What woods should be stabilized?
*: This wood may be stabilized, but the benefits are minimal and the prosses may be abnormally difficult
**: This wood can be stabilized, and benefits from the process, but it may not be strictly necessary for handles or other high use applications
***: This would should be stabilized, it is too soft or too unstable for regular use if left natural
These are my personal recommendations.
Afzelia Xylay**: Afzelia xylocarpa: An incredibly rare wood to see, Afzelia is sometimes used as a high end mahogany substitute. The wood has an attractive red/ gold coloring, but is best known for the amazing figure it can show. Called Xylay, lay, or gator skin figure, the wood can show a deep rippling type of pommel figure that is renowned for high end knives.
The wood itself is also very durable, being roughly .75 g/cm^3 before stabilizing and about 1.12 g/cm^3 after, making it incredibly durable, water resistant and capable of taking a very fine finish. I recommend oiling the wood well before final finishing, as this will boost the contrast of the figured areas.
Golden Acacia**: Acacia Magnium: the forerunner if Koa and Tasmanian blackwood, also called Golden Acacia. Acacia magnium is an even, golden toned with a very fine grain, giving it excellent chatoyency and metallic curl. It's working properties are identical to those of koa or Tasmanian blackwood, it will darken with age to a deep golden color. The wood is very sustainable, it is planted throughout South East Asia to reclaim jungle land. In areas that have been cleared, it is difficult to start native jungle trees as the saplings require shade and cover to become established. To achieve this, Acacia magnium is planted. It grows quickly, and fixes nitrogen to the soil. The cover to provides allows native trees to become established grow. After 15-20 years, the acacia is logged for its valuable timber for use in furniture. Golden Acacia trees exhibit curl far less frequently than koa or Tasmanian blackwood, my sources say that only about 1 in 800 trees shows excellent curl.
High Mountain Acacia**: Acacia Confusa: Also known as Formosan koa or High Mountain Acacia is significantly denser than Acacia magnium, koa or Tasmanian blackwood. It's density lies midway between ringed gidgee and koa. This makes it an incredibly durable wood, with a natural density of about .75 g/cm^3, and a stabilized density of about 1.05 g/cm^3. It takes an unrivaled finish and resists dents and scuffs better than most Acacia. It's curl also shows a very bright metallic glow, as the higher density results in more defined curl.
Tasmanian blackwood and Koa are two of them most commonly thought about acacias for knifemakers. I have even met some people who think of Tasmanian blackwood as the “New” acacia, given that curly koa has been available in the US market for at least 100 years.
But genetically, koa is an offshoot of Tasmanian blackwood. Its believed that modern koa trees started off as Tasmanian blackwood seeds blown or carried across the pacific to the Islands of hawaii, where they evolved and underwent island indemnification, becoming a new species in their isolated island home.
But Tasmanian blackwood itself is a product of this same type of isolation. There are many highly curly, chatoyant and figured acacias found all over S.E asia, India, Indonesia, and especially along the coast of Australia and Tasmania. One of these ancient acais became what we know as Tasmanian blackwood, but my woods similar to it are harvested throughout the mainland and other islands of S.E Asia.
Amboyna**: Pterocarpus indicus: Beautiful coloration, famous for deep vivid red and oranges with snow white sapwood. Ambonya burl is incredibly sough after, with prices being driven up by veneer makers, guitar makers, turners and all manner of wood workers. The burl actually comes from the Narra tree, a humble member of the paduak family. The wood is dense, hard and takes an amazing finish. It has a pleasant smell reminiscent of baked goods. The wood is considered a classic handle wood used on show knives and high end user blades alike.
Narra**: Pterocarpus indicus: The non burl lumber from amboyna, Narra wood has wonderful propertes, it works very well, its strong and stable in use, its deep red color is long lasting and the possible figures are endless. A wonderful choice for a medium/ upmarket wood if you want more color than koa or maple.
Rosewood*: Dalbergia spp: The rosewood Genus spreads across all 3 continents in the tropics, with Central/ south american rosewoods like Kingwood, Cocobolo, and brazilian rosewood, African rosewoods like african Blackwood and the rare Bois De rose, and those from Tropical S.E asia like Siamese rosewood, East indian rosewood and Laotian rosewood.
Siamese Rosewood*: Dalbergia cochinchinensis: Rarely seen in western markets, Siamese rosewood has incredibly beauty and range of color. From deep blood reds streaked through with green an orange, to nearly black and everything in-between, Siamese rosewood is incredibly unique and a rare treat when it becomes available.
Cocobolo*: Dalbergia Retusa: One of the most classic knife handle woods in the west, cocobolo has everything you could want in a handlewood. It is dense, incredibly oily, and the range of colors includes reds, oranges and blacks. Cocobolo is one of the most aggressive rosewoods for people who are senstive, and care must be taken when working it.
African blackwood*: Dalbergia melanoxylon: Technically a rosewood, African blackwood is a great choice. Its more stable than ebony, harder, just as heavy and far more stable and crack resistant. The wood tends to be black with subtle greyish grain running through it that personally, I find much more interesting the solid, featureless black of ebony.
Teak Burl*: Tectona grandis: To many, teak is the most common exotic wood they interact with, its even, oily texture and extreme water resistance make the lumber an excellent choice for high wear or wet areas, but its relatively understated appearance keeps it out of decorative uses. Thats not the case for these Burmese Teak burls, they show incredibly interesting color, chatoyancy and grain folds within the complex pin eyes and layer figure of these blocks. The wood is fairly dense, completely water proof and polishes to a gleaming shine with only a buffing.
Satinwood Burl**: Lagerstroemia spp: Satinwood burl is famous as being one of the most heavily eyed burls in existence, and as you can see the fame is well deserved. Harvested from the jungles of Laos, satinwood has an incredibly fine, lustrous grain that finishes extremely smoothly. Along with its incredibly density of eyes, the wood is naturally highly chatyoent, catching the light and seeming to move as the light around it changes. The color is highly variable, ranging from a light tan to a deep chocolate brown with grey, silver, blue and red flecking being seen in the the fine detail of the eyes.
Maple**: genus Acer: Maple is a longtime favorite of many knife makers because it is incredibly easy to stabilize, work and dye. Maple can have an astounding variety of attributes, with some possessing significant curl, or “folds” that reflect light in unique ways, creating its iconic appearance. This is most often seen in quarter sawn pieces, “those cut radially to the grain” (often called figured). Bird’s eye comprises small circles in the grain resembling the eyes of a burl, though often they do not have the surrounding rings of grain normally found in burls. This almost only occurs in hard maple, while virtually all other types of figure are most prominent in soft maples. Tiger/flame and fiddleback maple both possess very tight curl patterns. Quilted maple has been described as having the appearance of rippling water that gives an overlapping, almost three-dimensional feel. The latter pattern is most often found in the big leaf maple of the Pacific West Coast and is best displayed when flat sawn. Maple also forms huge and sometimes extremely well figured burls. Some of my most unique offerings are sinker Burls. These are burls that have been underwater for many years and have thus formed an array of natural fungal colors. Workability, finishing and durability are excellent, with stabilization by K&G.
Masur Birch**: Betula pendula var. Carelica: One of the rarest woods to find in the states, masur birch is popular throughout Europe and Russia. Masur birch is a genetic mutation of birch trees, generally found among silver birch. It is halfway between a burl and a figured tree, causing the appearance of looping curling figure. There is really no other wood like it. Masur birch generally has a highly figured and medium figured side. Masur works very well for scales, as it removes this issue of asymmetry. Puuko knives have used masur birch for many years, and it is the absolutely classic choice for these knives.
Spalted or punky maple***:
Circassian Walnut**: Juglans regia: One of the most beautiful walnut woods, this Walnut is closely related to classic Turkish walnut, though it is harvested at higher altitudes across the Caucasus mountains. This Higher altitude results in a denser, higher contrast wood as the cold winters produce high contrast early wood grain.The color ranges from a dark chocolate brown to a deep toned gold, with a wide range of figures. The wood has excellent texture, and with stabilizing from K&G is truly an excellent choice for any handle.
Bastonge Walnut Burl**: Juglans x paradox: Also known as Paradox walnut, it is a cross between English/ Circassian walnut and Claro walnut, which produces a strong, hearty tree with very fine grained wood, but very few walnuts. This means it is often planted as the root stock in California walnut growing. The burls formed by Bastonge walnut are very fine grained and heavy, often with interesting color and a mix of eye and curl figure. Bastonge walnut also stabilizes much better than claro walnut, and rarely has sticky spots inside.
Desert ironwood*: Olneya tesota: A classically beautiful wood, and a classic knifemakers wood as well.. Color ranges from golden browns, blonde streaking and sometimes jet black banding. It has a deep glow and charatoncy, making it a supremely attractive wood. Ironwood is perhaps the best knifemaking wood due to its incredibly hardness, resistance to abrasion, beautiful figure and extreme dimensional stability.
Spalted Tamarind***: Tamarindus indica: Spalted tamarind is a fantastic wood, well known for its pale yellows with jet black lines. However, most spalted tamarind is riddled with worm holes, as it is a burrowing beetle that normally allows the ingress of fungus which cause spalting. These blocks however were specially cut to have almost no bug holes. This is a rare thing to find, and the resulting figure and spalt speaks for itself.
Mango***: Mangifera indica: Known for their delicious fruit, mango trees yield a workable, solid and deeply beautiful lumber. The wood color ranges from pale golden white to a toasted brown. It has a high degree of chatoyancy, catching the light and often seeming to glow. The wood can also be incredibly curly or even burled, often forming a beautiful spalt pattern known as black heart mango. The wood’s hardness is in the same range as walnut and koa, and stabilizing yields a highly durable, workable and beautiful product. The wood is also incredibly sustainable, as it is fast growing and widely planted throughout the tropics. It has excellent finishing, workability and stability.
Sugi Cedar***: Cryptomeria japonica: Rarely seen in the U.S, Sugi cedar is incredibly popular in its native japan. Used as a rot resistant wood for carving and instruments, it is often used as an upscale knife handle wood, as it has greater rot resistance than simple ho wood. Figure in Sugi is very rare, but these stock is glowing. The ultra fine grain and lack of pores means sugi can be polished to a stunning finish, and the professional stabilizing means it is durable and completely waterproof. With amazing curl and a storied history, sugi is the first choice for classic Japanese cutlery.
Ebony*: Diospyros spp.
Gaboon ebony: Diospyros crassiflora: The most classic ebony, known for its jet black color, with the occasional carmel or silver streak through it. Gaboon ebony is dense and takes a mirror polish, but the truly black wood is incredibly rare, and the wood is prone to lots of checks during drying.
Black and White Ebony**: Diospyros malabarica: An unusuall and highly unique looking ebony, it ranges fro mam ix of dark browns to the most sought after look, of cream white wood streaked through with ink black lines. Durability in service is excellent, but properly drying and preparing the wood is key, as like all ebonies it is prone to cracks.
Mun Ebony: Diospyros mun: Rarely seen in the west, mun ebony has a very complex streaked appearance, with greens, reds and blacks mixing together with browns and yellows to create a beautiful look. Very dense and durable, again proper preparation is the real key.
Box Elder Burl***: