Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

Quality Without Compromise

Maker's Mark:
Knife Maker's Mark for Jay Fisher Knives

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"Duhovni Ratnik" obverse side view. Knife in hand-engraved 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, handle of Black Nephrite Jade gemstone inlaid with a mosaic of Red River Jasper and White Geodic Quartz. Sheath is hand-carved, hand-dyed leather shoulder
"Duhovni Ratnik"

Gemstone Knife Handles

The Ultimate Natural Handle Material

Welcome to the website of the most prolific maker of gemstone-handled knives in history!

I started making gemstone-handled knives early in my knife making career, back in 1979. I make more gemstone-handled knives than any other custom knife maker in the world. This page answers the most frequently asked questions about modern gemstone knife handles, and has links to over 600 photos of my gemstone knife handles.

If you've ever wondered about stone, rock, minerals, or gemstone material on the handle of a knife, this page will probably answer your questions. Thanks for being here!

"And yet I, too, have set out in quest of gems, have known the thrill of pursuit and capture and, above all, the thoroughly satisfying experience of adding one rare gem to another in the ever-growing collection that even time perhaps will not destroy."

--George Fredrick Kunz
Mineralogist and Mineral Collector
Tiffany and Company, U.S. Geological Survey, American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Sciences, American Museum of Natural History

Your knife was everything you said and more. It was not only beautifully made, comfortable to hold, magnificent to look at and sharp enough to cut a whisper, it was also well balanced and unlike most fine artwork which you are terrified to touch for fear that you might damage it, totally tangible. There is nothing like steel and stone for a combination. It feels better than any other knife I own and I have knives from many other great masters...

"Last Chance" obverse side view in CTS-XHP high chromium stainless powder metal technology blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Lapis Lazuli gemstone handle, buffalo skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this "Last Chance" with Lapis Lazuli gemstone handle

"Mariner" Sailor's Knife with "Seahawk" marlinspike, obverse side view in 440C high chromium martensitic stainless steel blade, T3 cyrogenic treatment, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Stone Canyon Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with shark skin
"Mariner" with Stone Canyon Jasper gemstone handle

Gemstone-handled knives? An overview:
I am committed to making completely and clearly the best knives in the world.

--Jay Fisher


An overview from the topic: "Why gemstone knife handles?" on the FAQ page:

I make a lot of gem-handled knives. In fact, I make more gemstone-handled knives than any other singular knifemaker in the world. That's rock, real stone, not the plastic stuff that is made to look like rock and then called "stabilized." That's one of my distinctive trademarks. I have a complete professional lapidary shop nested in the knife making studio, and I can start with a two foot diameter boulder and cut it down to a beautiful handle, brilliantly polished, and luscious to hold in the hand.

Stone is cool, hard, and dense, and the balance is perfect. I love gem for many reasons. It's impervious to all liquids, salts, and chemicals and exposures that a knife might be subject to. It has a similar coefficient of thermal expansion to steel (since steel is a refined mineral itself) and won't expand and contract and eventually loosen on the knife like horn, bone, wood, plastic, and ivory do. It doesn't absorb moisture, oils, or corrosives that might stay there. It's hard, so it doesn't scratch. Some gemstone can only be cut by silicon carbide or diamond. In most cases, gemstone will outlast the knife blade, and fifty thousand years from now will still exist, it its cut and polished form. The oldest remnants of early man are stone, and you can still make out every scratch, every flake.

Some people worry about toughness; that is, if they drop it on concrete will it break? The knife blade tip is the most likely thing to break on any knife so you shouldn't be worrying about the handle. But just to soothe your fears, the stones I use in handles are typically protected in the critical areas by bolsters and the tang, or they are nearly as tough as the blade (agates, nephrite jades, flints, granites, quartzes and jaspers). If the chunk of mineral makes it through the cutting, grinding, and finishing process, it will last on the knife. About two thousand knives over 40 years with no failures have proven that to me.

I thoroughly test the stone before using it on a knife handle. I've seen some beautiful rock that I can't use because it's too friable. In all the years and all the hundreds and hundreds of gem-handled knives I've made, I've only had one small chip reported after a knife dropped onto a stone floor, which was repaired like brand new.

Stone is tough. I had one knife client return a knife to me for sharpening and reconditioning after years of use and abuse. The stainless steel blade was scratched and beaten, but the agatized petrified wood gemstone handle looked like the first day it left the shop: bright, shiny, clean and glassine smooth—amazing.

Stone is strikingly beautiful. Nothing can match the geologic creations of our planet for color, pattern, and texture. One of my complaints about jewelry is that you can only see a tiny piece of stone, usually less than half an inch square, not getting a real feel for the full pattern and characteristics, and you can't hold it. Gripping a dense chunk of polished gemstone and steel in your hand is a wondrous feeling. When you pick it up, it's cool and solid. After you put it down and pick it up again, it's still warm from your hand. The feeling is delicious, the color exciting, the finish glistening.

There are other knifemakers who work with stone handles, and there is a lot of poor work out there. Guys try to finish the stone without lapidary tools or knowledge and burn, pit, and crack the finish. They misidentify inexpensive common stone as valuable, such as telling a client that a piece of serpentine is jade (I've seen this a lot). They might finish a piece without contouring, rounding, and finishing and attaching the handle properly, that is, with cohesive methods of jewelry bonding. I've even seen plastic rock identified as real gemstone, and plastic amber called "reconstructed" because it has 10% "real amber dust" in the acrylic! Real stone has millions of combinations of play and color and light. It has imperfect lines, seams, and occasionally inclusions of other material. You know it when you feel it, it's cool to the touch (or warm if it's been under lights or in sunshine). To find out if it's real, you can tap it with a piece of steel and it "clicks;" a piece of plastic will "thud." The ultimate test is heating up a needle to dull red, then touching the handle. Plastic will melt and smell, stone will laugh at your feeble attempt to burn it.

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...I enjoy your writing, colorfully injected with humor. I appreciate the work and knowledge base required to produce the works of fully functioning art you've pictured. I understand the research and diligence required on your behalf to have become top notch in so many fields (lapidary, leather tooling, computer knowledge/website design/script writing, and many more) makes you and your product one of a kind. The hours and dedication required to accomplish these feats is staggering.  You have accomplished and mastered multiple specialties.  Most will attain one, if that.  Further, I appreciate your ability to articulate your thoughts utilizing proper English, grammar, and punctuation. That ability, pride in end product, and respect for the reader is rare these days; more and more people are using text lingo/slang in business writing.

Thank you for taking this reader through the steps and equipment used and needed to offer such fine knives; a journey through your history as a craftsman, who clearly loves what he does to the point of learning other crafts in order to further his ability to offer the world a fine knife/work of art/investment opportunity/legacy item for generations to come.  You are an amazing man and one who has every right to be proud of his accomplishments.  I am truly amazed and inspired.

Thank you for your time if you have the opportunity to read my email, and in advance regarding an answer if you are kind enough to send a reply. Should my email not reach you, I am thankful still for having found such a valuable source of information in many fields.  I hope to one day be able to own a custom piece made by you.  Finally, a purchase my husband not only won't fight me on, but will happily help me with the decision making.

Best Regards,
Christina Coffman, GJG

Red River Jasper gemstone on "Ladron" by Jay Fisher
More about this Ladron with a Red River Jasper gemstone handle
"Thuban" obverse side view in hot-blued 1095/nickel damascus blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Shattuckite gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath
More about this Thuban with a Shattuckite gemstone handle

My background making gemstone-handled knives

I make more gemstone-handled knives than any single maker in the world, and more than any knifemaker in history.

I can say this, because there is no individual maker of fine custom knives I or anyone else I've ever heard of who has made as many gemstone-handled custom knives for as many years as I have.

Now here's the sobering thing. In decades of research, I've never found ANY knifemaker in history that has made so many gemstone-handled knives. NO ONE.

Here's my challenge: see if you can find anyone, anyone in history who has made more gemstone-handled knives than I have. I dare you! Then, send me this information, and I'll withdraw my claim!

How can this be?

This is because of our modern lapidary tools and shop and studio environment, for starters. Never before in history have we lapidaries had the capability to use diamond abrasives, structured abrasives, and silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, and cubic boron nitride superabrasives in the artist's and craftsman's studio.

In addition to the abrasives technology is the electrical technology—motors and controls which can be high torque and low speed, extremely high speed (over 250,000 RPM) and variable in drive arrangement and surface speed. The electrical apparatus is the driving force of what would take years of incredible hand-labor in the past.

Another factor is the metals, tooling, frames, and formation of the actual lapidary tool parts (wheels, machines, designs, arrangements, and variations). Modern corrosion-resistant tool designs allow underwater cutting, shaping, sanding, forming, carving and finishing, under skilled hands.

What about those skilled hands? In the past, working with stone has been a grueling, labor-intensive, dirty, painful, and dangerous occupation. For instance I've known of several granite carvers (think monuments and grave stones) who have died prematurely because they protected their lungs with a only a bandana tied across the face. Today, we have modern respirators, air and ventilation control, and knowledge of the more dangerous minerals that may cause silicosis or fibrosis. We have protective environments and safety in mind, and this allows a longer, more productive career in working with rocks and minerals.

The difficult and laborious physical process of working with stone does have its cost. At the time of typing these very words, I'm recovering from a fairly serious repair of my shoulder, literally worn into injury from these difficult tasks. The amazing thing is that today, we have sophisticated surgical procedures to rebuild damaged and separated tendons, muscles, and joints that—at least in my case—provide a better joint than I've ever had in my life! This will allow me many more years of working with gemstone, rocks, and minerals, as well as refractory metals and machinery. I'm excited about the future and the creations possible!

Clearly, up until this point in time, it has simply been impossible for a singular maker to make thousands of gemstone-handled knives in his career. This is why and how I can make this claim. If you disagree, and think you know of someone in history or currently who has made as many gemstone-handled knives as I have, please send me that information, as I would love to talk to someone who is as prolific, determined, and enthusiastic as I am! Hint: you won't find anyone that fits this bill.

It's funny; the knife listings, internet postings and references, and magazines and publications won't put this fact in their listings about me. It's as if they don't want anyone to know this. They write things like "prolific maker of gemstone handled knives," not "the most prolific maker of gemstone-handled knives on earth and in history." The truth is, I've made thousands of gemstone-handled knives in my career, and I have recorded over 1000 pictures of them on my CD-ROM archives. You can see over 650 photographs of gemstone handle samples on the links at the top and bottom of this page.

Just by exposure and experience, I probably know more about gemstone-handled knives than anyone on earth. Does this make me a complete expert? No, for there are new things to be learned by every attempt! I'm constantly exposed to new gem materials, finishing ideas, and processes. I won't live long enough to use them all, but, God willing, I'll try!

This has all been possible because of my clients and patrons and the support of the public and professionals who substantiate what I do. The reason I do what I do is for others, so that they may experience and enjoy the mineralogical history, beauty, and durability of our planet.


For some inspiration, know that I'm also using materials that come from beyond our planet, in meteorites that could not have been created on our earth. You may have heard of meteorites being used before in knives—this is nothing new. The ancients used nickel-iron meteorites to make knife blades in ancient times. However, when you heat, melt, and form a piece of meteorite, it becomes like any other source of nickel iron, and it actually loses its value as an otherworldly object, if for no other reason than it can't actually be identified as a meteorite. In other words, any iron/nickel metal in it is pretty much like any other iron/nickel metal once it's been heated, melted, formed, shaped, ground, and finished. The only perceived value of a knife made with a meteoritic blade exists in the claims of the maker, not actually supportable by evidence! Of course, the performance of a meteoritic iron blade is extremely poor, so knives made this way are simply conversation pieces.

The value of a meteorite is in its pristine form: unaltered by melting, heat, pressure, or forming. Meteorite is then more valuable as a gemstone than as a source of iron. This is why I'm making some knives with meteor handles to display the beauty and form of the object as an otherworldly creation, with large Windmanstatten patterns, inclusions of otherworldly materials, and finished to display their actual native structure and appearance. Keep posted for new ones coming up on the website!

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24" Diamond bladed gem and mineral saw. Runs under refined mineral oil, very messy!
Jay Fisher and 24" lapidary saw, early 1990s.

Note the white piece of Dendritic Agate in monster rock saw. One of eleven lapidary saws in the shop. the saw does not cut as much as grind. The ground swarf from the gemstone mixes with the special mineral oil to make a slurry of ground-up oily rock-mud. From the color of the mud in this photo, I was cutting some hematite or red jasper. It's a messy job! Incidentally, the diamond blade on this saw costs about from $700.00 to $1,500.00 US.

"Elysium" liner lock folding knife, obverse side view in ATS-34 high molybdenum stainless steel blade, hand-engraved titanium bolsters and liners, Red River Jasper gemstone handle, Anthorsite stone case
More about this Elysium with a Red River Jasper gemstone handle

"Macha Navigator" obverse side view in 440C high chromum T3 cryogenically processed stainless steel blade, 304 austenitic stainless steel bolsters, Roostertail Agate gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath
"Macha Navigator" with Roostertail Agate gemstone handle

Few people make gemstone knife handles; why do I?

I get challenged a lot, usually by guys that think they know a lot about knives but have very fixed and limited ideas of what constitutes a good knife handle. They're set in their opinions, and make it clear that they don't see knives with gemstone handles in mainstream knives, so why would I make them? They'll even go on the attack on forums, posts, bulletin boards, or through other knife makers and in the industry. Why? Because what I do challenges their concepts. The truth is, gemstone-handled knives are nothing new; the ancient Persians made them, so did countless other cultures. Stone is the basis for the very first knife, and that alone testifies to its usefulness and even its durability. I think, though, that it's the beauty and originality of the application itself that throws them in a tizzy.

Sooner or later, after having proven myself in about two thousand gem-handled knives, even they have to accept the durability, usefulness, attraction, and value of gemstone knife handles. Otherwise, why would I have continual orders for gemstone-handled knives, and endless testimonials about the appearance, feel, durability, and value of gemstone-handled knives? Why would I continue to make them, and why would clients continue to purchase them at a premium? It's because gemstone is the ultimate natural handle material. Through the grace and gifts of God, I pray I may continue to make them into my twilight years, so that others may share in their beauty, durability, and feel.

Most knife makers consider at one time or another making a knife with a gemstone handle. Always on the search for new and exciting handle materials, they may query others about the feasibility, techniques, and tools needed to cut, mount, and finish a gemstone knife handle. Once they find out just how difficult this is, they usually opt for plastics that look like gemstone or decide to stick with the easier to work, more predictable handle materials like wood, horn, bone, ivory, or plastics. The reason is really simple: gemstone handles are harder to properly make and finish than the blade. Makers who have hurried the blade to get to the handle are not prepared to have to invest much more time, effort, and cost into the handle than the blade. Though some makers simply do not prefer the look and feel of stone, they will concede that many of the most beautiful knives ever made have gemstone handles, or gemstone components.

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Australian Tiger Iron gemstone is Tiger Eye Quartz, Hematite, and Jasper
More about this Cygnus-Horrocks with an Australian Tiger Iron gemstone handle

"Menkar" obverse side view in CPM154CM powder metal technology tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Dendritic Agate gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath inlaid with green rayskin
"Menkar" with Dendritic Agate gemstone handle

What is gemstone?

Let's start by classifying gemstone. The inorganic earth is composed almost entirely of minerals. Minerals are the basic building blocks of rock, and rocks are usually groups of minerals. Minerals are the purest form of material, and some are elemental, that is, made of entirely one element, such as gold, silver, calcium, or sulfur. Others are compounds that are made of several elements, but are pure in form. This means that they have fixed chemical compositions with minimal variations. These compounds are recognized by mineralogists as standard species. There are over 3500 known species, with new ones being discovered every year! Many of the minerals are combined to form a stone, and ultimately gemstone. An example would be the gemstone lapis lazuli, which is composed of the minerals nosean, lazurite, pyrite, sodalite, calcite, and hauyne. If you examine just one of those minerals: calcite, you'll find it's composed of calcium carbonate: that is calcium, carbon, and oxygen. Click here to see a totally newly discovered gemstone that I've used on several knife handles with the mineral content breakdown and information.

"Gemstone" is the name that we assign to minerals or compounds that we value. Technically, the definition for gemstone is any stone that can be cut and polished and used in jewelry and for adornment. What makes one mineral or rock a gem and one that is not? Whether we value it or not. It is a very loose classification as many rocks that used to be of value are not anymore, and rocks that were of no value are nowadays treasured. There are terms like precious gem and semi-precious gem, and gemrock and rockgem, but these are all subjective classifications with tenuous historical significance as viable terms. If someone values it, and it is a rock and it can be cut and polished and ornamentally applied, it is gemstone.

You'll notice on this page that I interchange the words gem and rock. Know that I'm talking about beautiful, hard, polished gemstones used on knife handles. I use the term rock because it is a short, abrupt, and hard descriptive word, and has some weight and punch. I like that!

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Hi Jay,
I received my knives and I can't say enough great things about them.; I was sure I would like them, but they are the finest knives I have ever purchased. My father and brother are going to be ecstatic when I give one to each of them. As for the sheaths, what can I say, they are outstanding. I read on your web site that the pictures do not do the knives and sheaths justice and that about sums it up. They are gorgeous and I can not wait to see my father and brothers reaction when they get them. I am not even sure which one to keep for myself, they are all so unique. Thanks again and I really appreciate how well they turned out. Thanks,

"Chama" drop point knife with copper ore gemstone handle, exotic inlay sheath "Chama" drop point knife in staineless steel, hand-engraved with sodalite gemstone handle and ostrich sheath "Chama" in stainless blade, engraved bolsters, snowflake obsidian gemstone handle, exotic skin inlaid sheath

"Gemini" Liner Lock Folding Knife, reverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, anodized titanium liners, sapphire set thumb studs, case of Black Galaxy Granite gabbric anorothosite
More about this Gemini with a Moss Agate gemstone handle

"Gemini" fine handmade custom liner lock folding knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, anodized 6AL4V titanium liners, Crystal yellow granite case
"Gemini" with Confetti Agate gemstone handle

Gemstones and their names

"Some to the fascination of a name surrender judgment hoodwinked."

William Cowper
18th century English poet

In the thousands of years that man has used gem, minerals, and rock in his creations, works of art, architecture, and adornment, you might think that the names identifying each type of mineral or composition of rock or gem is standardized and well-known. This is not the case. Just like the bewildering array of names given to various woods I detail on my Wood Knife Handle Material page, gems, minerals, and rock may be called by many colloquial or popular names, and there is no standard naming system. Just like woods, the only scientific standard is the geologic or mineralogical name. This is not a descriptive term like red river jasper, or tree agate, or sunset stone, or honey Martian landscape graveyard Da Vinci ghost agate. The only standardized terms are mineralogical, like quartz, feldspar, rhodochrosite, dolomite, and magnesite. There are sub-groups of many of the mineralogical species, and there are even rocks that are biochemical or organic in nature, either derived from organic processes to become rock (like flint and chert) or are the direct remains of biological process (like chalk, diatomaceous earth, and coal).

Unfortunately, one may call a rock just about anything he wants, and it is up to the buyer of stone or the professional using the stone (that's me) to determine the exact composition, value, and identity of each gemstone. This, combined with the combination of mineralogical names with additional descriptive and popular names can be confusing. For instance, the obsidian (proper name) known as mahogany obsidian (descriptive name) years ago has become renamed as goldshine obsidian (new descriptive name). The original name mahogany describes the brown streaks that run through this mineral, but this was a rather boring term for a rock, and being compared to wood diminishes the popular culture's interest and value. So many suppliers changed the name of mahogany obsidian to goldshine obsidian, a much more attractive and beguiling name. There are textbooks that even describe these two as separate rocks, and this is an error. Whether or not mahogany obsidian can display iridescent shimmers in bright light depends on the lapidarist's skill and the direction of cut and finish. So the lapidary can make either goldshine obsidian or mahogany obsidian from the same rock, depending on the cut.

I was at a raw rock supplier out in the southwest desert of Arizona, and found some nice jasper with wine-colored reds and a few highlighted golden areas. I asked the seller what this stone was called. With a strong Mexican accent, She told me it was called carbonet jasper. She used a strong accent on the "t" which may be how the word Cabernet appeared to be pronounced when written, particularly if one has never heard the word pronounced. I looked at the wine colors running through the rock and asked if maybe she was mistaken, since the color in the rock looked like Cabernet wine. She got angry with me and insisted that it was called carbonet. I bought the rock anyway, and used the stone on a beautiful knife, the Malaka. Yes, that's Cabernet Jasper, and this exchange shows how tenuous local names for gemstones are.

Since there are such a variety of gemstones and mineralogical materials on our earth, and with new ones being discovered yearly, we must have a way of describing gem and rock for the trade of lapidary. The descriptive term then becomes the popular standard, and those vary depending on location, language used, country, industry, or application. For instance, jasper is described in many ways, because there are so many varieties of this microcrystalline quartz. A common trend is to describe any type of jasper by its appearance alone, and even rocks that are not truly jasper (like rhyolites) are often grouped in this family. Lapidary and gem and mineral interests frequently call rhyolites jasper, but the two are distinctly different. Rhyolites are silica-alumina, and jaspers are silicon dioxide. True jaspers are cryptocrystalline quartz and are known in various trades as chalcedony.

Another factor is dyed stones, and the clever naming of them for descriptive and sales purposes. To get a better idea of this, read my email response below on blue jasper.

The point is that no matter what the name, it is the appearance, luster, polish, durability, and flavor of the gemstone that is important when used in fine custom and handmade knives. We may call rocks by many names, but it is up the the person who cuts, grinds, fits, mounts, and finishes the stone to reveal it's properties and attributes. The popular name, after all, may change in a few years.

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Plasma Agate gemstone knife handle. Actually green chalcedony (jasper) is just a small component of this rock
More about this Eridanus with a Plasma Agate gemstone handle

"Izar" liner lock folding knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel liners, 6AL4V anodized titanium lockplate, handle inalys of Indian Green Moss Agate gemstone
"Izar" with Indian Green Moss Agate gemstone handle

Why is gemstone special?

Gemstone is the ultimate natural handle material.

Not all rocks and minerals are beautiful, and some are downright ugly, but gemstones are a special group of rocks that we've valued for as long as man has existed. Perhaps some of that value derives from early man's history with stone tools. Man's first tools: knives and hammers: were stone. Stone is what brought man out of the constraints of the animal kingdom. Stone tools allowed early man to survive on a hunter's high fat, rich diet, which allowed him to migrate into areas too hostile for a previous existence. It allowed man to build better shelters, access more game, and evolve into an agrarian culture. Ultimately, man's tools are what made him what he is today. Think about it: every thing you eat, wear, drive, use and have has at one time been touched by a cutting edge, and the first edges were stone.

Early man also recognized beauty in rocks. Bright, beautiful, unique colors, fascinating patterns, glistening polish, the way light is plays on a stone, waves of interesting differences in texture and form, their heavy, solid, substantial mass: all these things interest man even now. Once-living things were frozen in the rock (fossils), rock was dense, some rocks rare, and some could be carved and polished only with tedious months (sometimes years) and incredible effort. Gemstone was extremely durable, and a fine polish lasted indefinitely. Gemstones were assigned mystical properties and healing powers. Man adorned himself with jewelry, and throughout history, jewelry and weaponry blended into breathtaking works of art. Precious gems became the most valuable items man possessed, and still are, and will continue to be!

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Cobra Jasper from India is fossilized seashell and is hard, tough, and beautiful
More about this Kapteyn with an Indian Cobra Jasper gemstone handle

"Nunavut" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, agatized, jasper petrified wood gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath
"Nunavut" with Agatized Petrified Wood gemstone handle

How much does it cost to start making gemstone knife handles?

I read a statement by a knife dealer in a bulletin board posting once that for about $600, any knifemaker could get into making gemstone knife handles. Since I don't post on forums, I thought I would put down my thoughts and experiences here. That way, the many interested knife makers and artists that read this site could become better educated, and my clients would know just how challenging and rare it is to regularly create gemstone knife handles. This will help collectors and knife users to understand and appreciate just what the are getting with a gemstone-handled knife, and illuminate how I work with gemstone.

The first thing that new lapidaries learn is that rock is hard: many, many times harder than wood, and much harder than steel or metals. It takes at least ten times the amount of time to work with rock than with wood, horn, bone, ivory, or metals. Sure, there is some stone that is soft, but it is not durable and does not make a serviceable knife handle. The good gemstones are usually the hardest and toughest ones. They can not be worked on the knifemaker's belt grinder, they cannot be sawn on a metal cutting band saw. The $600 investment to get started in gemstone knife handles is a laughable, gross misstatement, because lapidary requires highly specialized tools, expendables, training, and time-consuming techniques. It requires a lapidary shop, lapidary training and skill, and lapidary experience to know just how to work with stone.

If you're going to block out your own material, you'll need a slabbing saw. The size needed for knife handles is much larger than used for typical jewelry, as knife handles are usually at least several inches long. Know of any jewelry that has three or more inches of rock on it? That's a pretty big brooch! Even the largest solid slab belt buckle is smaller. Slabbing and blocking saws capable of this operation start at about $3500 US, and can cost up to $15,000. I use six of them. The blades alone for these saws start at about $700... that's just for the blade. Even if, by luck, you were able to get a used saw and rebuild or repair it to running condition, it will need a new blade.

Whoops! What happened to my $600? Okay, let's say you only buy already slabbed gemstone. You can acquire it at a local rock shop, or perhaps at a swap meet, and the lapidary has done the slabbing for you. Then the first thing you'll need is a trim saw large enough to handle slabs that are large enough for knife handles. They start at about $1000. I use five of those. A new worthwhile blade for a 10" trim saw of any quality suitable for the size necessary for knife handles will run you $100 or more. You'll need a wet lapidary arbor (I use six of them), and they start at $1200. You'll need drums, wheels, bands, and belts to go through the various stages of processing and finishing the gemstone, and all those expendables will cost a pile. Diamond wheels and silicon carbide wheels are necessary, they run from $50 to $300 each. You'll need several. Wet sanding belts are specialized, and if you go with diamond belts (necessary for many materials) the belts will cost you $75 each, and you'll need one of every grit. Just for the sanding belts alone, you'll need to plop down about $500. Thinking you'll find cheaper ways, used belts, or a faster way to finish rock? That won't happen. You'll also need many various polishing methods, tools, and materials like leather, hardwood, and phenolic custom wheels, diamond carving points, and numerous polishing compounds like Linde I and II, cerium oxide, sapphire powder, tin oxide, rouge, silicon carbide and diamond. These methods and materials are unknown to most knifemakers, and each type of stone finishes differently.

You'll need sealants, specialized epoxies, equipment adapted or created for wet use, waterproof safety gear, splash guards and respirators. All the electrical systems supplying this equipment should be protected by ground fault interruption, proper grounding and waterproof connections, fixtures, and fittings. You don't want to get electrocuted! All this water and oil mist in the shop needs a source and drain, so you need a wet shop. Oh yeah, the oil you need to charge the saws that you blew your first $600 on? It's about $25 a gallon. To charge a big saw takes at least ten gallons.

And what about the material itself? You may get lucky and trade, find, or wheel and deal for rock, but the good stuff is pricy. Some rock is sold by the pound, but many gemstones are sold by the gram... and when you cut it and it cracks because of a hidden flaw, you are simply left with unusable crumbs. Invest in plenty, because it will take a while to learn just what material is worthwhile and what will cause you chronic frustration.

One final thought: This section was written in April of 2008, and you can add 10 - 20% increase on each of these costs per year. Gemstone is going up dramatically in price at the time of this writing, because, of course, nothing cost more to ship than rocks, and the price of gas continues to climb.

The point to this section is to give knife clients and other knife makers who frequent this site a clear picture of just what it takes to start making gemstone-handled knives. You can see why gemstone knife handles are a rare and unique find, and knifemaker-lapidaries rarer yet!

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Carnival Lace Agate is a multicolored agate formed through hydrological depostion processes, the same as a geode
More about this Kotori with a Crazy Lace Agate gemstone handle

"Orion" in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Rio Grande Agate gemstone  handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with frog skin
"Orion" with Rio Grande Agate gemstone handle

Why don't more people use gemstone to make custom knives, weapons, and works of art?

I often tell my wife that I don't have to worry about someone challenging my tradecraft of making gem-handled knives. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It is not. Gemstone is the toughest, hardest, most frustrating material in the world to work with. To work with rock, you must have a complete lapidary shop. I've seen some beautiful stone ruined by guys that think they can work it on their belt grinder (the mainstay of the knifemaker's shop). Gem must be worked with under special oil or water, and never heated during cutting and grinding. It must be cut with diamond saws that run under a special pure mineral oil coolant, and the feed rate and cutting speed carefully controlled. I have a dozen rock saws, from a 24" diameter to a 4" diameter. I also have dozens of small, hand-held diamond saws, cutters and grinders. To shape rock, it must be ground with either diamond or silicon carbide lapidary wheels under water or oil. I use six separate wet grinders for such a task. The finishing of stone is very tedious and sometimes tricky. You must wet-sand with specialized belts (either silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, or diamond abrasives) under water or special oil. To properly finish a rock, it must be ground through ten steps of grade of abrasives, and the polishing method for each stone is different. To polish, I use cerium oxide, tin oxide, aluminum oxide, numerous man made polish materials, on many different mandrels and tools, including impregnated phenolics, hardwoods, hard and soft felts, diamond impregnated bands and belts, leather, muslin, cotton, and canvas.

It isn't just the equipment. If it were, every jeweler and lapidary would have the ability to mount and finish gemstone handles on knives. It also takes a considerable amount of skill, patience, and knowledge to work with rock, particularly in application on knife handles. Every single rock is different. Each one responds to a different abrasive or technique, every one must be handled differently. Some respond poorly to vibration, but are tough and solid when mounted on a knife tang. Some are a bit flexible (really)! Some are more brittle than others, some have inclusions to work around, eliminate from the material, or accent for a specific look. Some are so incredibly hard that it takes three times the effort to cut them. Some will check and frac if the slightest bit of concentrated heat builds on the surface, some actually benefit from high heat and pressure! Some rock dust is toxic, all is abrasive and dangerous to breathe.

There is also a great amount of tactile practice in working with lapidary carvings (that is essentially how gemstone handles are made). You must be able to feel the cut happening, judge when the feed pressure or tool speed is correct, sense the balance and weight of the piece.

Lapidary work takes a great deal of time, which most knife makers are not willing to invest. You may be nearly finished with a gem and reach a void, vug, or pocket that requires you to start over with a new piece of material. You may have to cut a 90 pound, 12 inch thick block of rock into thirty slabs before finding a piece that is suitable for handle scales. You may have a material that looks stunning, but as you cut it and grind it, it literally falls into crumbs. You may have rock appear on the market for a year, then never see it again. And you have to have hands like hawsers, yet sensitive to the lightest touch, and if you don't, they will be, or you won't be successful.

I read a comment on a bulletin board by someone who should know better that gemstones should not be used on knife handles because of extra weight they would have and because if you dropped the knife, it could chip or crack. Unfortunately, this it typical of the ignorance in the knife making community that prevents many makers from even considering gemstone. Let's look at each of these points in detail.
  • The weight of a gemstone knife handle is controlled by the skill and hand of the knife maker, not simply the choice of materials. There are several things makers can do to adjust, control, and arrange the components of the knife handle, blade, and fittings (bolsters or guards) that set the weight balance point where the maker wants it.
    • The first thing the maker should do is taper the tang. On full tang knives, a tapered tang is a sign of great care and skill, as there is usually never a need for a tang that has full thickness, that is, the same thickness as the spine at the blade to handle junction. The handle does not need this abundance of metal, and indeed, if the tang is not tapered, the maker will be stuck with lightweight handle materials like wood to keep handle weight down. Perhaps the person who wrote this is not aware that most finely made knives have fully tapered tangs. The amount of taper is determined by (among other things) what material is to be used on the handle.
    • The second thing the maker should do is mill the handle tang beneath the scales for proper balance. This can consist of simply drilling an arrangement of holes that don't compromise the integrity of the tang, or sacrifice any strength in critical areas. The amount and size of the holes will determine the balance point and handle weight, in concert with the handle material choice and the size of the finished handle. Even on my wood and phenolic-handled knives, I mill some material away beneath the handle scales to help adjust the balance of the knife.
    • The third responsibility of the maker is to back-mill the handle material to control handle weight, if necessary This can help to reduce weight in critical areas with significantly strong materials, without sacrificing performance.
    • The fourth thing the maker is responsible for is to choose and locate proper fittings to help control the weight. Thick, heavy, overly-built bolsters and guards will add significant weight to the handle before a handle scales or tang pieces materials choice is ever made. Thick, heavy spacers, too numerous or badly placed, heavy, wide, mosaic pins and guards can also affect the handle weight.
    • The fifth thing the maker can do is control and adjust the shape, size, thickness, and location of the handle scales or hidden tang piece or pieces. This is a skill that takes some time to develop, and each maker has his own perception and manipulative artistic skill in setting the handle weight and center of knife balance where he desires it to be.
    The responsibility here lies with the knife maker and is not simply a matter of materials choice. In all the thousands of gemstone-handled knives I've made, I've never, ever had even ONE client claim the handle is too heavy... and that speaks volumes. In fact, most clients comment on how well balanced my gemstone-handled knives are!
  • Chipping or cracking is a common misperception about gemstone. How many rings, stone set belt buckles, or bracelets are not worn because they are so fragile that they chip and crack? What? That's not a concern? They last indefinitely? The longest lasting, most enduring material IS STONE. This ridiculous notion of fragility occurs because people think all rock is glass, or that rock is somehow too fragile for a knife handle. These same people wouldn't dare have a tile floor would they, because it might chip or crack. They wouldn't have a granite countertop because it might chip or crack. I bring up these ridiculous comparisons because those same folks would swear by the strength and durability of granite and tile, and most gemstones used on fine custom handmade knives are many times harder, tougher, and overly stronger than those materials. As I've stated before on this very site, the tip of the knife blade is the most fragile part of any knife, and if you drop it on a rock, or use it to pry, it will snap. In the several thousand gemstone-handled knives I've made over thirty years, I've only had one small chip. ONE. One in two thousand. The guy dropped it just right on another piece of stone. How many micarta or wood handles would be scarred, dinged, dented, cracked, dried out, stained, scratched, gouged, scuffed, or discolored? By the way, gemstone does not scar, ding, dent, crack, dry out, stain, scratch, gouge, scuff, or discolor. In ten thousand years when the blade is nothing but dust, the bolsters too, and any resemblance to a knife has long been lost to history, the handle will look like the day it left the shop. Look to history for the answer. The longest lasting, most enduring pieces ever made in the history of mankind are made of stone.
  • Misperceptions and ignorance will continue, particularly when the person commenting has no experience, familiarity, or relationship to the topic he comments on. I'll probably be making gemstone-handled knives until I die, and the handles will long outlast the many generations that they will be handed down to. And deep in the future, when a guy who makes a knife handle out of deer horn (which is compressed hair) complains that stone is too heavy or brittle, he'll be slapped in the face by history once again, as he looks at the carvings and artwork of the ages, all carved in durable stone.

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Roughing in gemstone handle material on the lapidary wet grinder

"Pounamu" is New Zealand Nephrite Jade, and is tightly controlled and rare
More about this Aries with a Siberian Nephrite Jade gemstone handle

Why do people have concerns about using gemstone on a knife or sword handle?

Sometimes people ask if the gem is brittle. They're thinking about glass, I guess. In the hundreds and hundreds of gemstone-handled knives I've made, I've never had a gemstone handle fail from outright breakage. Not one. I've had one tiny chip in an agate handle that was dropped on a stone floor, but it was repaired like brand new.

That is because the process of making the gem handle is brutal on the stone, and if it's going to break, it's going to happen then. Grinding stone is the most gut-wrenching, nerve-rattling, teeth-chattering experience you would ever want to have, and it takes hours and hours to grind, sand, and polish the stone. Most jewelers work with a tiny piece of rock smaller than a fingernail, dopped (glued) to a stick, and can work it up in a manner of minutes. I use big, solid, thick chunks of material larger than your fist, and I grind away everything I don't need, and it takes hours. If the rock survives this brutal process, it will outlast the blade on the knife! There is a reason my hands are so wide and I wear a size 13 wedding ring. Sure, there are some rocks and gems that are brittle, friable, or weak. I don't use those types on my gem handles.

I also test the material before I try to shape it to a handle. I take a slab of the gemstone (typically 3/16" to 3/8" thick) and slam it down on a hardwood table. If the rock is going to break, it breaks then, and not while I'm grinding or when you have it on your knife handle. This slam test rattles the most reserved of observers!

Another concern is weight. I work to carefully balance the weight that gemstones add to a knife handle. I usually mill a large portion of the unnecessary tang beneath the handle scales away to balance the handle. It takes some foresight to know just how much steel to mill away for the intended handle weight and the optimum balance while maintaining tang strength. This takes years of practice to fine tune, there is no formula to define it.

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Brecciated Jasper from Africa is broken and reformed pieces yet is a solid stone, millions of years old
More about this Trifid with an African Brecciated Jasper gemstone handle

"Pallene" khukri, in CPM154CM High molybdenum powder metal technology stainless tool steel blade, hand engraved, with hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated Jasper gemstone  handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with rayskin, hand-cast silicon bronze and Imbuya hardwood stand and Paradiso Classico Granite base
"Pallene" with Brecciated African Jasper gemstone handle

Will it show scratches; will the finish last?

You might think a carver of alabaster or marble has it tough. People (usually tourists) marvel at these common carvings, many from Southwestern native tribes. They probably don't realize that the alabaster carver has only to use a chisel and hammer, some hand files and sandpaper to finish his work. There are hardwoods that are harder than alabaster and marble! Just remember, alabaster is nothing more than gypsum. Look at drywall. It's gypsum and you can scratch it with your fingernail. I say to those guys, try carving some jasper. It will instantly dull files, drills, sandpaper and even tungsten carbide or cermet tools.

This is why decades after I've made a gemstone knife handle, it looks like the day it left the shop. Nothing scratches it, nothing will dull the finish. Nothing except aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, and diamond, which the knife handle never encounters. The blade is much more likely to show wear, scratches, dulling, chips, dings, and dents. So the finish on every gemstone will outlast the finish on the blade. It will outlast all the metal on the knife. The finish will outlast every other handle material used on knives, period!

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Mookaite Jasper Gemstone knife handle on "Bulldog" by Jay Fisher
More about this Bulldog with an Australian Mookaite Jasper gemstone handle

"Patriot" 440C high chromium hollow ground stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Ruby in Zoisite Gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
"Patriot" with Ruby in Zoisite gemstone handle

How are gemstone handles attached; will they stay attached?

I use a proprietary method of gemstone attachment to the handle substrate, which is usually the blade steel. Though different types of handle arrangements are used, I make sure that the handles are attached with both mechanical as well as adhesive bonding. In bonding dissimilar materials, this is very important. In full tang knives, hidden rivets are used, and sometimes hidden pins, the same is also true on hidden tang knives. In hidden tang knives, there may be as many as four pins per piece of gem, it's not unusual for the handle of a hidden tang dagger to have over thirty actual pieces of material, metal, stone, spacers, gem, and sometimes wood. One handle I recall had 58 pieces, all meticulously fitted and finished.

You won't see the hidden pins and/or rivets, so the gemstone stands to the forefront of artistic expression. I also use a method that doesn't stress the stone in mounting (like woods and manmade materials which are tightly clamped). This makes a full floating bed for the stone, so post-mounting stresses are eliminated. There are a lot of technical details that go into gemstone handle mounts, and the type of stone also plays a part in how the handle mount is executed. A lot of planning and forethought goes into a gem-handled knife, but what you need to know is this: in the nearly two thousand gemstone-handled knives I've made in the last 30 years, I've never had one standard gemstone handle fail. NOT ONE.

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Have I ever had a problem with a non-standard gemstone handle attachment? Just once:

In an effort to be brutally honest, I'll describe exactly it happened. I made a knife of stainless damascus steel, and the steel blade is typically etched with ferric chloride during the finishing. This solution chemically cuts away the harder and more carbon-bearing component of the steel layered blade, intensifying the pattern in the stainless steel. After the etching and attachment of bolsters, I chose a jasper and hematite gemstone for the handle. The handle was attached using hidden rivets and a special bonding epoxy bedding agent. The handle was ground and finished, but the tang of the knife was smooth, so I needed to etch the damascus tang. I immersed the entire handle into the ferric chloride solution and waited for the etching.

Now, if you are a knife maker, this next part is very important. Ferric chloride evidently has an affinity for epoxy-based bonding agents. I'd never heard of such a thing. It doesn't outright dissolve the epoxy, it just soaks into it and softens it. Additionally, the gemstone I had chosen for the handle had hematite as a component. Hematite is an iron-bearing mineral, in fact, it is actually iron oxide in mineral form. What I didn't know was that a micro-fracture layer of hematite in the stone had also been penetrated by the ferric chloride, and weakened the stone at that layer. I finished the handle, engraved the bolsters, made a sheath, and sold it to a great client.

Several months later, he emailed me and told me his handle had broken. He had dropped the knife, and the corner of a dresser must have hit it just right, because part of the handle "broke off." I was shocked. A simple bump on a dresser should not have caused the handle to break, much less come unbonded from the tang! When he sent the knife back, I realized my error with the ferric chloride treatment, and will never etch another finished tang without complete and meticulous masking and blocking.

I stood behind my guarantee of workmanship and put a new handle on the knife. It just goes to show you that when a standard method of attachment works, don't mess with it. Some of these gem-handled knives have even seen combat!

Pietersite Agate from China on "Altair" handmade knife
More about this Altair with an African Pietersite gemstone handle

Mr. Fisher,
I have spent the past few days perusing your website. My brother told me about you and sent me a link. When he told me that you made gemstone handles well, frankly, I thought it sounded stupid (sorry, read on). I envisioned gaudy baubles fixed to sterling silver handles. Then I visited your site.... When I saw your work I was blown away. I've never seen any comparison whatsoever. The amount of skill and attention to detail that you demonstrate at every level of the process is just staggering. In particular, when I saw the Altair knife with the Pietersite Agate Gemstone material, I thought that God must have made such a beautiful stone knowing that we men would, one day, work it into art. What other explanation could there be for such a stone. I have never seen such craftsmanship. I hope to save enough to purchase one of your beautiful knives one day soon. No need to reply. I'm sure you're very busy but I wanted to give credit where it is due. Its important to note that I've always been fascinated with knives and I began cutting a few myself last year. I guess we all start somewhere but I felt like a monkey with a wrench after seeing your work. It is incredible. Keep it up.

Matthew Hassoldt
Torrance, California

"Phact" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Fossil Coral gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with lizard skin
"Phact" with Fossil Coral gemstone handle

Picking the color of a gemstone handle

Most of the time, clients searching through the gemstone index and photo galleries are taken by a particular color of gemstone. Truly, color is the first consideration when choosing a gem material for their custom knife. To the eye, when scanning the photo galleries, a bold color will stand out more than muted or mottled colors or patterns. Also, it's surprising how many people migrate to solid, uniform colors, without considering the fascinating patterns of some of the other gem material. Making a gemstone-handled knife is not just a matter of picking a color. There are many considerations:

  • Availability: Just as stated on every gemstone knife handle photo gallery page, I may not have the gemstone shown available for new knives.  Sometimes people think that because they're pictured in the gallery, there is an abundant supply of rock in any color or pattern shown. This is not the case. Please read the gemstone availability details below.
  • Durability: Not all gemstones can be used on all knives. Just as when working with materials like ivory, shell, coral, wood, horn, and bone, considerations must be made as to the durability and the application of materials. Gemstones are no different; there is a wide range of durability among them (see Why don't more people use gemstone to make custom knives, weapons, and works of art? above). When making an art knife, or commemorative knife that will see light use, gemstones of a more friable nature may be applied and will last as long as the blade. If a knife is to endure daily hard use, a tougher gem must be considered. If a knife is to be used in combat or tactically, then only the hardest and toughest gem material will work. There may not be a type of material hard and tough enough for your application in the color or pattern you prefer.
  • Mounting: How the gemstone handle material is mounted is important in the choice of gem. On full tang knives, the gem is fully bedded and supported along its length, and often protected on both ends by the dovetailed bolster sections. Many gemstones with fracture lines or seams may be used this way with no problems because of the support of the steel tang. Only the toughest gem is used on full tang knives with one front bolster and no rear bolster, because there is no metal protecting the gemstone butt of the handle. Hidden tang knife handles must be of a material that can support itself in the round, as the handle piece(s) are drilled in the center and a threaded metal tang through them is their support. Not all materials can be used in all applications.
  • Folding Knives are a special application. Since most of my folders are made with gemstone scales that are screwed to the knife liners, the gem must be entirely self supporting. That limits the type of gemstone tremendously, and only the hardest, toughest gem materials can be used, since they're held in place by countersunk screws resting on a shoulder in the gem material. The gem cannot have any fractures, weak spots, or geometry and shape that will not be fully supported by these screws. This is probably why you see so few good gemstone handles on folding knives in the knife world. An alternative is full inlay of gemstone cabochons or scales within the folding knife liner. I do that too, and most folding knives by other makers who use gemstone have this kind of mounting.
  • Price: Just because a client might prefer a color doesn't mean he can afford it. All rocks are not cheap. They range from the price of going out on a hike and finding a piece of native jasper, to purchasing a rare block of precious gem grade material from a mineralogical specimen supplier. The high end materials may cost me over $1000.00, before I ever cut them up for a knife handle scales! And after the material is cut, it may prove to be too friable for use. High end materials are a risky business for this reason.
  • Color Variations: There are no two pieces of rock alike on this planet. When clients browse through my gemstone handles galleries, they sometimes expect to get exactly the same colored knife handle that they see. There are many factors that may affect the color of a stone. From the color of light that a stone is viewed in, to the color settings of your computer monitor, it becomes a variable thing. Rock varies greatly even within the same stone; add pattern variations to that and a specific gemstone color can become an unattainable goal.

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Lapis lazuli (lazurite) gemstone on "Clarau" by Jay Fisher
More about this Clarau with a Peruvian Lapis Lazulii gemstone handle

"Patriot" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Lace Amethyst gemstone handle, shark skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
"Patriot" with Lace Amethyst gemstone handle

Gemstone color descriptions

Here are some specific colors and some of the qualities and limitations of each. This is by no means a complete list; it is generalized and basic based on my experiences. Materials vary and new ones come up from time to time that are out of these norms.

  • Green minerals are fairly prolific, and there are great opportunities for green gemstone applications in all kinds of knives. Many green minerals are both hard and tough, so their application from combat knives to folding knives is attainable. Jades, agates, and jaspers in green are of many varieties with many patterns. Some green minerals (like jasper) take a very high polish, some do not, but their patterns and colors are striking (like budstone or serpentine). Some greens like aventurine have small gold specks running throughout for a beautiful effect. Malachite, which is one of the most visually stunning green minerals is very soft and unsuitable for high durability applications, but I've used it on full tang knives with good results.
  • Red, like green, offers a prolific amount of materials, hardnesses, and applications for gemstone knife handles. A wide variety of color patterns are available from bold solid colors (red river jasper) to mixtures of red with metals (like Michigan copper ore). Red gemstones often have associations of hematite (Australian tiger iron), and some minerals can attain beautiful red colors and accents by heat treatment (Below). Red gemstone minerals for my knife handles are mostly hard, tough jaspers, agates, and quartzes, which take a high, glassy polish.
  • Pink: Rose quartz has a beautiful bold expanse of pink, and rhodonite and franklinite have metallic pyrites highlighted with blacks in a field of pink. Pink agates have interesting color patterns with areas of reds, yellows and golds, and take a very high polish. They are durable enough for all handle applications. Another striking pink is thulite, a pink version of zoisite.
  • Blue gemstones and minerals for knife handles cause the biggest problem (I'll bet you didn't want to hear that). Blue is a hard color in the nature of minerals to come by, and often an expensive one. Deep blue stones may be too soft or fractured for many applications (azurite, charoite), or too porous (blue quartz) or very expensive (Lapis Lazulii or Lazurite, or turquoise). Many people fixate on blue gemstone because it actually is so uncommon. This is nothing new; it's interesting to note that the murals of the renaissance masters were priced by the amount of blue color in them. In ancient Egypt, only the aristocracy were able to grind up azurite for their eye shadow. Blue tones vary greatly, from the blue-green of turquoise and chrysocolla to deep, dark, almost black of azurite. By the way, azurite cannot be used for anything, it's as soft as chalk! Blue is generally NOT a color to be used in high stress applications like combat or tactical knives, and it's use is limited in folding knives. Labradorite, though striking and sought after, is a feldspar which has many flat cleavage planes and must be highly supported, not useable for a tough duty knife. Set on a blue gemstone handle? Dying (below) may be for you. Here is my email response to a client who was certain that he found plenty of blue jasper on the internet for his sword project:

    Blue Jasper: extremely rare! Even rarer is any blue colored jasper that is large enough to be used for handle material. What you see on the internet is mostly NOT jasper. Aventurine is often presented as jasper, but it is not. Jasper is a microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline quartz (silicon dioxide) with extremely fine grain not visible to the naked eye. Aventurine has large visible grains and is much softer and easily broken. Jasper is hard and tough, aventurine is not. So, even if the color is right, if it’s not hard enough, it won’t withstand shock of a sword. On a smaller knife, this is okay, but after all, you’re talking about impact. Other stone presented as jasper on the net are sodalite, low grade lapis, Dumortierite, turquoise, chrysocolla, apatite, labradorite, aquamarine, calcite, and others. Many of these presented are dyed, because true blue gemstones are so uncommon. Among these are howlite (actually white!) Dalmatian jasper (white with black spots), zebra marble (soft marble, white and black), and even quartz with pyrite (white with metallic inclusions). That last one has gained a lot of attention in the past few years, called “blue sea sediment jasper,” “blue impression jasper,” “blue imperial Jasper,” “Ocean blue sea sediment jasper,” “sea picture jasper,” and others. Most of it comes from China. The reason the field is so lucrative is because there is very little blue stone. They’re even selling white stones with a few drops of blue dye on them, calling them “designer gemstones.” So, while the term “blue jasper” brings up pages and thousands of images on Google, not a one of them was actually jasper… when blue jasper is actually found, it is almost distinctly pale blue, almost white but with a blue tinge. This is called “blue lace agate” and it is fairly common, but is found in narrow veins that make it hard to find wider pieces for handles. Some of it may be dyed (the darker blue) but all of it that has very pale blues is what occurs naturally. Incidentally, agates and jaspers are the same minerals, but if there is some clarity, they’re called agates, and if they are opaque, they are called jasper.


  • Brown: There are an amazing amount of brown gemstones that are too often overlooked for handle material. Since many of them are jaspers and quartzes, they are durable and take a high glistening polish. They aren't as garish as the bright blues, greens, or reds, and may have fascinating patterns and even fossil inclusions. Many petrified woods are shades of attractive, interesting browns, sometimes mottled with reds and blacks. A very nice option for those who prefer a warm, more organic, masculine, natural appearance and tone.
  • White minerals available for use on gemstone knife handles are usually in the quartz family, mainly white agates and milky quartz. Sometimes I've used white petrified wood, and white petrified palm wood, and it's gorgeous. White quartzes and agates are often the basis for dyed minerals to attain the color and hardness that is unavailable in nature (like blue!)
  • Black minerals are limited, though not as rare in applications as blues. Black jade is durable and hard, as is black petrified palm wood and some petrified leaves in black quartz. Absolute solid black is rare, and many gemstones are dyed for this effect. Some of the more friable black stones used in some applications are obsidians, which may be a solid color, or snowflake (with white inclusions) or rainbow, with a mixture of dark color patterns. Special care and mounting must be considered to protect the edges of this stone. Hematite ore is almost black, and there are dark granites with specular highlights that are very interesting. In the decade after 2005, black jade coming from Australia has helped a lot in the field, it is not that hard to acquire, and is very tough and durable.
  • Patterns and Fossils: While a uniform color has some visual appeal, I find that the most stunning minerals are those with pattern interest. While you can look at a uniform single-color handle for five minutes and be satisfied, the patterned gemstone can be examined and inspected with long interest, even with magnification, finding new areas and fascinating mineral arrangements every time you look at it and may be different in every lighting situation. Because patterned gemstone is so unique, it's sometimes impossible to find two similar pieces. For many, this unique appeal sets the patterned gem-handled knife apart. Fossils are available in this group, which have even more interest and appeal. Dinosaur bone, fossil leaves, petrified woods, fossil algae, fossil coral, crinoid limestone, and even fossilized dinosaur coprolites have stunning visual appeal, and most are durable enough for a variety of handle mounts. Moss agates have microscopic worlds of interest and arrangement of patterns, colors, and forms. Some have clear areas with opaque colored forms floating within.
  • Special visual features: Some gems have special features and characteristics that cannot even be described or illustrated with a photograph. I'm adding video files to the website to show this (see below). What you'll see is that the rotation and viewing angle and the angle and color of the light makes these minerals come alive with pattern and color changes. Some of the notable ones: labradorite (which has labradoressence, a unique play of light off the cleavage planes within this feldspar mineral) tiger eye quartz and Peidersite (which have chatoyancy or a cat's eye effect), and goldstone (in green, blue, and gold which sparkle deep within from the reflections of millions of faces of copper granules).
Something special here:

See the fantastic light play of Italian Blue Goldstone in the sunlight in this 4mb video clip.

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Sampson Peak Jasper is a brecciated and reformed gemstone of beautiful complexity
"Regulus" with a Sampson Peak Jasper handle

"Raptor" obverse side view in CPM154CM powder metal technology high molybdenum stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Peruvian Lapis Lazuli gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with Caiman skin
"Raptor" with Peruvian Lapis Lazuli handle

What about dyed gemstone?

As a modern artist, I'm expected to be able to supply unusual and modern methods of creation for my clients. Unfortunately, nature does not always give us the colors we like to see in our fine ornaments. Gemstone is that way, and most of the time you have to take what you can get. Lately there have been many supplies of dyed gem on the market. Usually, I do not normally use dyed gem, particularly if the colors are garish and unnatural. But sometimes, a client will have a special request for a specific color. I will always disclose whether a gem is dyed or not, and my methods used to dye the stone are deep, permanent, and simulate what happens in nature and time. The dye penetrates deeply into the gem, and does not change. Sometimes, a light highlighting dye will accentuate the colors of the gem, intensifying the overall pattern. If you have a specific request, this treatment of gemstone may be just what you require. Like dying a leather sheath, dying gem does not change the appreciating value of the knife in any way. By the way, in most modern jewelry, the gemstones are treated or dyed to produce a specific color. This is standard practice in the jewelry trade and has been for decades.

Please remember: I rarely dye gemstone, and over 99% of the gemstone handles you see represented on this site and in my catalogs are NOT dyed.

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Bicolored Tiger Eye Quartz gemstone knife handle on "Deimos" by Jay Fisher
More about this Deimos with a Bicolored Tiger Eye Crocidolite gemstone handle

"Perseus" in 440C high chromium martensitic stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, blue lace agate gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath
"Perseus" with Blue Lace Agate gemstone handle

What about intensified colors of gemstone using tricky photographic techniques?

I read a rather humorous response about gemstone knife handles on a discussion forum. Incidentally, when someone makes a claim to special lapidary knowledge, please do look for their actual creations. Someone making simple jewelry with "glue and stick" methods or hobbyist process does not usually have a great degree of lapidary knowledge. Skilled lapidarists with complete lapidary facilities who have made a career of working with gemstone have a much greater understanding of rocks and minerals than the average or even accomplished knifemaker, unless that knifemaker's main handle material is actually gemstone. If you suspect that truly successful lapidarist-knifemakers are rare, you are correct.

A person was posting about using a particular gemstone he had identified for a knife handle, and the color was intense. One of the respondents claimed that on the internet people were using "colored lights" and manipulating photos to enhance the appearance of stone.

This is humorous, because if it were true, everything else in the photo would be "intensified" with the same color. For instance, if you see a photo of a piece of jewelry and its bluish-colored, and it's mounted in a silver-colored setting (which may be actual silver, the metal), this is not photographed under a "colored" blue light, or the silver would be bluish-colored as well. Imagine this with knives, where the blade will be illuminated with the same "colored" light as the stone. Since this would be easily discernable (the blade wouldn't have the gray look of steel) it's simply not done. I've never heard of anyone doing this. Imagine if someone was trying to sell a piece of gemstone and so blatantly lied or misrepresented its color that it appeared totally different when the buyer received it. How long would that supplier stay in business?

This doesn't mean that all photos of gemstone are good photos. I've take quite a few bad photos in my early years, and you might see some of them on this website, in the "Gemstone" pages. Even the novice can immediately tell which photos they are, as they are almost always grainy. From my own experience, I've never seen a gemstone sold that is so badly misrepresented by color that it's been returned, and that goes for the thousands of gemstone-handled knives I've made as well.

The respondent went on to mention "photo enhancement" to make gemstone look better. For the same reasons I stated about color, this is simply not done. Imagine if a knife is sold and the client receives it and it's a different or less vibrant color. Instant return, damaged character, and hurt sales and reputation will be the result, so it's simply not done by successful makers, jewelers, or artists. In my works, the client almost always claims the actual appearance is markedly better than the photograph, with the universal comment, "the pictures just don't do it justice!"

This is due to the limitations of digital media, the narrow color range represented in digital rendition, the lack of contrast of the monitors, screen, or representative media. I'll go into this more in the photography section of my book, but know that the computer, monitor, cell phone screen, and even the very best, brightest, and most color-rich coffee table book cannot represent color like a real object in your hands. It's up to the maker and photographer to give the best representation he can within the limits of the media, and the media is always limited!

Perhaps the respondent is like many makers, simply overwhelmed by the intense, colorful nature of real gemstones. This happens a lot; guys who are used to dark, flat, muddy, beaten and rough blades, and wood  and earth tones of mammoth ivory and stag just can't appreciate the bold, intense appearance of gemstone. That's okay; they can still achieve bright colors on their knives with "Kirinite®," the fancy made-up name for swirled acrylic plastic, like a bowling ball under a black light on Friday night at the Cosmic bowling lanes... hey, turn up that Grateful Dead!

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Natural color and appearance of brecciated tiger eye gemstone (Pietersite) under photographic lighting:
"Izar" linerlock folding knife, in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel liners, 6AL4V anodized titanium lockplate, Pietersite Agate gemstone handle, Black Galaxy Granite gemstone case lined with leather
More about this "Izar" folding knife

"Sadr" linerlock folding knife, obverse side view in 440c high chromium cryogenically treated stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, anodized 6AL4V titanium liners, Biggs Jasper Gemstone handle scales, leather pouch sheath with stainless steel snap
"Sadr" with Biggs Jasper gemstone handle

What about heat treated gemstone?

I may heat treat some gemstone for several reasons. Mostly, it is to effect a thorough color change in the material. Gemstones and minerals containing iron can often benefit from this treatment.

Here's how it works: the stone is heated very slowly to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to convert the iron in the rock to iron oxide, which is red. There may be a profusion and saturation of red, or there may be light changes that only occur in small areas. It is the color red that usually occurs. In gem like amethyst, the purple gem can be converted to citrine (golden orange-yellow) by heat treatment. Sometimes, a gem will lighten in color or become more translucent. Heat treatment can also make some gemstone easier to mechanically work and polish. Since this is exactly what might occur with minerals buried deep in the planet, it is not as unnatural as dying.

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Red Tiger Eye Quartz (heat treated) on "Triton" kerambit by Jay Fisher
More about this Triton with a heat-treated Tiger Eye gemstone handle

Heat treated Brazilian Agate on this "Procyon" reverse side view in hand-engraved 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, anodized 6AL4V titanium liners and lock, polished Brazilian Agate gemstone handle, breccia marble case
More about this Procyon with a heat-treated Brazilian Agate gemstone handle

What about faceted or cut gemstone?

I do those, too, but not often. Faceted gemstone is the most commonly recognized form of gem, usually mounted in jewelry, but also occasionally adorning fine knives. I've seen knives covered with pave (paved) mounts; I've seen simple and clean displays of faceted gems that simply add a touch of interest. I've also seen knives where faceted gems have been added to "gussy up" a boring knife, or to add value. Some of this kind of work impresses jewelers, but unless it complements the form, the addition of a big faceted gemstone can make a knife gaudy.

It takes no great skill for most knife makers to add faceted gems to their knives; many of the gems are sold already mounted in bezels with pins, so the maker only needs to drill a hole for the pin, and glue the gem-bezel assembly to the knife. This can look tacky, like a leather vest covered in rhinestones. Knife clients may be surprised at how cheap these cut gems are nowadays. The faceted gemstone industry is huge, with plenty of automated factory equipment, "laboratory" grown gems or "created gems" (technical terms for factory-made gems), and automatic finishing equipment. Man-made gem material for the jewelry industry is a huge business, and it has driven down the price and value of faceted gemstone considerably in the last twenty years. So the addition of cut gemstones does not necessarily add value.

Faceted gemstone can be very uncomfortable for the human hand, as the edges and corners of the stones are sharp and well-defined. Use on the knife handle should probably be limited to small, inset stones that do not abrade. That is why you see many of the applications of faceted gemstone on the bolsters, guards, fittings, mounts, and even blades of custom knives. One option is the use of cabochons or doublet and triplet-cut gemstones, which are rounded, polished forms. You don't see too much of them in this field probably because of their baroque and rough appearance. This is a shame, because they can be quite beautiful.

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Beautifully polished nephrite jade gemstone:
"Daqar" dagger, obverse side view in CPM154CM powder metal technology stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel guard and pommel, Nephrite Jade gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with rayskin
More about this "Daqar" dagger

"Saussure" master chef's knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Argentina Agate gemstone handle, Ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
"Saussure" with Argentina Agate gemstone handle

A lot of "gem material" is really plastic. How can you tell if it's real stone?

I select fine gemstones, some precious, some semi-precious, some classified as minerals or specimen grade, from a dozen or so suppliers. Some of my suppliers are foreign or domestic companies, some are rough and tumble rock hounds. Some materials I've even field collected myself. Real rock is not perfect, it has irregularities, inclusions of other materials, sometimes full pockets of crystal, and fractures that have been healed millions of years ago. This is what separates it from plastic. Plastic is uniform, monolithic, and boring. Plastic is light and flat, rock is hard, dense and usually glassy. You can take a hot nail and melt the plastic, a hot nail will do nothing to gemstone. You can scratch plastic easily, not gem. Gemstone assumes the temperature of its surroundings, feels dense and solid, has no wild expansion coefficient that will allow it to work loose from a knife handle mount. Plastic feels weak, light, looks flat and dull, will warp and change with heat and cooling. Plastic is lifeless, gemstone is timeless. Plastic is made by man, rock is made by God. Though man will strive to create gemstone in a laboratory environment (and he's done very well with precious gems like rubies, sapphires, and diamonds), he will never imitate multicolored jaspers with inclusions, nephrite jades with healed frac lines, and crystal pockets interspersed with hematite, quartzite, and amethystine flow banding. This takes millions of years of specialized circumstances that take place deep within the earth under tremendous heat and pressure. Each rock is truly original. Learn more about my gemstone handles on the Frequently Asked Questions Page "Why Gemstone Knife Handles?".

The test? Take a needle in a clamp and heat it up red hot. When you touch it to a plastic handle, it will burn, melt and permanently burn a hole in the plastic, ruining your handle (sorry)! If it's rock, nothing will happen. Okay, here's a less invasive test. Tap a handle with a small steel rod and listen to the sound. The plastic will "thump" and the gemstone will "click."

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Polvadera Jasper gemstone knife handle on "Argiope" by Jay Fisher
More about this Argiope with a Polvadera Jasper gemstone handle

"Shaula" obverse side view in ATS-34 high molybenum stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Ruby in Fuchsite gemstone handle, lizard skin inlaid in hand-carved leather shoulder
"Shaula" with Ruby in Fuchsite gemstone handle

What is stabilized, composite, alternate, reconstituted, or reconstructed gemstone material?

Okay, this needs to be very clear: These terms are describing plastic. In an effort to cheaply create and sell a product under the umbrella of gemstone, capitalizing on gemstone's value and durability and investment potential, companies and individuals have created names to make it appear that their product is gemstone. They even may claim that their product has 10% real stone dust in it. What? Yes, you can add some colored chalk to the melted plastic, and it has real stone dust in it!

This type of description has gone on far too long in this tradecraft, where guys will argue about .02 percent of tungsten in the knife blade steel alloy, yet lie about a soft polyester handle by calling it reconstituted dinosaur bone. And some of these are big-name makers. Don't fall for that!

Another one is amber. Real amber is semi-petrified hardened tree sap, and is rare in sizes larger than an inch in any dimension. Those prehistoric trees just didn't produce gobs and gobs of the stuff. Amber is prized for its rarity and small size. But there many knifemakers, particularly some older big-name knifemakers who use "amber beads" in their hidden tang knives, and one guy has made a career of it. Know this: these beads are plastic—usually acrylic—and the amber claim is made because (supposedly) they have a small percentage of "amber dust" in them! Don't fall for that! Real amber this large would add thousands of dollars to the cost of these knives because large amber deposits are so rare. It also helps to know that even real amber is often re-melted to clarify it. After all, even real amber is only sap...

A recent addition to the "gem claim, but plastic-reality" is "ghost jade." This is a fairly lame attempt to link plastic (G10, fiberglass, or polyester) to a gemstone (jade) without using the actual descriptive term "colored." A correct description would be G10, colored like jade, but kind of a weak, pastel color of green. You've seen it, I'm certain; it's the color of fiberglass arrow shafts made in the 1970s, and this sickly yellow green is the natural color of G10 epoxy-fiberglass cloth composite. Knifemakers even describe it as "jade" without revealing that it is a plastic manmade material at all! This is unforgiveable, but it happens all the time.

I use manmade materials, including G10, but I clearly describe them by the industry name: G10. Never should a knifemaker or supplier omit the actual descriptive term for the material; it does a great disservice to the knife client to do this, and leads to suspicion about what else the maker is lying about. Yes, I said lie, because a lie of omission is still a lie.

There are a whole host of materials that try to be stone, and you can read about some of them on my Manmade Knife Handle Materials page. Some of them are even named with an "-ite" on the end perhaps to make them sound like a mineral, but they are just acrylic (like Kirinite®)

Please get this clear. These terms are describing plastics. Whether it's polyester, polyethylene, epoxy, or acrylic, they are plastic. If you can cut it with a metal hand saw it is probably plastic. If you can melt it with a hot needle, it's plastic. If you can soften it with lacquer thinner or MEK (methylethylkeytone), it's plastic. If there are any confusing terms like gem material or reconstructed stone, reconstituted or stabilized, alternate, or composite, it is plastic! Some suppliers will even try to tell you that it's very much like stone, and capitalize off the value of real gemstone. Don't be fooled or taken in by this. Plastic is cheap, and it cheapens a knife. If you want a plastic-handled knife, that's fine, just don't pay a gemstone price for a plastic-handled knife. See the topic above to find out how to tell.

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Nephrite Jade gemstone knife handle on "Little Venus" by Jay Fisher
More about this Little Venus with a British Colombian Nephrite Jade gemstone handle

"Titans" matched karambits in 440C high chromium stainles steel blades, T3 advanced cryogenic treatment, mirror polished, hollow ground, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Stone Canyon Jasper gemstone handles, sheaths of black rayskin inlaid in hand-carved leather shoulder
"Titan" with Stone Canyon Jasper gemstone handle

How to know that the stone claimed is really the valuable gemstone

This is a very important point. Stones are often misidentified. I've seen black glass called onyx, I've seen serpentine called jade. I've seen marble misidentified as jasper, I've seen variscite called turquoise. It is very important to know what you are buying; the value of the piece may depend greatly on the materials used. The only way to be sure is to purchase the gemstone or gem handle knives from someone who has an established track record of gemstone knowledge, and that isn't always clear. Look at the pieces they make, their associations, and their history working with gemstone and rare materials. This is often the best indicator of their knowledge and reliability. Any artist or craftsman who uses gemstone should be able to tell you what the stone is made of. For instance, is the bronzestone actually brown micaceous hematite with feldspar inclusions and aventurescence or is it hypersthene with chatoyancy? Hmmm? Your knife maker should know the difference, or he has no business selling you a gemstone-handled knife.

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Bronzite Hypersthene gemstone knife handle on "Iraca" by Jay Fisher
More about this Iraca with a Bronzite Hypersthene gemstone handle

"Vulpecula" obverse side view in hot-blued O1 high carbon tungsten vanadium tool steel alloy, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Silver Leaf Serpentine gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
"Vulpecula" with Silver Leaf Serpentine gemstone handle

What about refitting a factory knife with a gemstone handle?

My name came up in an internet posting of a craftsman's worry about comparison to my gemstone-handled knives. I took a look at this guy's work and process. It was clear that the man invested a lot of time, effort, materials, process, and skill in making his gemstone handles to apply (glued) to factory knives. There really is no comparison.

Unfortunately, retrofit knives of any kind are not a good investment for the knife client, not because of the craftsman who makes and applies the handle, but because they are applied to cheap, common, and mundane factory knives. No matter how complicated, well-executed, and magnificent a piece of rock or other material is made into a handle, it does it no justice to apply it to a common factory knife. This retrofit does not make it an investment knife, a knife worthy of collection, or worthy of note in any way.

It's kind of sad, because as the guy in the above case has the skill to make gemstone handles, he's probably got the skill to make the knives: the blades, the bolsters and fittings, the designs, the sheaths or stands, too. If he would apply that same dedication to the complete knife, it might surprise him how well he does.

Tying an individual maker's name to a factory refit doesn't do a maker any good, either. There are dozens of guys who have attached gemstone and other unusual materials to factory made knives, and there is a huge company here in the southwest that regularly offers this service. The knives are and will continue to be cheaply made and of little value.

This process is humorously referred to in the jewelry industry and tradecraft as "glue and stick." It originates from folks who buy the findings (metal premade components like ear posts, rings with bezels, and chains) from one source, and buy gemstone from another source and glue and stick them together. They then go on to claim that they are jewelers.

For years, I've kept relatively quiet about this type of knife handling, but no more; I've been asked repeatedly to elaborate on this topic with details and specifics and I owe it to my tradecraft and all the real knife makers who've gone before me to clear the decks. Knife enthusiasts need to know what they are looking at, reading, and the source and validity of the people who make the knives they may spend their money on. You've read a good chunk of my website by now, so you can clearly see who I am, my experience, my background, and my career as well as a couple thousand knives I've made on this site. So here goes:

It's sad to see the hyperbole that is posted on the web and in some publications about this type of work, and the people who post it should be ashamed. No matter how well versed the retrofit guy is in gemstone, when applied to a factory knife it's like gussying up a pig. I've seen claims like "instant heirloom," and even the statement "you can not buy a finer gemstone-handled knife." Surely their search engines work; surely they have seen the number one gemstone-handled knife maker's site on the internet and in the world. Surely they can actually see knives that do appreciate in value, are unique in materials, design, blades, handles, accessories, and embellishment. I suppose they're thinking no one else will stumble upon this very site that gets over 75,000 hits a day at the time of this writing... okay, take Jay Fisher's knives out of the picture and look at what they are selling. Take a really good look:

  • Look at the seam where the gemstone contacts the metal components of the knife handle. You will see gaps, glue, and uneven matching of materials. Yet they still post photos of this shoddy, amateur work and proclaim its beauty.
  • Note that the photos are small and often out of focus. This hides any glaring flaws or irregularities and is a well-known photographic and advertising trick, though it's also an indicator of amateur business practices. Compare the photo size with the size of photos on this site, for instance, which in many cases are actually an enlargement of the knife itself and its component areas in high resolution detail.
  • They will claim that the re-handled factory knife is unique, yet it is one of literally thousands of the exact same model, style, materials, finish, and brand that have been made on a factory floor. The only difference is the piece of rock glued on the handle.
  • You can easily see that the method of attachment prohibits uniform and high quality finishing and blending of handle material and bolsters, and the handle is often domed up behind the bolster like a cheap cabochon in a rock shop.
  • These guys often claim that since every piece of rock is different, every knife handle is unique, and therefore, every knife that is re-handled is a unique knife, and worthy of collection. Really? That would then mean that since every piece of wood is unique in exact pattern and figure (and they are), every factory knife with a piece of walnut on it is a unique knife. That would also mean that since every square inch of micarta phenolic is unique (and it is), every Micarta®-handled knife is a unique knife worthy of collection or value. The truth is a piece of tiger eye quartz is pretty much the same as every other piece of tiger eye quartz, and this is not what makes a knife have long term or investment value. What does make it have value is clearly defined on a special page on this very website. I'm sure these guys have seen it (since they've copied chunks of my copyrighted material for their own use illegally), but they don't really want to hear about Fit, Finish, Balance, Design, Accessories, and Service.
  • There are no thin, well-delineated, or graceful lines in the re-handled factory knife, because the rock is just a cabochon and must fully support itself in the making. So this type of handle is very squarish and thick.
  • Contouring the handle material with the knife blade and creating them both together happens in the design phase of knife (one of the six points mentioned above). Since the re-handler does not actually design the knife (he just assembles the blade and handle) he has no real dimensional control of this complex balance characteristic. This leads to a knife blade with a blocky, squarish handle with abrupt geometry that looks like an afterthought because that is exactly what it is.
  • Since the re-handler is not working with the metal he must stay away from it, and can not blend it to the tang, the bolsters, or filework (if there even is any).
  • Guys make the claim that the knife has "weight and substance" and that this is somehow beneficial. They could not be more off the mark, as great skill in lapidary and knife making leaves a perfectly balanced knife that is not handle-heavy or weighty. This is the mark of a fine gemstone-handled knife and the testament to the maker who crafts it. Learn about this in detail at my "Weight of a gemstone knife handle" topic above.
  • Since the knife is not originally crafted by an individual, but manufactured in a factory, perhaps even overseas by child labor, no uniform artistic mind or concept can unify the piece as a work of art or even fine craft. There is no craft in a factory production, and no art in gluing a profiled and domed cabochon to the metal frame of a folding or fixed blade factory knife.
  • One of the most insidious affronts is the very high and inflated price assigned to such knife work, simply because it is handled with a couple pieces of gemstone. Prices should be assigned depending on the knife's overall value, the maker's history, skills, name, and reputation in the field, and the actual ability of the knife to appreciate in value. This type of assembled or re-handled factory knife will never appreciate in value because it is not a complete or original work.
  • Beware of the guys who re-handle factory knives or buy kit knife blades to glue and stick stone handles on and call the process and what they are offering "Custom." A custom knife is a made to order knife. If you don't make the blade, the bolsters, the fittings, do the hollow or flat grinding, heat treat, the metal finishing, and the metal sculpting that is required to actually create a knife, you are not making a custom knife. If you don't believe this, simply order a knife from one of these guys that is your own pattern, and watch them turn you down flat. Maybe they'll refer you to a real knife maker who can make the blade, and then they'll glue a cabochon on it for you...

Look, there's nothing wrong with buying a factory retrofit or a kit knife blade with a piece of stone stuck on it, but please don't try to make a valid comparison to a handmade or custom knife of sole authorship by an established maker, and don't pay a substantial price for the piece. It was a cheap knife when it left the factory or the kit shop that sold it, and does not become better designed, finished, or of better quality in materials and workmanship simply by gussying it up with a piece of rock or other material. It's still a cheap knife, just with a colorful handle.

You'll do better by going to a local rock hound or lapidary club in your community, and having them help you re-handle your knife. Any jeweler worth his salt will be able to guide you to someone in your location who can help out with this type of craft. Just supply the knife blade yourself, and don't pay more than the original value of the knife for the service, and don't expect the knife to be an investment, just a curiosity.

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Fine Handmade Knife: "Tarazed" obverse side view: blued O-1 oil  hardening tool steel blade, Mokume Gane bolsters, Agate gemstone handle, Sharkskin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Tarazed with a Moss Agate gemstone handle

"Aldebaran" obverse side view in CPM154CM powder metal technology stainless tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Golden Midnight Agate gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath inlaid with ostrich leg skin
"Aldebaran" with Golden Midnight Agate gemstone handle

Can the knife client supply the raw material to make the knife handle?

You want to be very careful purchasing gemstone for any professional lapidary (that's me) to use. Unless you're familiar with rock and mineral determination, inspection, and purchase, you might acquire material that is unusable. Here's a portion of an email response I sent to a client who wanted to supply a hunk of rock he'd been impressed with on Ebay, and have me use it as a custom knife handle.

Now, about gemstone. On the link you included, they’ve misidentified orbicular jasper as ocean jasper. You can see some ocean jasper on my site here. On that same page, there are several pictures of orbicular jasper. The misidentification is a serious thing. I've seen serpentine identified as jade in this trade, which is unforgivable. The other thing about gemstone is that you must have enough viable, hard, fracture free material for both handle scales. So, since you can’t really test that slab on Ebay, you don’t know if it’s going to break. You don’t know if on the other side of the rock there are vugs, holes or inclusions, and you don’t know how hard, how uniform, or how tough the slab is overall. You have to have a piece large enough for cutting down (generally about 6-8” length, and 2” wide), and you have to have a pair, as closely matched as possible. That’s a lot to ask of a photo from Ebay. Again, I’m not saying that the material isn’t out there, I’m just a lot more comfortable going to my suppliers, and buying known material that I can slab myself. After all that, I’ll say that if you wish to purchase material for me to use on a knife blade or handle, that is your option. I just can’t guarantee that I can work with it and it will come out as you (and I) hope.

Unless you're a lapidary, making the decision to have me use a particular piece of gemstone for your project is probably best left to me. If you have the rock and want to send it to me, let me know and we'll talk. I might even trade a knife for a particularly good piece of raw rock.

Occasionally, I get asked to incorporate supplied gemstone, cut, cabbed, faceted, or in finished pieces to a knife project. I usually decline this offer, as there are some difficulties that this may incur that are not initially obvious.

  • On a custom knife project, I reserve the right to resell the project if something unforeseen happens and the client is not able to complete his commitment to pay for the balance when the balance is due. If this happens, he will have the value of his gems tied up in the project, and simply removing them is not an option as this can destroy the project.
  • The liability of holding the gem, items, or supplied minerals for the duration of the project would be my responsibility. This is not something I'm insured for or protected against. I would be essentially holding onto someone else's property, and with gemstone, this can be a huge responsibility.
  • Damage could occur in mounting, assembling, or using the materials, and this also would present a substantial liability.
  • I reserve the right as an artist to incorporate the materials and objects in a project that fits with the style of work I do. Just like engraving, I choose carefully what motifs, designs, and materials are incorporated that I feel works with the project.
  • Gemstones may be part of a personal or family collection. It is, in the very least, unnerving for the lapidary to slab them for a knife handle, only to find that they won't work because of size, shape, arrangement, color, fracks, crumbling, or porosity. Then, to hand back a box of crumbs with an apology can be a very sad thing indeed!
  • If something were to happen to me while the project is ongoing, and I have client supplied materials mounted and used in the project, the entire disposition of the project and its materials is completely uncertain. My family would have to determine how, to whom, and where a disposition of unfinished works would occur, and they essentially would take on the liability.

It's not that I don't want to work with fine materials, or have the client's ideas for a project, but I have to limit my liabilities, uncertainties on both sides of the artist-patron relationship, and keep things simple and clear.

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Binghamite gemstone knife handle on "Grus" by Jay Fisher
More about this Grus with a Binghamite gemstone handle

"Alegre" Obverse side view. 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, fully fileworked, mirror finished, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Orbicular Amethyst Gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
"Alegre" with Orbicular Amethyst Gemstone handle

What about Petrified Wood?

Petrified wood is a fairly common fossil in North America. It is formed when a tree has fallen into or is covered by mud and muck in some catastrophic event, such as a flood or volcanic eruption. This buries the trunk or limbs of the tree quickly, before decomposition can eat away the tree's remains. Then, sealed from oxygen, scavengers, and bacterial decay, the wood is encased for literally millions of years. While encased, the organic material slowly dissolves and is replaced by minerals which are carried into the spaces where the wood's cells have been. The minerals then form the petrified wood with the same shape, size and arrangement of cells as the original organic components. The wood of the tree is replaced by rock. This is the same process that produces all true fossils.

People collect petrified wood, because it's very easy to recognize on the ground, is fascinating to examine, and can offer striking and colorful patterns and arrangements. Since it is stone, it can be worked as with any lapidary material into jewelry, bookends, or even knife handles. I've worked with a lot of petrified wood.

Sometimes, a client will offer his own petrified wood for a custom project. I rarely accept these projects because of several reasons.

  • The wood may be too friable to use. Petrified wood occurs in several different mineral sets and not all of these are durable enough for lapidary work. A calcite-based petrified wood is chalky, crumbly, and porous, and is easily stained by any liquid and even the surrounding dirt. It may appear stable and tough, but when it's clamped into a slabbing saw, the slabs just fall to crumbly sand. This type of petrified wood is very common; in fact it seems to be most of the petrified wood in the southwest. While specimens are interesting, they do not make good knife handles (or any other item that has to be worked by lapidary method). If this type of petrified wood is offered by the client, it simply won't work on a knife handle.
  • Agatized or Jasper petrified wood is based on silicates, which are harder, but the fossil is often fractured. These fracs may not appear until the stone is slabbed, and then you discover that there is not one solid piece larger than 2 inches in diameter in a whole cobble or boulder. This is, unfortunately, quite common in petrified wood that comes from the Petrified Forest in Arizona. It has striking colors and patterns, and would look fantastic on a knife, but is full of fracs that mean the lapidary (or owner of the fossil) will have nothing but a handful of large pebbles the moment the slab clears the saw. Though I've used this fossil before, finding large enough pieces for a knife handle may mean cutting dozens of slabs from a large trunk just to find enough for a pair of knife handle scales. If this fossil is supplied by a client, he many not appreciate being handed back a box of large pebbles for the effort.
  • Colors may vary considerably within the same rock. It may seem like it's all red and black, but when cut by a slabbing saw, the lapidary (and client) discover that the inside is a muddy shade of gray or brown, and frankly, not interesting. The only way to know the color is to cut it up, and I've thrown out plenty of petrified wood because of this issue.
  • Petrified wood may be part of a personal or family collection. I remember my father and I hunting in the wilderness, not bagging any game, but bringing home petrified wood chunks for the yard or to sit on a desk, or as an accent piece on a shelf. Since these fossils often become part of a family collection, it is unnerving for the lapidary to chop them up for a knife handle, only to find that they won't work because of size, shape, arrangement, color, fracks, crumbling, or porosity. Then, to hand back a box of crumbs with an apology can be a very sad thing indeed!

This is why if a client offers petrified wood for a project, I'll usually decline. The only exceptions would be if the material is already slabbed (and its durability and color confirmed) or if it is a rare or valuable material like opalized petrified wood. Then, we can talk about the possibility of making a beautiful pair of knife handle scales for his custom project.

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Black and Red Petrified wood knife handle, hidden tang with damascus steel blade
More about this Omega with an Arizona Petrified Wood Jasper gemstone handle

So you're planning an excursion and would like to look for raw rock for a knife handle.

"And yet I, too, have set out in quest of gems, have known the thrill of pursuit and capture and, above all, the thoroughly satisfying experience of adding one rare gem to another in the ever-growing collection that even time perhaps will not destroy."

--George Fredrick Kunz
Mineralogist and Mineral Collector
Tiffany and Company, U.S. Geological Survey, American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Sciences, American Museum of Natural History

Hunting for raw stone, a.k.a. rock hounding can be a casual or a very involved process. There are quite a few texts available listing common areas where certain types of worthwhile gem and rock material can be found, and the best thing to do is to get one of those small books or pamphlets detailing the area you plan to travel through. Be prepared, though, as properties listed as open often change hands after publication of those texts, some areas are hounded out, and others may be inaccessible. The type of stone may vary greatly, and not all rock can be used on knife handles. See the topic on size below. Agates, jaspers and other hard stones are best, but sometimes unusual types work well. Hounding may require long hikes through desolate territory, and hauling big chunks and small boulders (a boulder is classified as a rock larger than 10” in diameter) is a lot tougher than it sounds. But the process can be very fun, and I’ve certainly spent my own share of time in the wilderness gathering stone.

Another more direct option is to locate and visit local rock shops and lapidary houses in the areas you plan to drive through. These guys have already done most of the work for you, they often have local stock, and may even have rough material that has been slabbed out, perhaps lapped or polished, and you can see just what the material you’re purchasing looks like. If you are traveling with a female companion, this may often be preferable to both of you, as she can peruse the jewelry often offered at these small stores. Sometimes, you can get really nice rough for very cheap, 1-3 dollars a pound and it can be slabbed and trimmed for use on a knife handle. Just be sure that whatever rock you get is uniform, solid, with little or no cracks, voids, or inclusions of other materials. Often, if a rock is already slabbed out by a local lapidary, you can be more positive about it holding up to trimming and grinding into a knife handle.

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"PJ" Pararescue style knife: 440C high chromium stainess steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Scapolite gemstone hande, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath
More about this PJ with a Scapolite gemstone handle

How big of a rock is needed to make a knife handle?

Size does matter when collecting, purchasing, or selecting stones for use in knife handles. Because most knife handles require much larger pieces of gemstone than jewelry, it might be difficult to find certain types that are large enough, or have high enough yield to produce correctly shaped pieces after slabbing. Rocks are generally rounded, so imagine a loaf of round bread being sliced. the pieces on the end are pretty much unusable, and so may be the next cut or two, depending on the shape of the rock. As a lapidary, I'll do my best to orient the rock into the saw vise and holding arrangement, but still this may limit the size of worthwhile pieces that the rock may yield. If the rock has a large vein, fracture, or inclusion running through it, it may not yield enough material for even a small knife handle once slabbed. The stone may cleave when cut, which is a natural tendency for rock to fracture along its own molecular plane surfaces, and you may not discover this until cutting.

The proper size of stone for such an endeavor is called a large cobble. A cobble has an intermediate diameter of between 2.5 and 10 inches (64-256 mm). I work with a lot of large cobbles. The size needed for most full-tang knife handles is at least 3.5" long, and 1.5" wide. So, you can see a small cobble would not be large enough. Forget pebbles, which are between .1 and 2.5" (2-64 mm). Also, remember that I must be able to produce a pair of handles from the stone. An ideal size of rough is a small boulder. Boulders are defined as being larger than 10" (256 mm) in diameter. My saws can only accommodate a boulder with the largest length or diameter of about 14" so there is a limit. Remember also, that most stone is heavier than water of the same volume, so shipping small boulders may be very expensive and impractical. Try to carry a 90 pound boulder of granite out of the back country, and you'll get a real appreciation of the mass! Each case must be considered individually.

Want to know how big a rock can be? Try a batholith. It's an igneous mass that has a bedrock surface of at least 40 square miles (100 square km) or more and has no known bottom! (Please don't send me one for your knife)

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Leopard Skin Jasper gemstone knife handle on "Mercury Magnum" by Jay Fisher
More about this Mercury Magnum with a Leopard Skin Jasper gemstone handle

What about companies that mass market gemstone-handled knives?

You might have seen a gemstone-handled knife, or a knife with pieces or parts or inlays of gem in the handle. Most of these are made by a company in New Mexico, where dozens of workers take pieces of material (some is gem but most is plastic) and glue them together and then glue them to a knife tang or handle. The work is shoddy, with gaps and spaces between the material filled with glue. I cringe when someone mentions the company name, as it is an example of what is worst in the jewelry industry. There are a number of offenses committed by companies like these:

  • They classify plastic as gemstone. There is no such thing as "constituted" gem, no "stabilized" material, no "reconstructed" rock. Rock is rock, and what these terms refer to is plastic, mainly polyester and acrylic, dyed to represent the color of the mineral.
  • They use the word "Stone" in their name. Again, a term to mislead the buying public, as most of the included material is plastic.
  • The use bits a pieces of colored plastic, glued together in a tacky, amateurish way to appear hand crafted, but it just looks junky.
  • They glue these assembled pieces to a knife handle (usually a flat tang), with  no mechanical methods of attachment, only glue.
  • The "knives" they glue the plastic to are crappy, poorly finished pieces of junk steel, with forms and finish that would offend the cheapest letter opener.
  • Oh, yeah, they make cheap letter openers, too.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of cheap product; it is what it is. It is not an investment knife, and not a knife worthy of a collection of any value, long or short term. More details about glue and stick knife handles on my refitting topic above.

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Congo Malachite gemstone knife handle on "Kineau" by Jay Fisher
More about this Kineau with a Malachite gemstone handle

Are all the gemstones pictured on this site available?

Unfortunately, no. The pictures in the photo galleries of gemstone handle materials (and all the pictures on this web site) represent the last 30+ years of my life's work, and feature gemstones used on those handles. The gemstone handle photo galleries only show my gemstone handles, they are not meant to be an inventory of available material for new knives, they are meant as a reference only. While I do have some of the materials that are pictured, my inventory of gem and mineral constantly changes. See some of the latest acquisitions of new material here. Also, gemstone is not like wood; you can't go to your local supplier and get more. Some of the material is a once-in-a-lifetime find, some is on the gemstone rough market for a few years and then never seen again. Some is very rare (see my Nebula Stone page here). Other gemstone rough is commonly sold and easily acquired. Please remember also that the names for gem material are numerous. Like exotic woods, it seems every country or location or dealer has a different name for gemstone material, so gemstone listed under one name may show up as another name in another place.

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Noreena Jasper gemstone knife handle on "Izanagi" by Jay Fisher
More about this Izanagi with a Noreena Jasper gemstone handle

"Charax" dagger with Black Australian Jade and Green Calilfornia Jade gemstone mosaic handle in stainless steel
More about this Charax with a black Australian Nephrite Jade and Green California Nephrite Jade gemstone handle

Photo galleries of gemstone knife handles

Below is a group of picture galleries of several hundred gemstone knife handles, all made by me over the decades. You'll also see some pictures of slabbed and rough gemstone. All of these types in the alphabetic index I have used, many of them are currently in stock and available. You'll notice some types are represented with several pictures, due to variations in the stone. You'll see variations, mosaics of stone and stone, mosaics of wood and stone and metals. Click on the pictures to see an enlarged image. I'll add to these galleries as new minerals, gem, rock, and stone are found, purchased, or used.

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Nickel Magnesite gemstone knife handle
More about this Izanami with a Nickel Magnesite gemstone handle

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