EODGunner

Wooden Handles

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Good Day!

I've been doing a lot of looking around, and seen some comments here and there on various sites, forums, and books about the handles of the tools blacksmiths use. I've seen hickory, oak, and other common hard woods used in production of the handles.

The question I am asking here is multi-fold.

1) Is the handle one of those "the harder the better" or do you want more flex in it? I.E. What would be the highest on the Janka scale would you go?

Been contemplating some exotic hardwoods for my handles since not only do I plan on making my own, but figure why stop at just blacksmithing my own tools, why not make the handles as well.

2) What is the thoughts on Purplewood, African Blackwood, and other exotic extremely hard woods?

3) For mallets in the shop, would you suggest a solid hard wood? soft wood? or hard wood with soft wood strike face? Should one cover the strike face with leather?

 

I look forward to you correcting about 15 grammatical errors, 39 terminology errors, and informing me how silly my thoughts are. But seriously, I do look forward to your replies, as the only way to find an answer (or even start the conversation) is ask a question.

Thanks!

-Matt

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Handles need flex and resistance to cracking, so the harder bow woods are good. Shaggy bark hickory, ash, bodarc etc. at least for hammers, top tools re not so important as the handle doesn’t see  much strain.

as to mallets, this has a lot more depends. A tool wood handle and a hard wood head are generaly good. Raw hide and leather faces are called for Slapers and such in shaping aluminum sheet metal and such. 

In general their is a tool handle tradition in your neck of the woods.

 

Ps, love me some Ma-Duce!

 

 

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Being as I hate to disappoint you Matt. That last paragraph is just plain silly!

I make my hammer handles from 5/4" straight grain, clear, hickory I bought from a cabinet, hardwood supply. I taper them slightly from the head to the end of the handle with a little knob end that became an unnecessary tradition of mine. I prefer a slab handle as it's easy to grip lightly but securely and indexes effortlessly so you never have to try to keep the hammer face level side to side. A slab handle can't roll in your hand without being almost painfully obvious. The slight taper really isn't noticeable as such but if the handle slips at all your grip tightens reflexively. 

I don't care for much flex in my hammer handles. Farriers seem to like whippy handles and have good reasons. 

Below is a pic of two of my  hammers. The "Get Well" cross pein hammer was made for me by a good friend after my accident. Mark, AKA Metalmangler on Iforge is a farrier made this is a less whippy hammer handle, he knows I'm not a whippy hammer guy. The one below is a 2.5 lb. $0.50 yard sale cross pein hammer head on one of my tapered slab handles.

I use: yard, garage, rummage, etc. sale baseball bats to make wooden mallets or use as thwockers. Ash makes a fine mallet, they seem to last a couple decades ad as the striking surface starts to get chewed to fiber they become softer and softer mallets. You can find dinged up bats in the trash behind high school gyms during b'ball season or I'll pick them up for under a buck at . . . . etc. sales. Last batch I got 6 for getting them out of there with the other stuff I bought. She wanted to go home. I picked up a near pristine softball bat for $0.50 last fall at a yard sale.

I really like hockey sticks for top tool handles and you see BUNCHES in high school trash behind the gym during hockey season. You don't need much of a handle for top tools: set, flatter, fuller, cut (hot or cold), punch, etc. Hockey sticks even wedge into standard hammer eyes nicely enough to be solid though I wouldn't want to use one for a hammer, tooooo whippy. :rolleyes:

Frosty The Lucky.

634166451_crosspeinhandles.thumb.jpg.42eed68e365c6c9f787bfee52f0d43fd.jpg

 

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Brittleness is what you want to avoid.  Also many tropical hardwoods have sensitizing resins in them; perhaps you wouldn't want to hold it in your sweating hand for hours on end...

A tradition source for mallets was the root burl of a dogwood sapling: hard, tough and fairly dense.  Me I used to use whatever was on the firewood pile though woods with an intertwined grain like elm resist splitting and last longer.  Now: I was give some rawhide mallets and use them as the infamous "stinky hammers".

Frosty I have checked around school after school down here during hockey season and there are no hockey sticks to be found.  I even asked and they said ?Que?   

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I’m fond of Osage Orange myself for mid to heavy duty handles.  Ash and hickory would follow close behind.  My go to wood working mallet I made from a green cut ash tree chunk with lots of knots (the more the better for mallets).  15 years later with lots of abuse it hasn’t even so much as started a crack.  Find something local to you and use it - it’s probably exotic to lots of other people in the world!  

 

Below low is an Osage Orange handle on a fine rounding hammer made by Littleblacksmith.

497105C0-AD1C-457D-8875-2E6672B6171C.jpeg

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I appreciate all the input and knowledge from experience. I also like how you all put in your preferences. To which, you have brought to me a few questions.

First off, Frosty - glad someone got a chuckle. I meant for it to be a little silly, as humor is important in this day and age. Some people don't know how to joke, but glad to see it's appreciated here. Also, as far as slab vs rounded or oval shaped, have you noticed a comfort difference? Obviously I don't know how your hands are compared to mine, and that it's all personal preference, but have you noticed a difference in how they hit (similar hammers that is)? What tool(s) do you use to shave them down?

Thomas - Can you elaborate on "stinky hammers"? As this is a first I've heard of the term. Also, how would I be able to check to see if the sensitizing chemicals have been used on the exotic woods?

Branding iron - You've mentioned Osage Orange. That is probably my #5 option. What are some of the drawbacks and benefits you've noticed? Have you dealt at all with purpleheart or African blackwood?

To those that sent pics - beautiful looking hammers. I hope to be able to help out new guys in a few years with pics of similar quality hammers/tools.

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"Thomas - Can you elaborate on "stinky hammers"? As this is a first I've heard of the term."   Take a raw hide mallet and hammer red hot steel with it to straighten a twist or flatten a bow on something you don't want the surface marred on.  Take a sniff of the smoke burning rawhide produces.  Nuff said? (Some of my students named them that).

"Also, how would I be able to check to see if the sensitizing chemicals have been used on the exotic woods?"     Unfortunately it's not added chemicals it's ones that are innate to the tropical hardwoods.    Search on: Wood allergies and toxicity     a lot of woods beloved by knifemakers have such issues---like cocobolo and african blackwood and rosewood. Unfortunately for a hammer handle you don't want to wall off contact with finish and will be using it for extended periods of time in direct contact.  Those listed as sensitizers may be ok at first but you can develop  an allergy to them over time and exposure.  Knifemakers should know to take precautions when working these woods!  If you want to make handles from them do so also!

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Many tropical hardwoods contain volatile irritatants oils as a natural defense against beetles and rot. I have one woodworker friend who nearly died from an allergic reaction to cocobolo. 

My handles are hickory (which I slightly prefer) and ash (of which I have quite a lot from a tree we cut down. Exotic hardwoods will be expensive, brittle, and hard to fit to the handle. 

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JHCC,

About two years ago I listed a site that had a chart which considered all manner of woods and the potential toxicity of each separate species of wood.

It won't hurt to list it, here, again .

Try,

www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/wood-allergies-and-toxicity/

The chart is invaluable for anyone working wood.  Especially "exotic woods".

Before I came across this site,  I was painstakingly compiling that information from dozens of sites and literature and books.  No need to do that anymore.  this site does it for us.

I notice that the symbols of this latest edition of the chart,   are not defined. The lung symbol denotes breathing difficulties. The hand represents skin problems, and the eye symbol denotes eye problems.

Please pass this u.r.l. onto anyone that works with wood.  It could help prevent future  problems.

Regards to all,

SLAG.

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Interesting that the Bald Cypress (Taxodium Distichum) is not listed. I used to make Beehive boxes with bald cypress due it's resistance to rot, yet it was the bane of the machine operators that had all sorts of allergic reactions and much preferred to machine poplar or pine. 

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Also, skin contact is different on different parts of your body. Hands and feet tend to be callused and less sensitive. But with the rise of Concealed Carry permits in the US, many folks have found that a wooden grip on a pistol, worn against the skin instead of outside the shirt, caused contact dermatitis. Which may lead to staph infections and other nasty problems.

Once you are sensitized, it only gets worse. Several knifemakers can't even walk into another maker's shop due to the presence of traces of cocobolo dust. And if its your shop, you may have to pay someone to clean it thoroughly before YOU can go back in.

Heck, horse people will tell you that a tiny trace of walnut sawdust in the stall will cause havok.

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Branding iron - You've mentioned Osage Orange. That is probably my #5 option. What are some of the drawbacks and benefits you've noticed? Have you dealt at all with purpleheart or African blackwood?

Drawbacks to Osage Orange for me includes difficulty getting straight grained pieces although for smaller handles twist really shouldn’t be an issue for this wood.  Also, it’s quite easy to ruin a handle if shaping with a drawknife.  Maintain a high angle and switch to a spoke shave early to avoid this issue.  Otherwise it’s a beautiful wood, stands up to extreme abuse and has exceptional rot resistance.

No dealings with Purpleheart or African Blackwood.  

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9 hours ago, Marc1 said:

Interesting that the Bald Cypress (Taxodium Distichum) is not listed.

It’s listed under “Cypress” and notes that it’s a sensitizer. If you click through to its page, you’ll see the same taxonomy that you gave, a note about the alternative name, and details about its toxicity. 

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Yeah, I've been known to get a joke, I wear laughter like armor. The tough part is not getting myself in trouble.

Yes, a slab handle is much more comfortable on several notes. First it pivots easily without risk of losing control of the hammer. I let the hammer pivot between my index finger and thumb and only tighten my grip with my other fingers on impact then release them to allow the hammer to recoil without taking any impact on my joints. The hammer is snapped down on impact then rebounds back pivoting on my finger and thumb. This not only isolates my joints from impact damage it provides another pivot point in the swing, every pivot point is a force multiplier. It's  like cracking a whip or maybe using a nice live spin casting pole. The snap is in your wrist and my grip give you another snap down the line. 

An oval handle requires a tighter grip to hold on let alone control so it's more tiring for less power and control. I only have one round handle and that's on my b'ball bat mallet, the handle is the bat's handle in a hole drilled in the mallet head.

The taper in the slab causes you to reflexively tighten your grip if it slips any. The last tricky thing I do is round the pein edge of the grip more than the face edge so you never have to wonder which way your hammer is facing. That isn't an issue for me working at the anvil but I approach demos like theater. A little flash is good, it gets and holds the audience's attention. Changing which way the hammer is facing by spinning it in my grip while over my head mid swing is showy flash. 

My cross and straight pein hammers aren't evenly weighted between face and pein so you can feel it wobble when you spin it. My rounding hammers are very closely balanced so having the handles "marked" makes it easy to change faces without looking and impress the audience.

Frosty The Lucky.

 

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I think we’ve all been where you are in trying to find a way to improve the hammer handle, some of us quite recently. Hickory has been used forever for a reason. Strength, flexibility, grain and price. 

I prefer a handle with similar characteristics to Frosty’s but thinner and whippier. For a recent platers rounding hammer for a race track farrier, the handle was thin indeed. If your familiar with farrier hammer brands, my handles are sort of a cross between those made by Bruce Wilcox and Steven Beane  

Here’s a few recent ones. 

DB098EC1-344A-4F24-B5B5-E69F43E5C008.jpeg

6EB87002-ED62-46F9-BC4F-E839A72A845B.jpeg

269DD6F6-1E64-45EC-8B01-8C49FF263083.jpeg

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I find a 1”x1 1/4” rectangular handle feels best to me. To fat and hand fatigue becomes an issue. As a farrier I also prefer a longer handle. If you cradle the head in your hand the handle should reach the crook of your elbow

 

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I use what I can get a hold of but I try to stay away from heavy hard woods for hammers and axes, I cant speak for other people but I found it is too hard on the hands to use that. So I tend to use the following

Hickory for hammers and axes (Don't know if this is standard or not)

Beech, Birch and Moose antler for Files, chisels, and a few other tools.

Also use birch for carving knives.

Hickory and beech i can buy pretty cheap in town, Moose antler I got a lot of and can get pretty easy as well as Birch I got a abundance of cause it grows everywhere.

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Recently I've been running some stabilized Myrtle through my belt sander for the handle on the collaboration long seax I've been . . . (working on is too strong a term.) getting around to finishing up. Anyway, the dust is an eye  irritant especially for my left eye. It suffers dry eye from maybe the head injury but most probably the shingles. I'm wearing over my glasses goggles that fit to my head and rinse my head and face before taking them off. My left eye still feels dry and itchy for a day or two. 

The hickory I use for hammer handles doesn't bother me nearly as much but any wood dust has bothered my eyes as far back as I can remember.

I'll be rigging a dust collector with my shop vac for my belt grinder before I do much more wood on it.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Citizens,

Purple heart wood becomes a big disappointment in a short time period.

Why?

Because it is a stunningly beautiful wood when first cut.  The bright purple looks enticing enough for many to take a bight.

BUT,

  that color rapidly changes to a dull medium brown with little or no figure.  Not gneiss.

African blackwood is a beautiful and very solid and strong wood.

It's worth working with.

I shape that wood with a Foredom rotary cutter, outside and not in the wood shop.  (also whilst sanding).  I fully cover up and wear a respirator and an eye shield.   When done,  I carefully dust the clothing down, bag it, get it inside and get it into the washing machine P.D.Q  And I shower and shampoo  stat..

Is that obsessively compulsive behavior?  Of course! 

The SLAG has some vices too,  you know!

Seriously,  I discovered that the woodshop manager/instructor of my high "school industrial arts" class, (a.k.a. called Sloyd )  eventually had to give up wood working, because he developed a ferocious wood allergy.  He ended up teaching mathematics , before retiring.

Incidentally I do the same over-cautious routine when using cocobolo, quebracho, and greenheart.  The latter two make dandy handles for survival knives.

The term NPC in the chart listed in my first post on this thread,  means naso-pharyngeal carcinoma.  Not nice.

Regards to all,

SLAG.

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I once worked with a fellow who had developed a sensitivity to black walnut; unfortunately we were working in a custom wood shop.  If you sanded black walnut his nose would start bleeding even if he was 100' away in another part of the shop.  Big shop, there was a 7.5 ton Woods molder in it and room for 20' planks to be easily fed and retrieved from the other end.  Most of our equipment was 100 years old, massive iron!  Did a lovely job, the S4S in red oak coming out of the molder would cut your hands on the edges!  Boss's stated goal was to always keep the number of workers 1 below the mandatory OSHA inspection number...

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1 hour ago, SLAG said:

no reason for quotes

SLAG, you have provided numerous help with resources. I've liked the thought of african blackwood,(ABW) and glad to hear someone works with it. I've been thinking of using a band saw to get the general squared shape, then shaving and sanding to make the final adjustments. I figure starting from a 2"x2" blank, I could get a good sized pommel/base and work the neck down to what i want... going that big to start also lets me make a wedge I can use to lock the hammer head onto the ABW handle.

I've poured over the posts here for hours and looked at different resources. You guys have been great and helpful. My plan is to make tools that are beautiful and stout so that way when my tools are passed down to my 7th-great-grandchildren, the tools will be aged, but still work as the day I complete them.  As far as the respirator, eye shield, etc... I've been exposed to so many chemicals I don't want to get started... honestly, I'm pretty sure they're starting to react and form their own unique compounds inside my body at this point. But I digress... Would I be adequately safe utilizing a good painters respirator and decent set of either mechanix gloves or nitrile gloves?

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I would not use a particulate mask.  There are particles for sure but many woods have volatile organic compounds too. 

For example black walnut's juglone. And all manner of those chemicals  plus toxic oils.

The woods have not evolved to be nasty. Those chemicals were "developed" the destroy fungi bacteria and other micro organisms.

Also some of the nasty stuff serve as anti-feedants for plant eating animals.

Sooo I use a double cartridge respirator.  One of those cartridges has activated charcoal. 

Incidentally,  when you are done using it,  store it in a plastic bag. Because the charcoal continues to adsorb gases in the house.

you can use all manner for gloves for your non-dominant hand.  I rub talcum powder on the back of my dominant hand but leave the palm side 'naked'  for a better grip.  But that is my personal preference. Other smiths do other wisely

Hope that helps.

SLAG.

Does your EOD name stand for explosive ordinance disposal?

p.s.  if you fancy African blackwood  have a look at Wenge. It's beautiful wood.

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You're right, wenge looks beautiful. My thought is I like the look of darkor colored wood with metal I've really only worked with the common woods you can find at your local Lowe's/Home Depot. A couple others that I've bought from time to time at a local wood store. But nothing exotic, so it'll be my first time. I'm sure that like with blacksmithing, there will be a "wall of oops!" That I end up making. Where did you find your charcoal filters? Finally, yes, EOD does stand for Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Been a tech now for the past... 12 years, and love every bit of it.

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