Micarta is a registered trade name for a very strong plastic made of layers of cloth, canvas or paper and injected with phenolic resin. According to Alpha Knife Supply and knife maker Jay Fisher, Micarta is known as the “steel” or “Cadillac” of the plastic industry. This material is commonly used to make knife handles, jigs and fixtures. Natural Micarta is yellow or tan in color and turns red or brown as it ages. Sanding natural Micarta produces a wood-grain appearance.
According to the Norplex-Micarta website, protective eyewear is recommended when cutting Micarta that is more than 1 inch thick. Prolonged exposure to dust on the skin can cause irritation. Wash exposed skin with soap and water. Ordinary gloves should be used when handling the product. Safety glasses and a particle mask should be worn while machining. The use of a good dust collecting system is also recommended.
When natural Micarta is sanded, it will look dull. To give it a shine, wash with dish soap, then apply a spray lubricant, such as WD-40, and rewash with dish soap.
If your project is a Micarta knife handle, you will want it have a good grip. To ensure the knife won’t slip out of your hand, sandblast the handle with course aluminum oxide or silicon carbide abrasive. Follow the washing tips to restore the natural color.
Micarta brand products come in large sheets that can be cut by the buyer for specific projects. Paper- and cotton fabric-based grades are most easily cut using carbide-tipped tools that are very sharp. The temperature of the material during cutting must remain below 150 degrees Celsius to prevent distortion and charring. Glass-based grades should be cut with diamond or tungsten-carbide tools. Feed Micarta through a power saw as quickly as possible without forcing it. Norplex-Micarta recommends abrasive wheel cutting under water for glass-based grades.
Drilling and Tapping
When drilling and tapping paper- and cotton-based Micarta, it is best to use a high-speed drill and carbide bits. Lift the drill frequently to prevent overheating the material. Back the material with scrap laminate to prevent chipping out.
Glass-based Micarta can be milled on any metal-working milling machine that is equipped with carbide-tipped tools. Use only climb or down milling, as up milling can delaminate the material.