1. Click here to enter the drawing for your chance to win an Ontario Knives Spec Plus SP8 Machete Survival Knife & Ka-Bar Dozier Folding Hunter, , Bladeforums.com swag or memberships!

    Be sure to read the rules before entering, then help us decide next week's giveaway by hitting the poll in that thread! Entries close at midnight, Saturday Sept 7!

    Once the entries close, we'll live stream the drawing on Sunday, Sept 8 at 5PM Eastern. Tune in to our YouTube channel TheRealBladeForums for a chance to win bonus prizes!

    Questions? Comments? Post in the discussion thread here

Cocobolo Vs. Micarta

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Daniel Moore, Nov 3, 2004.

  1. Daniel Moore

    Daniel Moore

    Jul 28, 2003
    Hey guys,

    I'll be getting a custom fixed blade and although originally I had chosen on Micarta, something in me is pulling for cocobolo. I've never actually held either material, I can imagine what the texture of cocobolo must be, though. Some pictures of micarta make it look like a smooth polymer, others make it look more like G-10. I'm sure there are polishing variations, but can anyone give me a comparison?

    Also, are cocobolo and micarta durable in terms of scratch and dent/ding resistance?

    Edit: Ideally, I'm looking for a scale material with the following:

    Durability and longevity
    A smooth but not too slippery texture
     
  2. Kohai999

    Kohai999 Second Degree Cutter

    Jul 15, 2003
    Micarta is a layered phenolic counter top material engineered by Westinghouse in the 1950's. It was/is also used in applications for the military all the way to, and including, speaker cabinet material in high end hi-fi speakers.
    It comes/has been made in black, green, burgundy, white, tan and brown as the predominantly available colors. It can be made from paper(least desired for knife handles) canvas, linen and burlap as the alternating layers. It is very tough and looks good (if you care for the pattern after it is ground). It finishes nicely bead blasted, satin or mirror polished. Each treatment leaves a different texture. I like a mirror polishing AFTER bead blasting because on many knives it can give you a damascus like shimmer, almost, but not quite.
    If you scratch it, you can refinish it easily, but it is not particularly easy to scratch either. It would not be considered high end for a knife(unless Jose DeBraga carved it or something), but is perfect for a using piece.

    Cocobolo is a South American Hardwood. A lot of it comes here from Costa Rica. It has some EXCEEDINGLY fine grain and patterns. It is an oily wood, and is prone to shrinkage. I have quite a few knives that have shrinking scales, but they are beautiful. It is kind of a bummer though, to watch a knife slowly self destruct before your eyes.

    Cocobolo dust is one of the singularly most irritating, semi-toxic substances that a knifemaker can potentially handle. Cocobolo dust affects the nasal passages, lungs and skin of the maker. I have ground it, and I like the smell, but it can be a bit much-must wear respirator, and even that sometimes won't help It also darkens with use. That is also a major drawback.

    I like kingwood, desert ironwood, stabilized buckeye/boxwood/thuya burl. Also ebony and lignum vitae, but they are expensive, have no grain whatsoever, and ebony would be the least desireable on this list for durability, as it has a fair tendency to check, which is kind of a crack.

    For all around, it's hard to find fault with the current generation of stabilized wood. It's not that much more expensive, either, maybe $15.00 or so.

    Best Regards,

    Steven Garsson
     
  3. Temper

    Temper

    Oct 30, 2002
    Cocobolo is the way to go, its almost glows and you just have to touch it. No doubt Micarta is tougher but would you wear canvas underpants? :D :footinmou

    Once its been stabilized I would think its pretty good. Failing that Desert Ironwood is as pretty.
     
  4. Alpha Knife Supply

    Alpha Knife Supply Always Innovating Dealer / Materials Provider

    Oct 14, 1998
    For durability and longevity you cannot beat micarta or G10.

    Cocobolo is almost impossible to stabilize due to its natural oil content. Finding highly figured cocobolo is getting harder every year. The new wood is grown on plantations and has straight grain. One last bad point, cocobolo will also darken over time unless treated with a good uv protectant. However, highly figured cocobolo adds beauty to almost any knife.
     
  5. Mongo

    Mongo

    Nov 5, 2001
    (sorry, can't resist...) Yes, yes I would wear canvas underpants. Much more comfortable than cocobolo underpants. ;)
     
  6. Temper

    Temper

    Oct 30, 2002
    ROTFLMAO Nice! :D
     
  7. Bob W

    Bob W

    Dec 31, 2000
    I prefer natural materials for knife handles, but I think Micarta is more durable. For me, the decision would depend on the knife design/style. Something high-tech, military, or futuristic and I'd go with micarta. If it's a traditional folding or hunting knife, and I'd pick wood, stag, bone, or something natural.

    Your choice.

    Best Wishes,
    -Bob
     
  8. Daniel Moore

    Daniel Moore

    Jul 28, 2003
    I'm still leaning to cocobolo. I'm not worried about darkening, just the contracting and expanding with regard to cracking. I'm not sure how much to expect, or how much of a problem this should be. I'm sure it depends on the individual treatments of the maker. I'm also considering olivewood.
     
  9. Matt Shade

    Matt Shade

    Nov 24, 1999
    I have a large hunter (5" blade, almost 5" handle) that has thick cocobolo scales, treated with danish oil. Its been laying on a work bench in my basement for a good 6 months waiting on a little touch up work and a sheath. The scales have not shrunk or expanded a bit, despite the fact that they went from the hot humid shop to the cool dry basement for finishing. I don't think anything but the most extreme conditions are going to make any noticeable change.
    There's another little desk/utility knife in a tool box down there, that IIRC is also cocobolo but it might be rosewood. I'd have to go look. Anyhow, they are pretty similar woods and it is also treated with danish oil. Its been there for over a year now with no change.

    I really don't think you'll have any problems with cocobolo unless your planning on something like taking it into the water with you (rafting, swimming, fishing etc.) or having it out in the rain and not getting it dry for a long time. Its some amazingly hard,tough wood. Micarta on the other hand is nearly invincible, so if you want to be really really hard on it....... :D
     
  10. yuzuha

    yuzuha

    914
    Oct 25, 2004
    There is a typical sample of cocobolo on this page
    http://www.eisenbran.com/OurGallery.htm
    I picked up a hunk of it when my friend took her father to a woodworker's supply store about 15 years ago. Thought it was pretty and hard so I could carve a little ankh for a necklace out of it. AAGGH. Had to cut the stuff with a hack saw! It is hard, has a high silica content, it laughs at carving knives and I even destroyed a couple of dremol burrs and a saw on it without making much of a dent. Finally wound up using a ruby grindstone on the stuff before giving up. Talked to a guy who made pens out of the stuff and he said it turns nicely on a lathe and sands beautifully... that I did try, and it has so much oil in it that you can hit it with some 1000 grit paper and it looks like it was laquered (which is good because even varnish will not stick to it.. about all you can do is wax it). Still have a 12x1.75x.25 hunk of the stuff in my junk drawer (don't think it shrank any, but it is still just as hard and nasty and beautiful as ever).

    Tried carving on padauk once... hasn't got much grain but is a pretty red-orange and about like walnut to work... except it kills your lungs (those tropical trees cooked up a mess of insecticidal oils that'll leave you wheezing for six months... definitely wear a mask when working with any of those woods!)
     
  11. Ratcoon

    Ratcoon

    43
    Sep 30, 2004
    It can be made from paper(least desired for knife handles) canvas, linen and burlap as the alternating layers. It is very tough and looks good (if you care for the pattern after it is ground). It finishes nicely bead blasted, satin or mirror polished. Each treatment leaves a different texture. I like a mirror polishing AFTER bead blasting because on many knives it can give you a damascus like shimmer, almost, but not quite.
    If you scratch it, you can refinish it easily, but it is not particularly easy to scratch either. It would not be considered high end for a knife(unless Jose DeBraga carved it or something), but is perfect for a using piece.

    Hi.

    Why is paper least desired. Some have said that paper looks very good on a satin finish knife. I understand that paper is the least durable, is that the reason?

    Thanks in advance
     
  12. cerulean

    cerulean

    May 26, 1999
    Micarta is one of my favorite handle materials. It's difficult to explain why, but it has a really nice "feel" to it. G10 feels a bit different.

    It seems like there's variation in the look of cocobolo. Some examples have really beautiful patterns, but sometimes it's kinda boring.
     
  13. Kohai999

    Kohai999 Second Degree Cutter

    Jul 15, 2003
    has a tendency to delaminate if dropped. The other types of Micarta do not. Also the pattern development is more interesting with the fabric types of micarta. It is not that paper micarta sucks by any means, at all. It is just that of the four types mentioned, it was the least preferable.

    Regards,

    STeven Garsson
     
  14. Daniel Moore

    Daniel Moore

    Jul 28, 2003
    The micarta I would be getting would be canvas micarta, by the way.
     
  15. Matt Shade

    Matt Shade

    Nov 24, 1999
    Canvas micarta is generally more coarse, from what I have seen and does not show the layers as well as linen. It almost indectructible and very grippy the way most folks finish it. I don't know if it can even be finished as smooth as linen or paper based micarta due to the coarseness of the canvas.
    Cocobolo on the other hand is usually polished up a lot more and will feel very smooth. I personally don't like making a handle grippy by putting a coarse finish on it anyway. If its shaped right, it will fit your hand and not go anywhere.
    So I guess the question comes down to whether or not you like a smooth or coarse handle (not extremely coarse, similar to bead blasted G10 I guess) and whether you want it to look nice (cocobolo IMHO) or just be able to really take a beating (micarta), I mean really cause cocobolo is tough stuff.
     
  16. Danbo

    Danbo Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Nov 28, 1999
    If you're thinking about a full, exposed tang, I would opt for the canvas micarta. The cocobolo would be a little nicer looking, but it WILL shrink to the point where you feel the tang. This shrinkage occurs pretty quickly sometimes, depending on where you live.
     
  17. Daniel Moore

    Daniel Moore

    Jul 28, 2003
    I guess strength means more to me than visual appearance, but I'm assuming cocobolo is pretty hard in its own right. I'm ordering the knife from Brian Goode, and his micarta and cocobolo handles are both great looking as far as finish as well as ergonomics.

    [​IMG]

    Those are my two options, though for comforts sake I may remove the butt of the micarta (top) one, as nice as I think the cutout looks.
     
  18. Matt Shade

    Matt Shade

    Nov 24, 1999
    He's been posting a lot in shoptalk and seems to know what he's doing finishing cocobolo. All the pics he posts look great. I would get the cocobolo, you know you want too :D It really is unbeleivably hard wood. You really can't begin to understand these exotic woods until you handle them. They make your average peice of maple or oak look like pine and generally have enough oil in them that they require little finishing.
    Over the years, you might put a coat of oil on it from time to time to maintain its appearance and keep it from drying out on you. Thats mostly if it gets wet frequently though as thats the fasted way to take its natural oil out of it.
     
  19. yuzuha

    yuzuha

    914
    Oct 25, 2004
    That's for sure! I found it was more like trying to carve marble, though it does sand nicely. Craft people who use it have told me that it works well on a lathe though does tend to dull power tools (not as bad as ebony) so carbide bits would probably be better to use on it. And, I've have read that it is favored for knives because it can withstand the dishwasher treatment much better than typical rosewood handles (all wood will shrink a bit but it has one of the lowest shrinkages I could find in the wood property tables:
    Bending Strength 8229 9866 psi
    Crushing Strength 4374 3414 psi
    Density 63 lbs/ft3
    Hardness 1113 lbs
    Maximum Crushing Strength 4119 5660 psi
    Static Bending 5056 7883. psi
    Stiffness 911 1029 1000 psi
    Specific Gravity 0.74 1.02
    Weight 61 54 lbs/ft3
    Radial Shrinkage 2 %
    Tangential Shrinkage 4 %
    Volumetric Shrinkage 6 %
    Once dried it has a an extremely low moisture absorption rate).
     

Share This Page