How To Dye Knife Scales
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This is something I got into a while ago because I kinda like the idea of personalizing my knives and I like how certain colors look in the light. It's turned into a hobby. I don't know that there's a deeper meaning to it than that - I try to do things I like :) There's lots of resources available if you want to learn about dyeing things online, and considerably fewer out there about dyeing knife scales. There's walkthroughs for doing this on the stove, and you can try that if you want. Some of the methods I have seen are... well, dangerous, and not in a good way. Others work but have little room for error -- I occasionally do a dyeing job on the stovetop now, but it's fast and somewhat imprecise, so a while back I ended up experimenting and drawing on background information a bit to come up with an alternate process to do it. I use a microwave! In a lot of ways, it's much easier, and you aren't staining up a metal cookpot, and especially once you get used to it, it's a lot easier to get just the effect you want, no darker or lighter. The first and arguably most important step is the knife you choose. It is very easy to turn a light or neutral color into a dark color, and it is impossible to turn a dark color into a light or neutral color. It's hard to see color differences on a dark hued knife (like trying for green or blue highlights on a predominantly black knife) and it's pretty easy to dye things very dark when you're just screwing around. So you can't do anything you want with dye, there's limitations. As a general rule you have a lot more options with a light colored handle, especially if it's going to be a dramatic change. White, light greys or tans end up influencing the final color the least, but the easiest color to dye ends up being 'jade' -- which is the color of G-10 resin with no dye in it. It's translucent, light, and takes dye well. Especially if you are hoping to create a 'grain' effect on the knife, you want to also choose one that's rounded, because it's the rounding that exposes the layers of fabric in the G-10 in that nice grain pattern. Very flat scales don't give you that. You can also dye to create a crisp contrast between layers of the G-10. This works best on solid colors, greens and blues. Hunter orange dyes red astonishingly well. But today I'm just going to dye a TwoSun TS80 Jaeger indigo. Jaeger (or Jäger) means huntsman, so green would be a classic choice, but I've already got a hunter green TS80, and while I have a navy blue one I don't yet have one in indigo. So, an Indigo Jaeger. Note the rounded scale, exposed grain and jade G-10. One of my favorites knives to dye.
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I have heard people online talk about dyeing their knives just by dipping the whole knife in boiling dye. Yikes. No, we won't be doing that. You disassemble the scales from the knife and dye them, because that's much mo betta than boiling your entire knife then trying to dry it out. The TS80 is dirt simple to disassemble -- you remove the clip, unscrew the pivot and one bolt, and voila the whole knife lifts apart. Protip: put everything but the scales in a tupperware container or the like to keep it all together until you reassemble the knife.
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So you have your knife scales now, but you can't dye them like this. They're covered in knife oil. Oil plays havoc with dye, it's got to go. All of it. So, you have to wash them in very hot soapy water:
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Put on a pair of rubber gloves - your skin oil is more than enough to foul up a dye job -- and gently but thoroughly scrub the entire surface with degreaser soap (Dawn is fine) and a bit of Scotch pad, or whatever you like. Then rinse it clean in hot hot water. As hot as you can stand. I often repeat this step depending on how meticulous I'm feeling. Do not, repeat do not use bleach, even if it seems like a smart thing to add in. (It isn't.)
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Then pour a half cup of 99% isopropanol (aka isopropyl alcohol, rubbing alcohol) over them and agitate the scales around in the pan in it, repeatedly flipping them, making sure they get drenched in alcohol.
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A weaker concentration may be OK if it's all you can find, but the strongest stuff works best. The treatment helps strip out small particles and the last of the oils from the surface of the G-10, including bits that were previously impregnating the exposed edge of the fabric grain. It also displaces remaining rinse water from the scale, which otherwise would takes its time drying -- and isopropanol dries very fast, so it speeds the drying time overall. Let them dry and give them a once over to make sure they're 100% clean:
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They'll have a faded look, whitened a bit. Get a bottle of Rit dye. I mostly use the all purpose variety. You can experiment with other types; it'd certainly be more scientific, because all purpose Rit is kind of cheating where dye is concerned. They mix different dye types together to have the widest range of effect over the most kinds of fabric. You could definitely be more precise with using single dye products if you were being a real artist and going for exact effects. For me, Rit's pretty dependable stuff and I'm kinda not really Michelangelo so much as I'm having fun dyeing knives. Rit also cleans up with soap and water: you will possibly end up discoloring the plastic container you simmered the dye in, but the microwave itself will wipe out very cleanly when you are done. In fact the steam from the simmering dye makes it easy. So this is how I go about it. Anyway, take a pinch of salt, a half cup of vinegar, and half the bottle of Rit (about 4 fluid ounces), and put it in a microwaveable container with a lid. If you were dyeing on the stovetop you'd be adding all this to a cookpot and heating it to a boil, then lowering the scales into the boiling dye for a few minutes. Doing it this way, you're going to add it all to a microwave safe container and simmer the handles in the microwave for a while. Here I'm using an old container that I've used to dye dozens of knives -- as you can see it's just a plastic microwave safe storage tub.
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Add boiling water, at least 3x as much as the dye concentrate and vinegar. More is better, you don't want the ratio of water to pigment to be TOO low. At the same time, don't fill it to the brim or you'll be cleaning up a mess later.
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Add the knife scales to this solution, flat side down, so that they aren't touching each other.
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The dye solution should be very hot. Put the lid back on, not tightly, and put your container in the microwave (on a layer of paper towels). If you just run your microwave at full power, the dye will boil and get everywhere. If you run it on the lowest setting it can take a long long time for the dye to set. A hot simmer is what you want. Typically I set the microwave to 30% power for 15 minutes, but you might need something different for yours. When in doubt err on a lower time or temp - you can always steep it longer if you need to, but it’s much harder to un-dye something that is too dark. As a side note; if I were dyeing injection molded plastic instead of G-10, I’d be doing it the same way, but I’d be checking every few minutes as most plastics tend to absorb dye quickly by comparison, and the scale can turn nearly black from over saturation if you let them go a full 15 minutes. Back to the Jaeger scales! When done, pull them out and check the scales to see if they're good to go or whether it needs more time in the microwave. (They will be quite hot, in the manner of things that one boils in a microwave. Tongs or tweezers can be useful here.)
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These were good to go so I pulled them out. The dark blues like indigo set up fairly quickly, seems like. The hotter the simmer, the faster the set -- you can soak these clips in room temperature dye for days and they won't get as dark as they will after being simmered in dye for a short time. The rest of the steps are also what you would do with the scales if you had done them on the stovetop. First, they go in cold water. G-10 is a composite material made of resin impregnating a stack of compressed fiberglass cloth. It looks solid, and mostly is, but it does sponge up some excess dye that it needs to release. 'Cold shock' the dyed scales by rinsing immediately in cold water to help set the color and trap the pigment in the resin matrix, preventing pigment from leaching out of the piece later. Cold tap water is enough, ice water may leave the scale with a slight warp as it ‘sets’ the resin so quickly.
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Once you've thoroughly rinsed them in water, you're going to drain them.
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Then toss them with a bit more alcohol, to strip weakly bound dye from the surface (you want it to come out now, not later, on your hands) and also to help displace water from the G-10 as before. You don't want a wet scale going back on the knife, unless you like rust. protip; I shot these pics using a simple stainless kitchen bowl, but have since moved on to a kidney shaped flat bottomed one for the alcohol rinse, a significant improvement because bigger scales fit a bit better and the flat bottom keeps more of the alcohol in contact with the scales. Here’s a pic:
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Anyway, toss it around a little.
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Almost done now... Let these dry on a sheet of paper towel. As you can see on the towel, even as you're drying it off a little more dye will sponge out of the G-10, but at this point you're seeing it trail off. Because you cold shocked the pieces, pigment molecules got enmeshed tightly in the resin matrix when it quickly tightened back up. If you had let it slowly cool, more of the pigment would have collected and seeped out under the pressure of the slowly constricting matrix.
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See the grain now? I recommend keeping your gloves on throughout all these steps as well just in case you end up deciding, after you've rinsed the scales off and dried them like this, that they're not quite done or that they don't quite have the look you want. In that case, just dip them back in the dye, and start the microwave back up. If you’ve pawed them up you have to wash and strip them in alcohol again as before. If you're happy with the saturation of the dye, you're almost done now - but you want to apply juuuuust a little oil to the scales as a preservative. I use CLP usually. It also helps keep the metal in contact with these scales from rusting later, and it gives them a bit of luster that I like as well. You don't want an oily knife scale in your hand, so don't overdo it. Add a drop at a time and work it all the way in before adding more. When you're done the scale should look a bit shiny but still feel dry to the touch.
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Reassemble your knife. If you get extra knife oil back on the scale when you're doing this, as I did (as is common with TwoSuns as they usually come absolutely swimming in oil) just wipe it away. But it's good to leave some oil on the liners, it'll prohibit rust, and a little bit of oil between the liner and the scale will help keep moisture from seeping beneath the scales if the knife gets wet. Rubbing a little oil into the blade, like you put on the scales, is not amiss either -- the TS80 is a D2 knife, and D2 is only 'semistainless', so a little protective care like that will help keep the blade from acquiring unsightly blotches of patina.
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And there you are! Dyed G-10 knife.
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The more scales you dye, the more you get a sense for how long to simmer them, which colors will work, which won't. A professional could probably find things wrong with my approach -- for starters half a bottle of all purpose dye is overkill. It's way way way stronger of a concentration than you use in dying things like shirts, and possibly wastefully so. But so far it's worked for me in a lazy man's way -- it's pretty easy to eyeball 'half a bottle' and doesn't mess up measuring spoons. Close up of the grain pattern:
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You know, I like that. Good thing I do, because I'm stuck with it now, right? So, Drop, that's how I dye my knife handles. If you've been itching to try it but weren't sure how, give it a shot. I recommend starting out on old knives if you're worried about messing things up... but I wouldn't worry about that too much. Just go ahead and dive in and take it as it comes. And if you do one you like? Post a picture. :)
(Edited)
thumb_upearlis, charles.downs, and 83 others
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2bags
4
Dec 30, 2020
What do you think my best option would be to dye my Benchmade orange 533 bug out to more of a burgundy darker red, than bright.
reswright
3371
Jan 3, 2021
I'd say that came out well especially considering what you wanted to do. Good job on the timing, esp. since Racing Red sets up so fast. The overall color is more blood than burgundy but it's neither rusty looking nor too dark, and there's depth to the color. Most importantly -- it also looks good :) Good stuff!
2bags
4
Jan 3, 2021
Thanks! I suppose when I said burgundy I meant the color it turned out to be, a deep red.
reswright
3371
Dec 20, 2020
Artisan Pocket Knife, dye blend (Royal Blue, Indigo, Scarlet)

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I guess the name of the model is actually 'Pocket Knife'.
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Anyway this is an example of blended dye -- you don't have to stick with the colors Rit give you, you can blend them to create your own. In this case the base was the Royal Blue used on the Manix 2 XL, with a half ounce or so each of Indigo and Scarlet added to see if the glow the Royal Blue achieves could be purpled up a bit. Did it? Well, no -- the indigo dominates it. Indigo and similar dark blue dyes seem to work more quickly and strongly on jade G-10 than any other sort of colorant. There is maybe the sliiiiightest bit of red in with the blue.
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Mixing dyes eats more light. That's why this is so much darker than the Manix 2 XL. I was hoping for a bit more of the scarlet to the hue but in retrospect the indigo probably made that impossible.
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But I still like it. Good knife, too. First Artisan -- I finally saw one I liked the look of, and that was that. :)
reswright
3371
Dec 21, 2020
Further Blending the Dye I kept the same dye base and added approximately 2 ounces more scarlet dye, which was enough to turn the dye bath a wine hue. The color of the dye bath does NOT necessarily tell you what the color of the item will end up being -- brown dye is a deep red color, emerald green a dark blue, neon green looks the color of old moss and so on -- but I figured I'd at least get some reddish highlights to the purple. Did I?
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Er, barely but as you can see the heavy combination of dyes more or less consume all the light coming into the scale, there's no glow to them now even when you hold it up to the light:
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It's a definite purple hue finally but at the cost of losing its translucence. Side by side you can see the original hue, the addition of some scarlet and indigo, and the addition of further scarlet:
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reswright
3371
Nov 25, 2020
Spyderco Manix 2 XL
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25 minutes Rit royal blue.
(Edited)
reswright
3371
Nov 2, 2020
TRM Atom "Chlorine"
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Chlorine atom. Get it? It's a gas gas gas....
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Geez I crack myself up.
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I used Neon Green dye for this.
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With the nested solid liners there isn't going to be any backscattered light except at acute angles:
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But it still has a bit of glow to it.
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Challenging to get this one right - they're flat scales so you don't see a graining effect. Incidentally despite that, the knife is made so that you can take the scales off without disturbing the pivot at all, which makes it an easy design to dye. Win some, lose some, right? I think it came out OK but if I do another set of Atom scales I think I'll just go blue or indigo. The neon green's at its best when there's more light coming through the scales. BTW in my books the TRM Atom is one of the best knives being made in America. Just a tremendous amount of build integrity but it's still nice and slim and light.
reswright
3371
Nov 2, 2020
If you imagine that he’s referring to ether it gets even funnier
reswright
3371
Nov 2, 2020
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Big_Pun
1
Oct 30, 2020
What about natural g10 to neon yellow.. think it would be successful?
reswright
3371
Oct 30, 2020
I've done it. Works fine, although it's not as striking as the neon green. It ends up the color of banana peppers.
reswright
3371
Jan 13, 2021
Here’s an actual reference pic of the difference in the same model, a TwoSun.
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Those were jade G-10 scales printed with digital camo; dyed neon yellow on top and neon green on the bottom respectively.
Shouldwork
0
Oct 29, 2020
I’ve got a question. when dying G-10, if it glows in the dark before dying, how well does it glow in the dark after dying?
reswright
3371
Oct 29, 2020
Do you know? I've never tried. Simple physics suggests, though, that it wouldn't glow as well -- dye eats light. My guess is it'd be a lot darker.
reswright
3371
Oct 26, 2020
Dyeing Brown for Contrast Brown isn't the first color you think of when you think of dyeing stuff. Probably not even the fifth. But it should be something you're thinking of for two reasons. The first is that there's a lot of knives with brown colored handles on them, and the second is that it's difficult to wholly dye brown handles some other color. They tend to look a little muddy when you're done unless it started out as a very light brown. Green works best in my experience but is still a little drab:
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Blue's worse. The flats always look muddy.
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So what do you do? You can always dye it a contrasting shade of brown and give it some grain. This is a JIN02 that I'm going to dye chocolate brown. Before:
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After:
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It's not quite a woodgrain effect but it echoes it a bit and gives a lot more life and depth to the scale, albeit subtly. So if your brown handled knife needs a little pizzazz to it, but you want to keep things kinda classy and understated? Try the brown dye.
reswright
3371
Oct 26, 2020
Two Two Suns in Royal Blue This is the TS62:
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This is the TS66:
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This is how they dye Royal Blue:
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A lot of blues tend to converge on the 'indigo' look when they saturate. This one's a little lighter and catches more light, but it still looks somewhat indigo-ish by the time it's done setting up in G-10.
reswright
3371
Oct 22, 2020
Dyeing Solid Colors, Part II Some people might see this as being the same thing as dyeing translucent material like jade G-10 -- I approach it fairly differently because in the former you're creating a sort of glowing effect under light, and when you're dyeing a solid color, you don't get that and you don't go for it. Typically speaking, you're either dyeing something a very similar color, or you're choosing a color that will have a complementary contrast to the original color you're dyeing. For example, this is how my olive drab CEBU came out when I dyed it with emerald green Rit (a fairly bluish green dye): Before:
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After:
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Black and white striped G-10 takes a lighter tone of whatever color you're dyeing. For example, denim blue: Before:
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After:
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Orange dyes cherry red nicely: Before:
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After:
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The 3D milling of the piece becomes more important when you are choosing a solid handled G-10 knife to dye for contrast. The more intricate the milling, the more exposed grain you will see and the more novel the patterns are going to become. For example, take this gray TwoSun with a simple but cool pattern milled into a coffin shaped scale: Before:
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After dyeing it in Royal Blue:
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Look at that. When you dye it, an arrow pattern pops out. A closer look:
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If you ask me, that's kinda cool. I like the overall effect:
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(Edited)
Axeguy
1360
Oct 5, 2020
Excellent document! I've done a little dyeing of micarta ising powdered dyes and especially like the faux denim looks I've been getting with indigo over natural or ivory linen and canvas micartas. A little creative sanding gives you all the fade effects you could hope for. I never had much success with jade micarta but with your method, I get to solve my indigo obsession problems post haste!!! Cheers!
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