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. Damp scales can dye with a slight blotchiness, so it's worth taking this step to ensure all the moisture is gone from the surface layers of the G-10 composite. Let them dry well 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)
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hidefromdad
1
Mar 28, 2021
Great tutorial! love how thorough you were. I was looking to dye my orange g-10 butterfly knife scales a dark black but was worried I would end up with an ugly brown. Any ideas on how to avoid brown and go straight to black?
reswright
3836
Mar 14, 2021
Latest Efforts From left to right:
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Kansept Copperhead in Micarta, dyed synthetic Tropical Teal
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This was an experiment to see how synthetic fiber dye worked on Micarta. And the answer is,. it works a lot more slowly and leaves a lot more highlights, but the color ends up muted.:) Ferrum Forge Stinger in jade G-10, dyed synthetic Tropical Teal
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Nice shade. TwoSun TS180 in burled wood, dyed Royal Blue
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This was my first attempt at dyeing wood. Used hot dye but not simmering hot. Burled wood has an unpredictable reputation in dyeing so I was ready for whatever. It took up the dye very quickly. It came out ok but I was hoping for a crisper separation of layers. TwoSun TS192 in Micarta, dyed Royal Blue
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This was all purpose dye, not synthetic. It set up fast and dark. Royal Blue is one of the lightest dyeing shades of blue but this looks fairly close to the same material dyed indigo. For reference, here's how the wood and Micarta looked before the royal blue:
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(Edited)
Fido23
1
Mar 11, 2021
Brilliant advice. A joy to read your instructions rather than a YouTube video! Looking forward to dying some grey scales a deep red, or however they turn out in the end.
mdeous
230
Mar 3, 2021
Haha, I was looking for info about scales dying on Google, and look who I found! 😁 Does the same process work for micarta? Micarta looks like the color might come from the fabric used to make it and not from external dying, but I could be wrong. I have some brown micarta scales I'd like to turn black but I don't know if that would be possible. Ever tried such a thing? Edit: looking at your comments it looks like I'm right about pigmentation of micarta but they still could be dyed depending on the color, for black it might be worth a try!
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reswright
3836
Mar 3, 2021
" Also, what's supposed to be the effect of vinegar in the solution initially?" Vinegar's a mild acid and it, like the salt, helps fix the dye in the item. Unlike the salt, which helps drive charged chemicals across the surface of the item down an osmotic gradient, the acid lowers the pH a bit - acid added to water converts to a salt and hydronium ions, and the hydronium helps dye affix to fiber and reduces the amount that will wash out. It's not what they call a mordant, because it doesn't stay in the scale as part of the binding -- it just converts the dye to an ionic state that lets it more easily affix itself to another molecule. I think it may lightly macerate G-10 resin which exposes more of the glittery glass fiber, making it more tactile and giving it a jeweled shine. But again, I think it may hit Micarta a bit harder, at least at hot temps. The other thing about Micarta is that the fibers will swell in hot water and this may dislodge bits of resin on the surface just through physical action, which could account for the roughening of the texture -- it might not be the acid at all, but my sense of it is that the acid contributes. I should get around to trying some room temperature steeping of Micarta in dye, but haven't yet.
mdeous
230
Mar 5, 2021
That's interesting science! I've seen many people dying micarta at room temp with what looked like good results, maybe it could prevent what you noticed with the texture. I gotta investigate the different ways of doing it and the pros/cons, but I'm afraid I'm gonna dive into a rabbit hole...
DougFLA123
1404
Feb 20, 2021
I have the ZT 0308 with coyote tan scales (I think they look awful) that I’d like to turn black. It doesn’t seem like they make Rit DyeMore (for synthetics) in black (I could be wrong), only the all purpose Rit dye comes in black (I think). They do make Rit DyeMore in charcoal Gray but I’m not sure I want charcoal Gray scales. Anyway, I’m not sure which dye would take better to G-10. If they do make Rit DyeMore in black, I don’t know if G-10 falls into a “synthetic” classification. I’m also not sure how porous G-10 is. Have you experimented with both Rit products?
DougFLA123
1404
Feb 23, 2021
I just saw this...very interesting. I read there is basically no difference between the liquid all purpose Rit dye and the powder all purpose Rit dye. Have you used both?
reswright
3836
Feb 23, 2021
I've only ever used the liquid but my understanding is that it is indeed the same once in solution.
reswright
3836
Feb 18, 2021
CJRB Feldspar (Large) S35VN/jade G-10 dyed sapphire blue

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pretty happy with that shade and grain TBH. Keeps the glow but it’s a nice deep blue.
reswright
3836
Feb 18, 2021
Daggerr Sting D2/jade G-10 dyed sapphire blue

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the clip is absolutely ridiculous and I love it.
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If you aren’t chuckling you’re overthinking it. :)
reswright
3836
Feb 15, 2021
Aquamarine Dye on Jade and Neon Green G-10: Before:
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After:
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reswright
3836
Feb 9, 2021
If you like the idea of having a dyed jade G-10 handled knife.... but you don't like budget steel and you don't like D2.... but you still need to keep the entire cost under a bill? And you've been looking and looking for a good knife for it and not found one? You will find CJRB Feldspars, both sizes, in black coated S35VN and jade G-10 in stock at one of the major players for under $80. Out of respect for Drop I won't link directly, but it's prolly the first place you'd go look for an exclusive in jade G-10. :) CJRB is one of the best values in Chinese budget builds and the Feldspar is one of their best regarded knives, and S35VN is a legitimate super steel... so if you've been waiting for the stars to align, this might be your moment.
reswright
3836
Feb 7, 2021
Linen Micarta Dyed Indigo Coarse linen micarta is an old school material. Indigo is an old school dye. Let's see how they mix. Before:
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After:
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Not too bad. The indigo ends up setting the micarta resin a sort of slate color, set against the deeper indigo of the linen weave. Here with a bit of flash, you can see the contrast better:
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Old school for the win!
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