subjective and is up to each individual. Both styles have an immense variety available to them.

Scale Materials

Scales are the two (or sometimes more for complex handle designs) pieces of material that are used to make up the grip of the handle. Traditionally wood was used but more modern forms are utilised nowadays.

Natural Wood: Not very common on production knives, more popular on high end products. The quality and traits can vary depending on the wood. Many German Knife makers now use Olive wood or Walnut, both for beauty and natural resistance to moisture. Water damage is the primary problem with natural woods.

Compressed Wood: Sheets of wood compressed under heat with resin infusion. This makes the wood stronger and resistant to water.

POM/Plastic: Plastic handles are cheap and water resistant, but grip quality and aesthetics suffer.

Resin: Can be any color and molded into any shape, but resin is not good at absorbing impact.

Steel: Popular with chefs in restaurants as it is easy to clean and maintain, steel handle knives need to be weighted inside and finished in such a way to give a good grip without slippage.

Micarta: A popular brand of Compressed Linen and Resin handle, easily shaped and worked with, Micarta is highly water resistant and tough, which is why its used most often on hunting and folding knives.

AUS-6 Petty Knife with Stainless Steel Handle

Stainless Steel Integrated Handle

Stainless Steel Integrated Handle

Micarta Handle

Why choose a Western Knife Handle?

Handle choice comes down to the individual, many traditional Japanese Chefs will use a Japanese style handle and many chefs in Japan that cook French or Italian cuisine for example will choose a Western style handle.

Examples of Knives with Western Style Handle

Compressed plywood handle with brim

Examples of Knives with Japanese Style Handle

Oak Handle

Urushi Finish Handle

Urushi Finish Handle - Accented with Tin and reinforced with brass