Stag, Antler and Horn Handles

Stag and Antlers

There is often confusion about stag and antler.

Sambar Stag:

Stag generally refers to antlers of male deer. There are many varieties of deer and the antlers are not all the same. The preferred stag for knife handles and pistol grips is Sambar stag from India. Sambar stag much more dense and solid all the way through while U.S. and European deer antlers have a much softer inner core. Because of it's density, strength, rough "gnarly" texture, and deep brown, sometimes even amber coloring, Sambar stag is highly prized for knifemaking. India banned, or at least greatly restricted, the export of stag many years ago. There was once a plentiful supply of good Sambar stag available but because of the export restrictions the good stuff is very hard to find today.

Domestic Deer and Elk antler is another popular choice for knives. Deer and elk in the U.S. typically have antlers of smaller diameter and a softer inner core than Indian Sambar stag but it looks similar in color (brown) and texture. Elk usually has a gray coloring.


Here you can see the difference in the inner core of Sambar stag on the left and North American elk on the right.

The difference is very evident when the antlers are sliced into slabs for knife scales.

Here are some stabilized elk antler. You can see the interior core is almost like a honeycomb.

Below are some Sambar stag scales and you can see the much more solid the interior core compared to the elk on the left.

Some commercial stabilizers are doing some neat things with deer and elk antler by stabilizing and dying the antler to look a lot like good stag. Enev bone can be "jigged" and dyed to look like stag.  Stabilization does strengthen the antler. Below are some elk scales that have been dyed and stabilized by Dutchman Stabilzers.

But good gnarly sambar stag is still the preferred material when it can be found. A few years ago great pieces like shown below were fairly common.

And they made great looking knife handles.

Today, some good sambar stag can still be found occasionally but it will sell for premium prices, often $75-$100 for a pair of scales. Here are some sambar scales that I bought recently. It is good, but not the great rough texture that I used to be able to get.



Animal horns are really just very dense and tightly matted hair. Believe me, this becomes very evident when you cut or grind the material and get a whiff of the unmistakable stench of burning hair. However, it does make a good and unique knife handle. Popular horns used in knives include water buffalo, sheep and varieties of antelope.

Buffalo Horn

Sheep Horn


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