With so many knife options, how do you begin to consider which knife will best suit you? When buying a knife, the blade and the handle are two factors in question. While the blade is what makes a knife, the handle is equally as crucial, as that’s what you are in contact with the most (hopefully). From titanium and micarta to G-10 and steel, how do you determine the best knife handle material? While all the materials listed above are excellent, aluminum separates itself from the pack with how versatile it can truly be.
Why Are So Many Knife Handles Made of Aluminum?
With a plethora of options to choose from for a knife handle, why go with aluminum? Why do companies even choose aluminum when making knife handles? One of the main reasons for both questions is the cost. It is cost-effective to manufacture and cost-effective to buy. While the knife community debates the usefulness of aluminum handles, companies like Microtech continue to make excellent knives with aluminum handles. Aluminum has many benefits that make it a must-have knife handle, from alloys and anodization to weight and cost.
Pros & Cons of Aluminum Handles
Aluminum is one of the top three most common metals in the Earth’s crust. Today, aluminum is everywhere because of its ability to be harnessed and applied, from airplanes to cellphones to knives. This makes aluminum knife handles a perfect and inexpensive alternative to other materials.
Though steel is more robust than aluminum, aluminum has a better strength-to-weight ratio, only comprising a third of the weight of steel. This is extremely important for your knife because you are looking for a tool that won’t weigh you down or tire you out with use.
When exposed to air, a layer of aluminum oxide forms almost instantaneously on the surface of the aluminum. This layer has excellent corrosion resistance and is practically impervious to water. Aluminum as your knife handle means you can use it in any weather or outdoor condition without worry.
The addition of alloying elements like manganese, silicon, copper, and magnesium to your aluminum handle can increase the strength properties of aluminum and produce an alloy with properties tailored to applications. Alloying is done to increase strength and corrosion resistance, making it superior to raw aluminum.
Aluminum does a fantastic job of retaining heat or cold. When subject to either of these climates for an extended period, it may result in the knife becoming too hot or too cold to handle.
Like most metals, aluminum can feel slick to the touch. To overcome this, most aluminum we interact with will have a liquid grip or textured paint to prevent being slippery. Milling out jimping or grooves in the handle is an option that adds much-needed grip without changing the appearance of the aluminum.
When steel is shaped or dented, it will remember its prior form and can be easily molded to take its previous condition. Aluminum is the opposite; once it is dented or reformed, it will forget its original shape and take on a deformed shape.
Common Aluminum Alloys Used
To determine the best type of aluminum alloy for a knife handle, it’s best to understand the difference between aluminum and aluminum alloys. As previously mentioned, aluminum is an abundant material in the Earth’s crust. Aluminum alloy combines aluminum and various other elements such as copper, magnesium, manganese, silicon, tin, nickel, and zinc.
Aluminum alloys are identified in seven categories.
- 1000 Series: Purest aluminum and requires 99% aluminum.
- 2000 Series: Mixed with copper.
- 3000 Series: Mixed with manganese and is very moldable and heat-treatable.
- 4000 Series: Mixed with silicon.
- 5000 Series: Mixed with magnesium and has high tensile strength.
- 6000 Series: Mixed with magnesium and silicone and is used in creating most aluminum alloy knife handles/scales.
- 7000 Series: Mixed with zinc.
The most common type of aluminum used today for a knife handle is the T6-6061 alloy which has tremendous tensile strength. The T type has ten different variants, each designated by a number (1-10). The number designations represent how the material was heat-treated, cold worked, and aged to reach a stable condition.
Here are some of our favorite aluminum alloy knives!
The CRKT Dew Hara Raikiri Field Strip Knife is constructed with ADC12 aluminum handles and combines aluminum, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nickel, silicon, tin, and zinc. Designed in Seki, Japan by renowned knifemaker Dew Hara, this knife is a standout addition to any collection. The modified Wharncliffe style blade and utilitarian handle lines provide a dramatic look.
The Boker Plus Strike Bowie Automatic Knife goes above and beyond to beat competitors’ prices. The Strike is a superb tactical knife that comes in several sizes, colors, and styles. There is a perfect Strike model to put in any pocket with its lightweight and durable aluminum handle.
The Pro-Tech Runt 5 Wharncliffe Automatic Knife makes a perfect lightweight knife thanks to its primarily aluminum build. The handle is small, well-shaped, and comfortable to fit the hands. Milled texture on both sides and the back of the handle allows for a grip that you can wield in any manner. Though it’s small, the Runt 5 is a capable tool with a secure grip.
The Benchmade Bugout AXIS Lock Knife Aircraft Aluminum is constructed from 6061-T6 aluminum, the purest alloy of aluminum presented thus far. Benchmade understands knives and materials, so when they release a simple aluminum handle, they are sure to provide unique milling for grip and look!
Anodizing creates a stable aluminum oxide layer chemically inseparable from the underlying aluminum. This layer is tougher and more substantial than raw aluminum, meaning it will do well against everyday wear and tear. Anodized aluminum has the benefits of being incredibly durable, corrosion-resistant, and highly-aesthetic surface.
There are three main types of aluminum anodizing processes.
- Type I – Chromic Acid Anodizing: Utilizes chromic acid to create the aluminum oxide film. This film is non-conductive and appears grayish when dyed.
- Type II – Sulfuric Acid Anodizing: Utilizes sulfuric acid. This anodization absorbs dyes, paints, and adhesives of various colors, which can be used to create unique appearances. This film is thicker and non-conductive.
- Type III – Hard Anodizing: Utilizes sulfuric acid but at a higher voltage, stronger current, and lower temperature to produce a coating for extreme use and wear. It produces a very thick and porous oxide film and will turn black.
Here are some of our favorite anodized aluminum knives!
The James Brand The Elko Slip Joint Keychain Knife is constructed with a Cerulean Blue anodized aluminum handle; perfect for attaching to a hiking backpack or for easy carrying around every day. The anodized handle offers that pop of color to ensure this small knife stands out!
The Kershaw Launch 11 Exclusive Automatic Knife is constructed with a black anodized 6061-T6 aluminum handle. At just 2.10 oz. this is a definite lightweight knife to add to your collection. With precise milling and cutouts, this knife has quite an ergonomic grip that feels great in the hands.
The LionSteel Emerson L.E.One Karambit Folding Knife is constructed with an integral aluminum frame (single piece of metal), offering the best of both worlds when it comes to aluminum; precise milling on the handle for grip and green anodization for protection and that pop of color! This is a must-have karambit for your EDC collection!
The Microtech UTX-70 S/E Drop Point OTF Automatic Knife is constructed with a pink hard coat anodized 6061-T6 aluminum alloy handle. While this knife is offered in a variety of colors, pink stands out like none other! Too tough for pink? Think again when you wield this tactical automatic Microtech.
Proper Care for Aluminum Handles
Maintaining your knife is the key to having a tool that will last you lifetimes and is a lot easier to clean than you might think. Everyday cleaning may be excessive for most knife carriers, but cleaning it at least once a week will get the dirt, oils, and grime off your knife and keep it looking and feeling great!
Without proper cleaning, maintenance, and finishing, your prized knife could wither away as time goes on. As mentioned above, aluminum can be incredibly great as a lightweight knife, but if not correctly cared for, over time, will accumulate dirt and oils.
For those occasions when you start seeing discolorations, heavy wear, and persistent stains, easily clean and polish your knife with one of our three recommended products!
Other Types of Metal Handles & Comparison
The Kansept Knives Accipiter offers a model with different handle variations. With minor differences, the Kansept Accipiter is a good base to understand how aluminum compares to other metals. Check out these three Kansept Accipiters.
|Kansept Knives Mini Accipiter Aluminum Frame Lock Knife||2.40 oz.||35,000 PSI*||$65.80|
|Kansept Knives Accipiter Titanium Frame Lock Knife||4.50 oz.||34,809 PSI||$194.60|
|Kansept Knives Accipiter Copper Frame Lock Knife||5.16 oz.||30,458 PSI||$215.60|
One of the significant differences we see with the aluminum knife is the cost comparison between the three models. This specific aluminum model is one-third of the cost compared to the other two. Though the aluminum Kansept’s durability* is higher than the other models, this can vary with certain alloys and anodization while maintaining a lightweight and cost-efficient construction.
Overall, aluminum as a knife handle has many benefits; alloys, anodization, weight, and cost are the most predominant. Combining all these attributes offers a reliable knife handle and one that you can genuinely make yours with so many customization options.
Here at Blade HQ, we enjoy learning, teaching, and understanding everything about knives. Ultimately, the best way to understand aluminum is to experience it yourself. Check out the many aluminum-handled knives we have! With so many options, finding one to add to your collection is easier than you think.