Caring for stag/bone handles
Stag and bone handles are beautiful to have as knife handles, but being natural materials they contain a certain amount of water content. This may dry up overtime if not well maintained and cause the stag handle to shrink or even crack, leaving the tang of the knife exposed. This is especially true in places that experience a dry climate all year round.
To prevent this, we have some tips for you on how to “re-hydrate” your stag handles and keep them nice and plump to prevent cracks. Do note that some other natural materials like Ivory and horns may shrink over time and need these treatment too.
Things you need:
- Big container/glass beaker (at least tall enough to fit the knife handle)
- Mineral Oil
- Rubbing alcohol
- Renaissance Wax (optional)
Steps to re-hydrate a stag/bone/ivory handle:
- Prep the knife handle. Wipe down the handle with rubbing alcohol to remove any dirt, oil and surface moisture.
- Pour the mineral oil into the beaker. Fill the beaker such when the handle is in the beaker, the oil level passes the tang slightly (ie the whole handle is submerged).
- Immerse the knife into the oil. Do it with the stag handle downwards (duh!) and the blade sticking out of the container.
- Leave to stand for 24 hours. This will allow the oil to seep into the pores of the bone and make it hydrated.
- Inspect the handle. It should have become a little fatter and the gaps and cracks should have become less noticeable.
- Soak again if needed. If the stag handle has not been fattened to the previous diameter (before shrinkage), soak in the oil for a another day or 2.
- Wipe clean and store. Or, once oil free, buff renaissance wax into the handle to seal in the moisture.
This treatment should improve the condition of the bone handle. It should be done at least once every 3 months, or a better indicator would be when the handle starts to shrink.
CAUTION: Mineral oil may darken Ivory or natural bones. Use at your own risk and always try on a small patch first.
However if your stag handle is looking fine, rubbing it down with mineral oil should be fine. Use the soaking method above when you start to notice some form of shrinkage.
Why Mineral Oil?
You’ve probably heard of many ways to care for stag or bone handles. From wax to various conditioners, everyone has their own method. Why mineral oil then?
In knife care, one of the fundamental principles is to be as gentle on the knife as possible. Mineral oil is colourless and almost odourless, which is necessary to preserve the characteric and tone of the bone or stag horn.
Additionally, mineral oil is neither acidic nor basic and will not eat into the bone/stag material or cause it to deteriorate. This is because oil is not water soluble and is therefore “pH neutral”.
The next best alternative is “museum wax” such as Renaissance Wax, which does a good job of preservation and inhibiting moisture but just an average job at soaking into the stag/bone material. It may also build up with repeated application and form an opaque film over time.
Stag and bone handles benefit from a periodic mineral oil treatment as they are natural materials, which will dry out if just left to the elements. Mineral oil provides the best natural treatment to soak and rehydrate stag and bone handles.