How do you treat your knife handles?

Since the few years I have been collecting kitchen knives I find that its fun to do some maintenance on my knife handles.

I was back on Chowhound recommended to start out with the tried and true, easy option of soaking mineral oil for my knife handles to protect them. This was mainly for my J-knife wa handles, since to that point in time I essentially only had plastic handled kitchen knives. I also added a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil then to compound the protection and make it a bit more lasting and to provide a nice sheen + some grip. It made the handles look great and the re-application was ezpz, though the results not so lasting.

Then a bit later after the Japanese knives I bought some CCK Chinese cleavers and old stock K-Sabatiers. Many of these came with a bit less than refined handles lets say, most of them needed sanding for starters to become nice.

I wanted to try something else for them, so I started looking into curing finishes for more lasting protection. I noticed Tru-oil gun stock finish from kitchenknifeforums as well as pure tung oil which is also called China wood oil. I tried both, the Tru-oil cures much quicker and can produce a quite beautiful finish, but it feels a bit more plasticky compared to the pure tung oil. I have little doubt the Tru-Oil protects better though.

Based on the results I continued applying the pure tung then. I find it gives my handles a beautiful grain pop and a satin sheen that lasts longer and protects better versus mineral oil. I think it should protect better against staining also on lighter colored wood, but the curing time is kind of slow.

Now I am thinking what I should put on some of my new handles. I have some more old stock Sabatiers that I already gave one coat of pure tung, but could add something else on top perhaps still. I also have a small batch of new production olive wood handled K-Sabs that I haven’t touched yet, but I feel I want to put something on them, even if some people seem to say olive wood can do without also. They also need a bit of sanding, though not like the old stock ones.

I noticed (again) on kitchenknifeforums a guy doing his handles with a 50/50 mixture of shellac and pure tung. That, as mixture don’t appear so widely used on the webs, but it seems like a very tempting option to try out for me, but I’m tempted to use the Tru-oil also again, maybe polyurethane even. I also see people using superglue (cyanoacrylate, CA)!

So how do you like finishing yours, maybe you are a pro even?? Tempted to try something else than you have been using so far, or maybe you don’t bother and just let those build that nice used look, patinated with pork belly, sweat and all that?


On the cheap Wa handles (on the Tojiro ITKs which have found a new home) and on the older wooden handled Sabatiers I just use mineral oil, very infrequently. To me a knife handle’s chief feel should be one of grippiness. How does tung oil fare under that criterion? On another handle-related confession, people seem to obsess fearfully about iron handles on their heavy copper. Other than washing in the usual Dawn and hot water, I have never treated mine, and they are just fine. However, it’s only been half a century for most of the things in my kitchen.

1 Like

Grip is important yes indeed. I would say my fine sanded, rounded and pure tung oil finished Sab and CCK handles are less grippy than those of my wa handled knives treated perhaps since around last summer with mineral oil/beeswax. I haven’t treated those wa handles in case I want to do something else for them at some point. Certainly the tung oiled Sabs are less grippy than my new untreated olive wood handled Sabs. I guess that’s the price to pay, in addition to effort.

I haven’t tried it, but I suppose adding the beeswax/mineral oil mix on top and buffing it off should increase the grip over only the pure tung. I’d also say I haven’t had really issues with the grip, but if I have some fat or oil on my hands, then they can become quite slippery. However, I suppose one shouldn’t really use a knife with a greasy hand in the first place.

I think the mineral oil approach is a great, sensible and very easy going option, especially for darker handles. I might continue on that path with some.

I’m still considering on finishing my light colored handles so that they would have minimal chance of staining thoug, even when I find the stained look great also. Think some old cleaver handles.

I kind of like the way that lighter woods, even olive, darken over time from mineral oil. I am sure your olive handled Sabatiers are gorgeous. My only olive handled knives are my cheap Laguiole knock off steak knives and my Au Sabot bread knife. I love the steak knives despite their being knock offs because they have regular, not serrated, blades that I can sharpen. Their handled were bare olive wood and have gotten pretty dark over the years.

1 Like

Hi Pertti,

I have to look back to the two wooden knives I’ve had for more than thirty years to get the best perspective, my Seki Magoroku nakiri, and my Sir Lawrence butcher knife. The wa handle on my nakiri looks like new with very minimal occasional dabbing of vegetable oil. My butcher handle doesn’t look as good, but the occasional maintenance with vegetable oil seems sufficient.

My Miyabi birchwood came raw, and I oiled it once with vegetable oil several years ago. It darkened a bit, but hasn’t appeared to need any more treatment since.

My Shibazi cleaver came with a beautiful rosewood handle that just soaked up vegetable oil at first, but now has stabilized, and I haven’t treated it in the last months at all. My Shun Kanso has a very rough textured wooden handle material that I haven’t treated yet.

My other knives either have non wooden handles, or wooden handles that have been sealed, and require no maintenance at all.

That seems to be the latest trend.

1 Like

Yes, either way it’s great. One more negative for tung could be that it has a shelf life. Won’t stay good forever and I’ll need to toss it at some point unless I find some little project where to dunk it.

I already sanded and tung oiled these olive handles now. They didn’t soak much. I can feel how it’s an oily wood already naturally and has a pretty nice smell also. I may order the shellac to try it out with the tung for additional coats, or perhaps just put on a few more thin tung coats and leave it at that.

Could you add photos of those old olive handled knives at some point? I’d like to see how they have aged. I have 2 serrated steak knives, full stainless Hackmans, nothing special. My bread knife is a cheaper series MAC, a bit of an insufficient length tbh. It works though and I have noticed that I actually like using my bigger Sabatier chefs for bread also.

Au Sabot, seems like something worth owning :). I have been looking a bit at some Spanish knives now though, Pallares seems interesting. I might be better to hold my horses though before I order a jamonero as well and start importing iberico before falling in a trap of Brazilian bbq knives or something.

Here are the olive handled Sabs. There is a 6 inch old stock nogent and a K Sab oyster knife with palissander handle to boot.

1 Like

I use a combination of tung oil and beeswax. Tung oil alone is enough is the handle is perfect. If there are small gap I need to fill, then I use beeswax. I prefer a thin layer of tung oil as oppose to a thick layer.

1 Like

Sounds good Ray, minimal effort and great handles. I suppose you have not had any issues with foul smell on those handles right? I mean there is talk that vegetable oils could go rancid in wood.

I am using walnut beeswax mix as a wax for my end grain cutting board. I would never let the end grain board soak full of walnut oil, but I think I will get by just fine like this, using it as a part of wax.

I also think it’s probably not worth it to try building up a huge film of tung. I don’t think I have a too thick layer on mine, but I think I will keep the new ones with a bit less of that. Might grab the shellac though one day :).

Are you indeed mixing the wax in tung btw and is it pure or a tung oil finish?

Hi Pertti,

As someone who lives, surrounded by teak , rosewood, and other exotic woods in furniture, trays, and cutting boards, your interest in the finish of wooden handles in kitchen knives is deeply appreciated.

Unfortunately, in the US, functional and artistic treatment of wooden knives is secondary to hygienic standards for food safety. For wood lovers like me, the manufacturers are providing wooden knife handles that have been protectively sealed during production.

There may be ways to meet the hygienic standards and allow grippy wooden handles, but the sealed wood solutions I’ve purchased have not yet exhibited a grippiness problem for me.


1 Like

Hi Vecchiouomo,

In my experience, and in my kitchen, the maintenance of wooden products of all kinds has been a very easy problem to solve.

No need to make it complicated yes. Applying this tung oil is not complicated either, in fact its easy, but curing takes some time.

1 Like

I just use a straight tung oil for the handle. I use beewax if there is a gap I need to fill. I wrote about that on Chowhound, but of course a lot of those posts are no longer there.
For example, several of my CCK knives and my Watanabe knife have gaps in the handle, so I use beeswax to fill the gap.

Here is one of the steak knives along with the Au Sabot bread knife, which I got at Flotsam and Fork. What the bread knife lacks in size, it makes up in sharpness. It is the sharpest serrated edge I have ever used.


Ok, I have also filled the gaps of my Finnish fish fillets with beeswax. There are some gaps in my Sabatiers as well and I have been thinking I will do the same with those. Easy and works.

They look great, no stains it seems also. I think I could forgo the shellac at least from the added protection perspective now after seeing this and just put on a few coats more thin coats of tung.

1 Like

Hi Pertti,

There is so little oil used on the knives I have, that the type of oil just hasn’t mattered much. I’ve used vegetable oil over the oils that I use for furniture and trays for hygiene, but I could probably use most any other oil.


I like mineral oil because it does not seem it will turn rancid.

Never had the problem, vecchiouomo. I wouldn’t use vegetable oil on my teak or rosewood pieces of furniture, tho.


It depends on your aesthetic and what you want to achieve. There are many, many options.

Do you want wood handles to look new or show they’e taken on a darker look from use? What kind of wood is it, something dense and oily like cocobollo, or something light and dry like birch or holly?

What was the factory finish? Was the wood sealed, or is it still open to water?

Some makers do strange finishes. A coating of cheap superglue buffed to a gloss finish van be beautiful and durable. Another trick with highly figured wood like cateye or fiddleback is to bleach the wood, so that the figure won’t darken too much too soon.

Is the wood stabilized to make it dimensionally stable and impervious to water? If so, nothing need be done, even sealing. Maybe wax.

Basically, aesthetic aside, all that’s needed is something that hinders cracking, splintering, checking, decomposing, etc…

Something not yet discussed is plain 'ol steel wool and the skin oil grom handling the knife. This works well with lots of different woods.

1 Like