What is micarta
Micarta is a composite material made from resin layered with fiberglass, linen, cotton, denim, even paper. It’s extremely durable; more durable than most knife handles made today. Micarta is a trade name marketed over 100 years ago by Westinghouse as an electrical insulator.
These composites are surprisingly simple and inexpensive to make. Build a simple press from wood.
Find some material (old blue jeans for example). Layer strips of the material in the press with a 2-part epoxy. Press out the excess epoxy. Let it dry. Pull it out of the press and there you go.
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The most expensive part of the process is the resin. One quart of fiberglass resin will only cost you about $15 and this will make enough micarta to finish 2 to 5 knives depending on how big the handles are. Figure in another $5 for ancillary supplies like latex gloves, wax paper and a mixing cup. Now we can make enough micarta to make handles for 4 average size knives. Now we can make a one of a kind handle for a knife that will last long enough to pass down multiple generations.
2-part epoxy resin
1-quart mixing cup(disposable)
Step 1-Building the press
Build a simple wooden press. I make my presses out of wood. They’re simple to make and can be made with scrap lumber at zero cost. Decide how large you want your final piece of micarta to be. Build your press to be 1” larger by length and width because you’ll have to trim the edges when it comes out of the press. Be sure to glue and screw the pieces together so the press will last long enough to make several pieces of micarta.
For a descriptive step by step article about making a micarta press click the picture bellow
Step 2-Preparing the material
Now choose the material you’re going to use and cut it down to size. You want your material strips to take up the full width of the inside of the press so it doesn’t shift around as much during the clamping process. The length can vary as long as it doesn’t extend over the edge of the press.
The number of layers you’ll use will depend on how thick the material is and how thick you want the final product to be. A good way to determine the number of layers you need to use is to stack about 15 pieces of material. Using your thumb and index finger pinch the edge of the stack firmly. The distance between your thumb and finger is an approximate thickness the final product will end up being.
Step 3-Prepare the press
Line the press with a sheet of wax paper large enough to wrap your stack of material like a burrito. Place the wax paper in the press and crease the wax paper into the corners of the press. This will help keep the wax paper from shifting around when you’re stacking the material in the press. Stack the material next to the press so you can easily grab one piece at a time to put in the press. If you’re using a mixed pattern of materials have them stacked in reverse order so that the first piece you grab off the stack is the bottom piece in the pattern you’re creating. Now prep your whole area and be ready for the next step. Have latex gloves ready. Have the work space covered with a disposable cloth.
This can be a really messy process. Two-part epoxy or fiberglass resin is mostly permanent once it dries and is extremely hard to clean when it’s wet. Whatever it gets on it is going to stay on.
Step 4-Loading the press
I use disposable measuring cups from the paint store to mix the resin in. Whatever kind of container you use to mix the resin in just know it will be ruined when this is all over. Precisely follow the instructions for mixing the resin you purchased. Once you get to this point you must move quickly. Most resins have a limited working time.
The 2 part Epoxy resins you can buy at most local brick and mortar stores are a dark amber in color. This is fine if the materials you’re using are dark and you know the application of the epoxy will darken it even more.
If, on the other hand, you are using bright or light colors and don’t want color of the final product affected by the epoxy the you need to use a clear epoxy. This is very hard to find locally, but I’ve included an amazon link below so you can check current pricing.
Put one piece of material into the press and with gloved hands smear and dab the resin into the material completely. Repeat this for each piece of material. Once they’re all stacked and covered with resin you need to wrap the stack of material in the wax paper completely. Now it’s a good idea to put on a fresh pair of gloves.
Step 5- Clamping the press
Put the top of the press on the wax-wrapped stack of material in the press. Start adding clamps to the press. At first, just put them in place firmly. Typically, I’ll use 2 clamps on each side of the press unless I’m using a large press, then I’ll use three clamps on each side of the press. Now tighten down the clamps so the excess resin begins to get squeezed out of the ends of the press. Make sure you tighten the clamps evenly so the thickness of the micarta is uniform across the piece. Let the piece cure for the amount of time recommended by the resin product label.
The final product
Once the micarta has cured it’s time to remove it from the press. The wax paper should come off easily from most of the piece. It’s likely some small pieces of wax paper will remain stuck to the micarta, but those small pieces will come off during the sanding process.
You’ll notice the edges of the piece are rough and ragged from where the resin was pressed out of the material. these edges can be trimmed with a saw I use my cordless circular saw, but you can use a table saw, a saber saw or even a hand saw.
Once the edges are trimmed it’s time to sand it down. I use a belt sander and start with 100 grit then finish with 220 grit. This is a rough finish. The final finish will be done when you make your knife handle, slingshot or whatever you make with your micarta.
It’s that simple. And as an additional bit of advice, I have more than one press and set of clamps so I can make more than one piece of micarta at a time. That way since I’m already making a mess to make one piece, I might as well make more than one piece.
Okay, now that we have some micarta made, Let’s make a knife. Click the picture below to read a step by step tutorial on making a knife with a micarta handle. In this article I make a knife with the exact piece of micarta I just made in the article above.
Please ask your questions in the comments. I would love to see pics of your creations. Please post them in the comments also.