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Knives | Multi-tools | How to sellPhoto: Spyderco
September 2014

What sells

knives and multi-tools

Colour, design, material, etc. are factors that play an important role in selling most products, including knives and multi-tools. YAMKELA MKEBE finds out what the most popular handle styles for knives and multi-tools are

Ahandle is as important as the blade of a knife, and a suitable and practical handle is essential for the effective and proper use of a knife. The only way to select a knife is to handle it, says Ian Currie of outdoor retail chain Next Field, who believes a knife to a man like jewellery is to a lady — a must, and should have, item.

A customer should therefore hold the knife in his hand to test the fit, comfort and balance for suitability.

There are a number of different categories of knives, with related handles, including pocket knives, biltong, tactical, self-defence, camping, diving, hunting, skinning, machetes and sword. “Handles have specific shapes and forms to suit the practical use like finger grooves, thumb stops, scales,” he says.

Type of knife

While the traditionalists will still prefer natural materials like bone, wood, stag horn, mother of pearl amongst others, synthetic handle materials are becoming very popular on the majority of folding, as well as fixed blade knives. This type of handle style is strong, durable, very stable and impervious to weather conditions, in many cases it is less slippery in a wet or sweaty palm, says Petrus Swart of Safari & Outdoor.

Synthetic knives are also lighter than natural material knives.

The popularity of a handle style will mostly depend on the intended application of the knife, say two Lite-Optec knife experts, Andrew Taylor and James Laughton.

The G-10 handle style is mostly used in tactical knives because it offers exceptional strength, traction, is light weight, impervious to temperature changes and chemicals — all features that are important in tactical knives, they say.

“The Every Day Carry (EDC) knives will typically feature injection moulded Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (FRN) handles. FRN handles offer high strength, wear resistance, are light weight and are generally inexpensive to mass produce in a variety of colours,” says Taylor.

According to Currie, a skinning or hunting knife will usually feature a rubber handle or non-slip material with finger grooves, a thumb stop and scales, ensuring that customers’ hands do not slip and cause injury.

Moulded rubber handles are very popular on fixed blade hunting knives, due to their non-slip properties and comfort during use, adds Bronwyn Thelander of Cape Union Mart. For comfort and grip, “many knives now feature rubber inserts as well”.

Ergonomics continues to be a focus trend. “At one time, tools and knives were made based on function or design,” says Bruce Woodroffe of Leatherman and knife distributor Awesome Tools. “Now there are much more focus on ergonomics and the feeling in the hand while performing the desired task.”

Ergonomically designed handles, which allow for comfort and easy handling under all conditions, appeal to many customers, adds Thelander. The comfort and easy handling of this design helps to maximize productivity, by reducing operator fatigue, and improving safety and discomfort.

“Clips have also become very popular as they allow the user to carry the knife on a belt without the additional pouch, which can sometimes be quite cumbersome,” she says.

Materials used

“The majority of popular folding knives like Spyderco, Emmerson CRKT, Coldsteel etc. have introduced some form of synthetic handle,” says Swart. He adds that these folding or fixed knives could be used for everyday carry and use knives, or survival knives when out camping.

The corrugated G-10 handle is a new trend in handles that look more rugged. G-10 is a fibreglass laminate made by soaking layers of fibreglass cloth in resin and then compressing and baking it to form a very hard, lightweight and strong material. Surface texture can be added.

G-10 handles are currently trending and Rob Beamish of Brentoni Distributors believe they will do so for the next year or so. One of the newest handle materials used by Spyderco is a carbon fibre G-10 laminate. “This is created by bonding a base layer of G-10 to a surface layer of carbon fibre,” says Taylor, adding that the resulting hybrid material offers the tensile strength of carbon fibre with the toughness of G-10.

Another synthetic material used in knife handles is Micarta, which have a similar construction to G-10, but layers of linen cloth are soaked in resin, and no surface texture is added, resulting in a smoother, more upmarket look than the G-10 handle. The hand labour required for this process results in a higher price.

Durable Kraton rubber handles will mostly be found on hunting and daily use knives.

But, synthetic materials are not the only materials used for knife handles, says Swart. The wooden handle styles are still very popular and mostly because of the look.

“Wooden handles are very popular with local knife makers, but they also use other materials like warthog tusk, giraffe bone goat or buffalo horn,” says Swart.

These materials give the knife a more classical look, and they are often more popular with knife collectors. These materials give every knife its own character and a customer will rarely find two knives that look the same as the grain of the wood or the marks in the tusk are different.

Introducing colour

Colourful knife handles are gaining popularity too. Socially, they are more acceptable as they look more like a tool than a lethal weapon and therefore appear less aggressive, says Taylor and Laughton. Knives with yellow handles are popular among divers and for marine application because of their high visibility, while rescue knives mostly feature orange handles.

“The introduction of pink handled knives has resulted in more women feeling comfortable to buy or carry them,” adds Laughton. While G-10 handles have been traditionally available in mainly black, they are suddenly available in lots of new colours. “Army green and desert sand are two colours that we think will be very popular,” says Beamish. Red, zombie green and orange aluminium handles are also currently popular, especially the rescue type folders.

Camo colours in fixed blades and folders are also very popular, especially now during hunting season, he adds. “These colours are popular because they are something a little different from the usual plain black or wooden handles that have been around for years,” he adds.

The black handled knives are generally the most commercially viable as everyday carry knives, but grey or charcoal are also becoming more prevalent, says Thelander. Coloured handles are, however, popular in certain types of knives, like coloured scales on pocket knives and camo handles on hunting knives, she adds.

She agrees that the introduction of bright colours is catering for the growing number of women who carry knives. Camo is also becoming more popular with both EDC knives and hunting knives, she concludes.


A multi-tool performs a number of tasks, therefore customers are mostly looking for durability and comfort when purchasing the tool, says Woodroffe. “Stainless steel is the favourite due to not only the perception, but the reality, that it can endure hard use and can be formed to provide a comfortable grip.”

Multi-tools are normally smooth-finished stainless steel products, with small, or no, sharp corners to hurt the customer’s hand when using it, says Swart.

“The most popular multi-tools are the stainless steel models, as coloured tools can scratch. Coloured tools are usually bought more as collectors’ items as opposed to functioning tools,” says Thelander.

Customers buying a multi-tool “want to buy something they know will last a long time,” says Woodroffe, and although plastic technology has improved over the years, it is not a durable option for a multi-purpose tool.

But, customers also have their own personal preferences. “Often times a multi-purpose tool or knife is an extension of the owner so a little personalisation is a nice option to have in a tool or knife,” he says. “There’s always a search for new materials that are stronger, lighter, easier to manufacture. As technologies improve, we will likely see changes to materials to make a better product,” says Woodroffe.

Coatings are also constantly being developed. There are several colouring processes, but few are durable enough to work on stainless steel, he adds.

Leatherman, has, however, introduced bright handle colours in their Leap multi-tool for children, due to arrive in South Africa in October. The tool is available in three colours — red, blue and green. A stainless steel handle is easy to lose in the outdoors environment, but a brighter plastic handle minimises the risk of losing the tool. “It is not a toy,” says Woodroffe, but a real, child-friendly multi-tool for children between the ages of 9-12 years.

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