What is Pakkawood? A Complete Guide (2022)
Pakkawood has become ubiquitous in most kitchens, and is used to make everything from knife handles to serving spoons to bowls. But what exactly is pakkawood, and what makes it so popular?
In the following post, I explain exactly what pakkawood is, how it’s made, and the properties that make it so perfect for the kitchen. We discuss pakkawood in all of its aesthetic variety, and most importantly, how to care for your pakkawood knives and utensils so that they last forever.
Welcome to pakkawood, the complete guide.
What is Pakkawood?
Pakkawood is a wood composite commonly used in knife handles for its density and durability. Also known as colorwood, dymonwood, and staminawood, pakkawood is synthetically engineered and comes in a variety of shades and textures.
Most of us have seen and even held pakkawood before, especially if you’ve ever handled a nice Japanese knife. My favorite Shun knives have pakkawood handles, and plenty of comparable knife makers use pakkawood as well for its strength and aesthetic refinement.
Although pakkawood is technically synthetic, it is still composed from a variety of naturally occurring wood fibers, in addition to phenolic resins that hold the composite together. While I go into greater detail on the process of making pakkawood below, suffice it to say for now that the fabrication process results in an incredibly dense, rugged, and most importantly, waterproof material that is ideal for kitchen applications.
Pakkawood is commonly used in knife handles, though it’s also used for other utensil handles as well. Pakkawood is ideal for kitchen utensils because it is both heat and water resistant; it won’t crack, split or warp, unlike natural, unprocessed woods.
I personally love pakkawood handles, and much prefer them to either polymers or fiberglass. For me, there is really no beating the hand feel and aesthetic appeal of wood, except of course wood that’s been hardened and fortified, like pakkawood.
Pakkawood appearance and color
As a wood composite, pakkawood can vary greatly in appearance, texture and color. While the most popular pakkawood handles generally come in dark, midnight shades, there are also lots of brightly colored pakkawood utensils out there.
The wide variety of colors come as a result of wood dying. Since pakkawood is synthetic, manufacturers have ample opportunity to color the wood exactly as they want during the fabrication process.
In fact, Shun has recently begun selling all of their classic series knives in a light, blonde pakkawood (see below for a look at one of the Classic Blonde Nakiri handles). These handles are brighter than Shun’s darker pakkawood knives, but feel amazing and give some lightness to the kitchen.
Generally, dyes are impregnated in the hardwood veneer before placing it under high pressure. But often, dyes are added at intervals, resulting in pakkawood with a fantastic internal diversity of color.
While the former process usually results in a uniformly colored piece of pakkawood, the later produces pakkawood with up to a dozen different colors within it, often displayed in a rainbow pattern.
What does pakkawood mean?
The word “pakkawood” can be broken into two components, “pakka” and “wood,” the former being Icelandic for “pack” or “package.”
This translates roughly to “packed wood,” which makes sense, since pakkawood is, after all, produced by packing wood fibers and resin under high pressure.
How is pakkawood made?
Pakkawood is made by compressing many pieces of hardwood veneer – which are essentially thin strips of wood – with a phenolic resin, which acts as a binding agent. The materials are stacked and compacted under very high pressure, before being cut into their desired shape.
The phenolic resin is a synthetic polymer used in a variety of products, from billiard balls to laboratory countertops, and used for its strength and resistance to melting. This is particularly advantageous in kitchen environments where pakkawood is often exposed to high heat.
Of course, pakkawood comes in a variety of colors. These colors are often naturally occurring in the hardwood, but just as often, they are the result of dyes.
In this case, the hardwood veneer is impregnated with dye before the phenolic resin is added, and allowed to dry before being put under pressure. This process results in a beautiful consistency, and a natural, aesthetically pleasing finish.
Is pakkawood dishwasher safe?
Although pakkawood is incredibly durable, it is not dishwasher safe. This is because although pakkawood is water resistant, it is not waterproof.
To preserve the integrity of the wood, it is also best to avoid soaking – or completely submerging – your pakkawood handled utensils. Instead, the best method for cleaning your pakkawood is by hand washing quickly with a mild soap.
Additionally, chances are that your pakkawood handle is connected to a rather nice knife, which should not go in the dishwasher anyway. I always advise against putting nicer chef’s and santoku knives in the dishwasher to preserve the blade integrity, since dishwashers tend to advance blade dulling
Is pakkawood food safe?
Pakkawood is completely food safe. It is made from a combination of natural hardwood and food safe phenolic resin, which is incredibly resistant to heat and thus safe around food.
In fact, I consider pakkawood to be one of the safest handle materials out there, for the following reasons. First, pakkawood really is wood – it’s not plastic and it’s not a polymer. Second, it’s reinforced wood, so to speak, and highly water resistant.
The fact that pakkawood is dense and water resistant makes it impervious to molds and unsusceptible to bacteria, a huge advantage over wooden knife handles, cutting boards and that have a tendency to trap moisture.
For example, you can just see the water and citrus juices penetrating the cutting board above – a cutting board that is obviously cut from a piece of raw, natural wood. Unfortunately, moisture retention like this isn’t a great sign with respect to cleanliness.
Wood that absorbs moisture can be dangerous, especially because moisture is a breeding ground for harmful molds and bacteria. This is why pakkawood is so great for foods; as a water resistant material, it is also highly resistant to bacteria.
Pakkawood is essentially the best of both worlds with respect to food safety. It is as resistant if not more impervious to molds and bacteria as solid plastics and polymers, yet has the obvious aesthetic advantage of natural wood.
How do you care for pakkawood?
The best way to care for pakkawood is by hand washing your utensils with a mild detergent, and then immediately drying them with a soft towel. Avoid soaking your pakkawood handles in water, since although pakkawood is water resistant, it is not waterproof.
Over time, your pakkawood handles may get dry, and it’s therefore a good idea to apply mineral oil with a soft cloth every now and then. This is a great practice for maintaining an appropriate sheen and luster, and for restoring old pakkawood handles.
If you don’t have mineral oil, don’t panic. Pakkawood is actually pretty low maintenance, and doesn’t require much beyond a quick wash after each use.
If you happen to notice that your pakkawood is looking a bit drab or lackluster however, and don’t have mineral oil, you can always use a few drops of coconut oil to bring out the pakkawood’s original finish.
So to summarize, here are my best tips for caring for your pakkawood handles and pakkawood utensils:
- Always hand wash your pakkawood handles and utensils with a mild soap, and don’t leave your pakkawood submerged in water.
- Never put pakkawood in the dishwasher.
- Always dry your pakkawood completely after washing, using a clean, dry towel.
- If you notice your pakkawood getting dull, drab or dry, feel free to massage the wood with mineral oil, or even a few drops of neutral cooking oil.
- Always wipe your pakkawood handles clean.
What are some other pakkawood uses?
Because of its strength, durability, aesthetic appeal and resistance to bacteria, pakkawood is an ideal material for kitchen utensils of all types. While found most frequently in knife handles, pakkawood is also commonly used for spoons and spatulas, and even in military and tactical knives.
In fact, because pakkawood is both strong and beautiful, it is often used in making not just handles, but in the construction of whole utensils. There are pakkawood spoons and cooking utensil sets, pakkawood salad serving utensils, even pakkawood condiment bowls out there!
One thing that I love about pakkawood is its grip. Despite being smooth, my pakkawood handles are never slippery, even when wet. I can’t explain exactly why this is, but it is – pakkawood feels great and provides a phenomenal grip.
Conclusions about pakkawood
In my opinion, the biggest takeaway from all of this research into pakkawood is that although it is a synthetically produced wood composite, pakkawood is in many ways superior to natural wood when it comes to making kitchen knives and utensils.
I make this bold declaration based on the following facts that we have come to learn about pakkawood:
- It is harder, stronger and more resistant to splitting than regular wood.
- It comes in a variety of colors, from muted, sophisticated nightshades to bright, rainbow patterns.
- It is food safe – more so than traditional woods – and impervious to bacteria, mold and microbes.
- It is versatile, and can be shaped into handles, bowls and even spatulas.
- It is aesthetically stunning; the texture and density is perfect for high quality knife handles.
- It provides great grip, and doesn’t really get slippery, even when wet.
Well, that’s about it! If you prefer wooden knife handles to those made from polymers or stainless steel, then my recommendation – for all of the reasons stated above – is that you go with pakkawood.