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Mar 12, 2009 12:52 PM

Best way to finish knife handle

After reading the wonderful, erudite, responses on this website, I have to buck up my courage to post this question. I recently purchased a Chinese cleaver-type implement – picture below. The problem is that the handle is completely untreated and I hate to use bare wood in the kitchen. I do not have any varnish, but I do have a bottle of wood glue. Would there be any problem down the road if I painted the handle with wood glue? I keep my knives dry, and always clean them immediately after use. I would welcome a better suggestion.

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  1. As soon as I get a new knife, or other kitchen item, with a wooden handle, I use mineral oil (FOOD GRADE). I put on as many coats as necessary with a paper towel or soft cloth, until the handle is saturated. Maybe 3 or 4 coats. Let sit for a while to absorb all of the oil, wipe off any excess and it is finished. Every so often if the handle looks like it is getting dry, repeat the procedure. Once it has absorbed the oil, it is not the least bit sticky and you won't even know it is there. It not only protects the wood, but it gives it a deeper finish.

    You don't have to pay a fortune in a cookware shop - drug stores carry it and it is much cheaper.

    1. Coat the handle with super-glue. Be very careful not to touch it while wet or you will become one with your knife :-)
      The super-glue will soak into the pores of the handle and dry quite quickly. I would wait and hour though, and then sand smooth with fine sandpaper.
      It will be water-proof forever after.

      1. You can get a can of Minwax for a couple bucks. I think that would work better than glue for finishing wood.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Jennifer_B

          The minwax sits on top and will eventually wear off. The crazy glue soaks into the pores like crazy :-)

        2. You could have bought one with a metal handle. Worried about germs from bare wood cross contaminating food?
          I see the wooden handle clevers at Chinese take out places and from day one they've probably never been finished. Except for the day to day accumulation of food grease from all kinds of meat. For the $15 or so it cost you, just wash and dry it before you put it away. After 25 years mine still looks good.

          2 Replies
          1. re: monku

            No, I couldn't. I got it from someone in Hawaii on E-bay and did not have a choice. Personally, I like the black delrin? handles best.

            1. re: Apricotjello

              Don't think I've ever seen a Chinese clever with a black delrin handle.


              Window shopping San Francisco Chinatown one day I ran across this place called The Wok Shop. They do mail order and had a nice assortment of different Chinese cooking supplies.


              Wok Shop
              718 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA

          2. Mineral oil will be fine. It doesn't even need to be food grade unless you plan to hold the blade and use the handle to tenderize meat or something like that. If you truly and faithfully keep your knives dry you don't need to do anything at all.

            I have no idea what you might use that monster for, but it's really cool looking, so please don't screw it up by putting glue or on the handle. And go easy on the oil. As Canthespan says, wipe off the excess after while, which for me is about 2 minutes, and wait a day between oilings. Soaking wood in oil is not as bad as soaking in water, but it can result in warping and maybe even cracking if you overdo it. You might want to re-oil (just one coat) 2 or 3 times a year, or maybe not. If there's an IKEA near you, they sell food grade mineral oil pretty cheap. They call it "Skydd". Get it? Oil...skid. Clever.

            ps - a lot depends on the type of wood. I have an inexpensive 12 year old boning knife with a hickory handle that gets oiled maybe once a year and it's in fine shape.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Zeldog

              I agree, mineral oil is fine. Better still may be food-grade tung oil.

              I have never had wood split due to immersion in oil - not saying it cannot, just that it hasn't happened to me. Are you sure about the warping? The oil should not cross the cell wall barrier.

              1. re: Paulustrious

                I hate to sound dumb, but what is the cell wall barrier??? I have been using mineral oil all the way up to the blade, including where the wood meets the knife. I probably have crossed it - so what harm if any have I done?

                1. re: Canthespam

                  None at all. It's just that warping of wood is caused caused by moisture crossing the (dead) cell walls. The expansion is only 'horizontal'. (ie wood expands in its width when its moisture content increases, not its length) I didn't think (BICBW) that water between the cells could cause warping. I also didn't think mineral oil could enter dead xylem cells causing differential expansion and hence warping.

                  The above is my speculative belief, but I am happy to be shown I'm wrong.

                  1. re: Paulustrious

           jump to conclusions and panic over things I know nothing about ...NEVER

                    1. re: Paulustrious

                      Hello, Paul and thank you for starting the wood expansion clarification. You correctly identify the xylem cells. Wood xylem cells are built like long straws, as conduits for water and nutrients. Timber is dried by removing moisture from the inside of these cells and the cell walls shrink making them narrower straws. Once the cell walls are shrunk in this fashion, and dead since cutting down the tree, moisture doesn't cross the cell wall . This is the basic stability of lumber. Since cutting wood invariably causes these straw-like cells to be cut open, moisture is reintroduced to the inside of the straw, expanding the cell walls. Yes oil can enter the cut, dried cells, but usually only once. The oil dries and catalyzes, sealing the cell at the cut end. Hence the reason for oil as a wood finish: It contributes to the dimensional stability of cut wood. An interesting exception to the cut open cell problem is split wood, e.g. shake roof shingles or split rail fencing. Far fewer cells are cut open as you split green wood= far greater stability. Even wood split and later shaped into, say, knife scales, has fewer cut cells and is more stable.

                      1. re: toomanypots

                        That's me ... master of the half understood concept. Thanks for the correction. I have been under the misapprehension for years that dead wood could expand from water introduced from the 'side' rather then being sucked in via a capillary effect. I am guessing that capillary action is not available for oil - totally different surface tension energies. (due to water molecules having polarity maybe?)

                        1. re: Paulustrious

                          I give you at least a 3/4 understood concept. :-) The 'side' we see is covered with cut open xylem cells; the wood sees only an opening to that chamber. It is capillary action, and different surface tension is the reason oil moves slower, but oil does use capillary action. Heat, or thin the oil with a solvent, and the oil will move faster. I've taken oak scraps, placed them end-grain up in a bowl of oil,with the top exposed. In a day or so (depends on the length) the oil rise out of the end grain at the top.
                          If you use de-ionized water it will travel faster than tap water, both in living tissue and in dead wood. It's not exactly polarizing, just making the water more receptive by correcting the charge after stripping it of dissolved solids.

                      2. re: Paulustrious

                        Theory is fine, but what I did was apply too much oil to one side of a cutting board. Apparently the xylem didn't get the message about not absorbing oil and the thing developed a serious warp perpendicular to the grain (not on the cut ends). It wasn't a solid piece, so it also split along one of the glue joints. I doubt a solid knife handle would actually split, but who wants to take a chance with an expensive knife?

                        1. re: Zeldog

                          Cutting boards are notoriously warped.
                          Rule No. 1 in Finishing Wood:
                          Do The Same Thing To Both Sides Of The Wood

                          I bet you know why.