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Best way to finish knife handle

Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 12:52 PM

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. c
    Canthespam RE: Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 01:00 PM

    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. billieboy RE: Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 01:35 PM

      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. j
        Jennifer_B RE: Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 03:54 PM

        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
          billieboy RE: Jennifer_B Mar 12, 2009 04:19 PM

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

        2. monku RE: Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 05:37 PM

          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
            Apricotjello RE: monku Mar 12, 2009 07:02 PM

            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
              monku RE: Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 07:11 PM

              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. Zeldog RE: Apricotjello Mar 12, 2009 08:08 PM

            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
              Paulustrious RE: Zeldog Mar 13, 2009 01:45 PM

              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
                Canthespam RE: Paulustrious Mar 15, 2009 01:02 AM

                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
                  Paulustrious RE: Canthespam Mar 16, 2009 04:14 AM

                  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
                    Canthespam RE: Paulustrious Mar 16, 2009 12:00 PM

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

                    1. re: Paulustrious
                      toomanypots RE: Paulustrious Mar 16, 2009 01:13 PM

                      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
                        Paulustrious RE: toomanypots Mar 16, 2009 01:41 PM

                        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
                          toomanypots RE: Paulustrious Mar 16, 2009 04:33 PM

                          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
                        Zeldog RE: Paulustrious Mar 16, 2009 07:31 PM

                        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
                          toomanypots RE: Zeldog Mar 16, 2009 09:24 PM

                          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.

                2. Demented RE: Apricotjello Mar 13, 2009 08:32 AM

                  Mineral oil or furniture wax. Mineral oil from the super market or drug store (sold as a laxative), is what I use on cutting boards and wood knife handles.

                  Wash and dry the handle, allow it rest for an hour or so to be sure it is completely dry.

                  Mineral oil; Liberally apply the oil by hand or using a bristle brush like the type found at the market. Allow 5 minutes or so for the oil to be absorbed then wipe off any excess with towel.

                  Furniture wax; Apply wax with a clean dry cloth (I keep a cloth in the can of wax), allow to dry 5 minutes, use a clean dry cloth to remove excess and polish.

                  Reapply when the handle starts to look or feel dry. How often this needs to be done will depend on use.

                  1. paulj RE: Apricotjello Mar 13, 2009 12:03 PM

                    Mineral oil would be my first choice. However, I have protected a lot of wood items with a polyurethane coating. A small container is not that expensive. There are spray cans, ones meant for brush application, and ones meant to be applied with a rag.

                    1. toomanypots RE: Apricotjello Mar 16, 2009 02:12 PM

                      "... Would there be any problem... if I painted the handle with wood glue?..."

                      One of the reasons for wood handles is grip. Look at a baseball bat with the varnish stopping above the hand grip zone. Carpenters routinely sand off the varnish on a wooden hammer or axe handle, using the oil from their hands to preserve the wood. Better grip without the sealed finish. Your handle is round. To the extent that you have your entire hand on the wooden grip, you have less control of the knife rolling in your hand if you seal the handle.

                      Some options are:
                      Oil the handle and Start Cooking
                      Shape the handle into an oval by flattening the sides enough to orient the knife in your hand, then oil or seal with a waterproof finish.
                      Noting your preference for black 'delrin' (sic) you may wish to seal the handle. Just know that wood moves seasonally, and the sealer will crack eventually, needing sanding and resealing. It is not usual to seal a wood handle, but not forbidden.

                      First choice: Oil the handle
                      Second choice: Oil the handle
                      Third choice: Get a knife with a phenolic handle (the black 'delrin' (sic))
                      Fourth choice: Furniture wax. I'm always concerned about petroleum distillates in the kitchen. Read the label carefully
                      ... Last choice: seal the handle

                      1. Sam Fujisaka RE: Apricotjello Mar 16, 2009 02:20 PM

                        I use a cleaver quite a bit. I'd just leave it as is.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          billieboy RE: Sam Fujisaka Mar 16, 2009 02:26 PM

                          I agree Sam. My first choice would be to leave it bare. No finish. Let it age gracefully like you and me :-)

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