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. so I ended up experimenting and drawing on background information a bit to come up with a 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. You can experiment with other types; it'd certainly be more scientific, because 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. 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. G-10 is a composite material made of resin and 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.
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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.
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Almost done. 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 helps keep the metal in contact with these scales from rusting later, but 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 bit to one part and then rub it well in until you've worked it across the entire surface, which feels 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 RIT 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_upgulfbreeze, mozenrath, and 22 others
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reswright
1153
Jan 23, 2020
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TwoSun TS81, white/black G-10 scales Before:
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After:
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Jan 23, 2020
reswright
1153
Dec 29, 2019
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Rike M3 Olive Drab G-10 before:
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after:
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20 minutes simmering in emerald RIT. I couldn't use the microwave for the same reason I couldn't use it on the Ritter -- this scale has a solid metal plate epoxied into it for the bearings to turn against. So the long way it was, but I'm pretty happy with the results.
Dec 29, 2019
reswright
1153
Dec 8, 2019
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Solid Color Dyeing: Kizer Vanguard Roach, G-10/N690 When you dye non-translucent G-10 you are moving toward a very different effect. The jade G-10 will catch a lot more light and appear luminous, have sort of a 'deep field' light because you're seeing light reflect from beneath the surface as well. Solid G-10 takes a lot of that off the table, so at the end of the day you either need a color or a contrast that makes the knife interesting, because it won't have that same 'glow' to attract the eye. This is a Kizer Vanguard Roach, designed by @degs -- the designer of the folding stiletto that Drop recently had available for preorder, and someone who's occasionally been seen on the forum. Kizer Vanguard is a line that releases versions of Kizer's more premier, super steel and titanium knives in a more budget friendly format -- this one has G-10 and N690 instead of Ti and S35VN. It's a sweet flipper that he named after a friend who does Ace Ventura stuff with various forms of animal life for local school districts. He must like his friend because it's a pretty good knife in the hand. More importantly just now, this scale is just about perfect for dyeing, with the rounding and exposed grain.
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G-10 is made of layers of resin and fabric. The resin and the fabric typically react differently to any sort of dye -- the rule of thumb is, the fabric usually retains more original color than the resin. What sort of fabric is it? Well, it's whatever the manufacturer used, and in some cases you'll see G-10 with different kinds of fabric distributed across it, and when you dye it, the layers turn subtly different colors as a result. The short answer is 'you don't know until you try it'. But this property of G-10 is what essentially means you have two routes you can go in dyeing solid G-10 -- you can either go for a complementary shade that will transform the whole piece without creating a strong contrast between resin and fabric, or you can grab something a little further out on the color wheel that will enhance contrast between the layers. The first way's easier, so that's what we're doing today. I like dyeing orange G-10 a complementary shade of red. For some reason red knives aren't that common. Note that this knife has a blue toned backspacer -- it should look ok with the red scales. If I wanted to be really aggressive I could dye it another color as well, maybe a truer blue or purple to play off the red, but I kinda like that color as it is and want to see how it does on its own. Here's the Roach broken down:
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Nothing unexpected or problematic here. Kizer Vanguard does something I really like, and most other Chinese budget lines don't do it -- they mill bearing races directly into the frame. A lot of Chinese bearing knives don't have any races save what they slowly wear into the frame. Races allow a smoother flip and also allow you to dog the pivot down tighter without causing problems with the action. I cleaned, stripped, dried and then dyed the scales in Cherry Red, which works with the orange G-10 to make a nice bright red color with a little fire in it. It won't create strong contrast between layers -- the fabric layers should retain a little more orange than the resin will, so you'll see striping, but not contrasting stripes like on my CEBU. How'd it dye?
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I'm pretty happy with it. Think I had it in the dye about 20 minutes, maybe 30.
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Nice snakeskin effect.
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Hell of a knife in my opinion. Nice balance for its size, nice fit and finish. Strong ergos.
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So, @degs if you're reading -- there you are! It's a red Roach. For everyone else, that's what hunter orange G-10 looks like when you dye it cherry red :)
Dec 8, 2019
reswright
1153
Dec 1, 2019
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I have plans to stop at nine.
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Dec 1, 2019
reswright
1153
Dec 1, 2019
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Same model knife, same process with Neon Green dye instead of Indigo:
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Dec 1, 2019
Qwervy
203
Dec 8, 2019
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That looks sick dude
Dec 8, 2019
reswright
1153
Dec 8, 2019
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Reapers have a somewhat skeletal frame and a comparatively thin scale. You can really get a nice deep glowing effect with them with a light color like this.
Dec 8, 2019
Usergrade
47
Nov 30, 2019
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Thank you!
Nov 30, 2019
nicseth
10
Nov 28, 2019
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when you say half a bottle, how big is your bottle (ml/oz)?
Nov 28, 2019
reswright
1153
Nov 28, 2019
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8 fluid ounces/236 milliliters.
Nov 28, 2019
PZev
48
Nov 27, 2019
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That looks sooo nice, I might do this to get some crazy colors on high end knives. Amazing guide, thank you :D
Nov 27, 2019
reswright
1153
Nov 27, 2019
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Nice. There was a while that BHQ had exclusives with jade G-10 and super steels. I remember several Spyderco exclusives in jade and M4. I never got there in time to pick one up. Southern Grind does a few knives in jade as well. I think I’ve even seen a jade scale on a Hinderer. I like the look, but I like it better after I’m done dyeing them.
Nov 27, 2019
han
178
Product Manager
Nov 27, 2019
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wow! awesome guide!
Nov 27, 2019