How-To: Make micarta from blue jeans

Craft & Design
How-To:  Make micarta from blue jeans

“Micarta” (Wikipedia) is a genericized trademark that refers to a rigid composite material made from laminated paper, fiberglass, cloth, or other material impregnated with a plastic resin. It is commonly used as an electrical insulator and as a tool handle, particularly for knives.

Cliff Fendley of Fendley Knives, together with fellow knifemaker Mike Carter of Carter Crafts, set out to make some “micarta” of their own using scrap denim and epoxy resin. Even better, they documented their efforts with a detailed series of photos so others can play along at home. [Thanks, Alan Dove!]

8 thoughts on “How-To: Make micarta from blue jeans

  1. Gilberti says:

    I’ve always wanted to try making a kukuri out of an old truck leaf spring. I do believe I have found what I will make the handle out of. Even if I don’t make the kukuri, I can definitely think of a few other applications. Thanks for this!

    1. mrmeval says:

      Without a power hammer and a damn good forge you’d spend an excessive amount of time and quite a bit of money on grinding wheels and grits on hardened spring steel.

      If you want something that is as tough but much easier to work get HR 5160 hot rolled spring steel the next size up from good knife thickness. Depending on how tough it is you may need to anneal it, check online for how.

      Once you have it to your liking you can attempt to heat treat it or take it to a professional heat treatment shop
      Then clean and polish it and put the final edge on it.

      Google for ‘knife steel’. You can find instructions online on how to shape, grind and polish the blade.

      Save the truck spring as it can be turned into heavier implements. There are metal sales places in major cities and they’d have a saw and can cut to length if not busy. They can be expensive unless they know you’re going to do good volume with them.

      Nepal needs money and they do have export quality kukris which are fantastic but finding a vendor who is not a cheat is difficult.

    2. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      You can always either buy a blade without a handle, or get a knife with a good blade in a boring handle, and replace it. When I was 20, my Mom broke the handle on her favorite paring knife, and for her birthday I replaced it with a nice cocobolo handle set in with some of those cool “mosaic” pins. 10 years later it remains one of her prized possessions. My Dad has stopped using it because, he says, “I’m tired of getting the lecture on how to care for it properly.”

  2. sirwilliamjr says:

    Their abuse test ( isn’t very controlled, but it seems like the recipe they have is super tough. And for the weight, it probably beats out a lot of other tool handle materials.

    I’m impressed.

    I made a few knives in my parents basement a while ago, and had looked at tutorials online for making handles like this, but never tried it. Probably for the best, because I would have ended up gluing my dad’s clamps to his workbench. Or at least left a puddle of epoxy on the floor.

  3. says:

    It would probably be incredibly hard to handle while making and expensive, but how would this otherwise work for making a bicycle frame? Is it light and hard enough for something of that nature?

  4. Sean Michael Ragan says:

    It’s really an intuitive answer instead of a rational one, but my guess would be that this material in particular probably has plenty of strength in compression for that application, but that its tensile strength is inadequate. But hell, I don’t really know. Lay up a tube of the stuff and test it out!

  5. Alan says:

    Micarta works well for knife handles, but my guess is that for the time and effort involved, it would make more sense to build bike tubes out of carbon fiber or fiberglass. Like Sean, though, I’m just talking into my hat – I’d love to see some data on actual denim laminate tubes. If nothing else, a denim bike would have an enormous coolness advantage.

  6. Terry Kremin says:

    Very nice process. But usually when you make hand laid composites like this, you apply the epoxy with a brush to wet the fabric without excess (or pressure required for fiberglass cloth). Will have to try this and see how it works that way.

    You can also make a balance for measuring the components out of scrap wood, just calculate your points for resin and hardener cups with known weights, and make the arms long to overcome friction in the bearing.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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