I use a broad range of materials, both natural and man made. In natural materials I look for the best that I can in terms of both appearance and longevity. Some of my favourites include stag, timber, mammoth ivory, sheep and horn. Here in Australia there is a large range of timbers that you don’t see in many places. As growing conditions are dry and difficult in many areas this has a tendency to produce tough, dense, slow growing woods, many with tightly burled and figured grains. Some of my favourites include minerrichi, mallee burls, Dead Finish and, of course, the better known Gidgees. Gidgee is a desert acacia found in parts of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia. Straight gidgee, while a beautiful timber, has a rather plain grain. Ringed gidgee is what you are after, and it is considerably more difficult to find, you could consider it as the “curley maple” of Australia. It is a mutation in the tree that causes the grain to grow in bands of light golden colour to deep coffee hues. In a good piece this brings out a 3-D or holographic effect. I have found that having the material stabilized can bring this feature out even more. In fact, I find having almost all timber professionally stabilized a good idea.
I also use man-made materials. While some people frown on using micarta and G-10 on a forged blade, I disagree. Not only are they practically indestructible, they have a beauty in there own right. A well proportioned fighter, with a maroon or black linen micarta handle looks great whether the blade is forged or stock removal. Another advantage is complete control of shape and contour, allowing me to build a handle with just the feel I want. One mistake I think lots of new guys make is using unsuitable material. Just because it is a piece of stag does not mean it will make a good handle. Many times they bend and twist the wrong way, are too fat or thin, or are just plain ugly. If it came down to a knife that didn’t look right with stag or a knife that looked good with micarta, I would choose the latter every time.
One last comment on handle materials, I do try to use materials that are sustainable. For this reason, and for international import reasons, I do not use elephant or walrus ivory (unless fossil in the case of walrus). I also try not to use any timber that is under threat. This is personal choice and not meant as a judgement on what others may choose to do. I would hate if the last of something was cut down so I could make a handle. There are just too many other choices out there for me to justify it.