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What is the purpose of blackening the handles on hand hammers?  Is it just because they are eventually going to get filthy black? :D

 

Chris

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I have put boiled linseed oil on my hammer handles and they darken over time. Some folks char their handles slightly. I don't personally but I might in the future,who knows. The pics I sent you of the dogshead hammers haven't started to get dark yet but you can see where I usually hold my three pound cross pien from the BLO and charcoal dust and general forge grime. I sand the handle down to a rectangular cross section and wipe it down with blo as soon as I rehandle or get a new hammer.

Pnut

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I char my handles as part of the smoothing process. I'll hew them to rough size with a hatchet, shape them with a drawknife, char the outside, apply a layer of tung oil/turpentine/beeswax mix while it's still hot, and then lightly sand the surface. It makes them nice and smooth without being too slick.

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I don’t char mine, I just soak them in vegtable oil. Vegtable oil (soybean oil) is a polermerising oil like linseed but cheaper and for those who experiment with oil cloth it is friendlier with cotton than linseed 

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Building on what JHCC posted, I've noticed that some parts of wood grain burn differently than others.  On charred hickory handles, there will be slight hollows between grain lines.   I found that the resulting grain lines run from end to end where they mostly increase grip to resist torsion.  

I've read about primitive wooden arrow and spear shafts being charred for durability. Perhaps there's a point where outer char helps to seal fibers so they're less inclined to dry out?

 

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The growth rings in most woods are made up of two parts: the “earlywood” from the beginning of the growing season and the “latewood” from its middle and end. In woods where there is a dramatic distinction between the two (oak, ash, hickory, most pines, etc.), charring will produce a very distinct effect as described. In woods where there is little variation between the two (walnut, maple, cherry, etc.), the texture will be more even. 

“Fire-hardening” of wooden spear and arrow points isn’t anything more than forced localized drying. Since most woods are harder and stronger when dry, this creates a greater relative hardness, but no greater absolute hardness. 

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Don't know why I haven't been being notified you guys were responding to this question, so just now responding.  All very interesting points.  My local supplier of wood has some long Hickory planks and I was thinking about buying one (if the grain is straight enough) and using it for handles.  I've been watching tons of hammer head videos and noticed most makers seemed to blacken them before shipping and wondered the reason.

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Japanese technique for preserving wood shou subi ban. Suppose to make it pest resistant and water resistant, As well as removing slivers when charred. Heats the handle also for adding oil or wax. That is why I char my wood handles.

 

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Just looked up the process in relation to furniture. (since building custom furniture was "my thing" until I retired)  Very interesting, to say the least.  Had no idea it made the wood highly water resistant.  In fact I noticed companies are even charring the wood covered sides of homes and businesses with the process.  Very interesting info.  Thanks for the name of the process.

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JHCC's comment reminded me of something tangential to this discussion.  I have a book on longbow archery where an archer tried to use "primitive" archery equipment in the 1940's and 1950's.  He used charring and smoke to conceal human scent on his clothing and equipment.  He also used a fire to heat the lignin in the wooden arrow shafts to straighten them.  Once cooled, the arrows stayed straight(er).

 

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We still use the wood smoke to conceal scent and in my younger years shooting wood arrows we used a hardwood dowel to rub the backside of the bend to apply enough heat to straighten the arrows. Same principle, just more precise.  

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You'll get half the people claiming all sorts of near-magical benefits, and the other half (including me) who consider it hokum on hammers.  You simply need to decide which camp you are in and apply for your membership card  so you can officially and authoritatively dismiss the guys with the other membership card.:)

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On 10/7/2019 at 7:04 PM, rockstar.esq said:

 I have a book on longbow archery where an archer tried to use "primitive" archery equipment in the 1940's and 1950's.  He used charring and smoke to conceal human scent on his clothing and equipment.  He also used a fire to heat the lignin in the wooden arrow shafts to straighten them.  Once cooled, the arrows stayed straight(er).

I have made quite a few longbows, and I use heat all the time to straighten out kinks and put curves into staves.  And, heat is used to straighten shafts just like you said.  Note that heat is also used to plasticize the wood fibers in the belly (shooter side) of wooden bows to make them stronger/more resistent to compression damage.  I can imagine that a properly charred handle would make it a little harder, but it has the potential to make it more brittle, prone to breaking in thin cross sections.

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Heat is also used to straighten the segments of Tonkin cane (a type of bamboo) that make up handmade fly fishing rods. 

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I have made lots of arrows and a good amount of longbows. Like pointy things and Les L above, I've used heat to straighten arrow shafts and bow staves. I've done some hunting and it seems to me the smell of smoke would be less of a trigger to flee than human scent, but fire can be just as dangerous to animals as humans so I'm undecided. There's  commercially available hunting gear that has an activated charcoal infused lining like an Army issued NBC suit, but activated charcoal doesn't smell like wood smoke. I would imagine a little wood smoke would be less startling than the smell of people to a deer. On a side note I have seen a deer eating charcoal straight from one of my charcoal buckets. Go figure.

Pnut

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pnut,

According to the author I mentioned earlier, there are a lot more lightning strikes in nature than suburban people would expect.  Many of them strike the rocky tops of mountains where there's little fuel to keep a fire going.  They specifically mentioned that charcoal doesn't decompose.  As a result, animals encounter the smell of smoke more often than we might think.    

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Absolutely, I have watched lightning maps online. You're right at higher elevations lightning happens frequently. I've had my hair start standing up on Mt Shasta before a lightning strike. II also lived and worked right outside of Kings canyon national Park for a few summers and the lightning was spectacular. The game here in central/northern KY I think encounters fire less frequently than in eastern KY or definitely less frequently than game west of the Mississippi.  There's deer here in Grant Co KY that do not scare easily. The herd here unfortunately is acclimated to human scent/activity. There's a city near here that allows deer hunting in the city limits as long as it's 100 feet from a dwelling. As far as covering human scent I think charcoal would work better than wood smoke, but that is purely my opinion. I don't really know but that would be my guess if I had to make one. 

There's a lot of evidence here in the Ohio River valley of persistence hunting dating back at least a thousand years.  I would think having the animals smell you would be to the hunters advantage in a persistence hunt. Hunting methods of indigenous people are highly location dependent though there are some things that are universal. I am interested in old hunting techniques and life ways of indigenous people. If you can recommend  any titles relating to that I would appreciate it.

Pnut

 

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I have an old book called "Foxfire Five" which touches on blacksmithing, logging, bear hunting, and blackpowder rifle making.  Another good one is "Hunting with the Bow and Arrow" by Saxton Pope.   

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You're making me feel old; I remember the Foxfire books as some of the new info on "traditional stuff" coming out. But then I have several books from the 1930's about folklife/ways that were written as part of the rise of nationalism back then. (The WPA Oral History projects are a treasure trove too!)

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I have read all the Foxfire books that have anything I'm interested in. We read those books in highschool as part of a scheme to promote KY and mountain culture.  I just borrowed Foxfire 5 from the library a couple months ago. They released an anniversary edition of the founding of the Foxfire foundation. My local library has the whole series. There's some useful info in those books.  The flintlock section is one of the better accounts of the resurgence of traditional gunsmithing I've come across. Most of the people they talked with are gone now. 

I'll have to find a copy of the Saxton Pope title. Thanks.

Pnut

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On 10/8/2019 at 11:49 AM, pnut said:

There's a lot of evidence here in the Ohio River valley of persistence hunting dating back at least a thousand years.

Did auto correct strike again or do you need to explain "Persistence" hunting for those of us not in the know? Is this a form of ambush hunting?

In Boy Scouts we charred the ends sticks to make it fast and easy to "grind" a point on them on a rough stone. None of the scout masters could figure out knapping well enough to give us a crack at it. <sigh>

I buy straight grained 5/4" x 4" hickory cabinet lumber to make handles. You've seen my tapered slab hammer handles and a 4" board lets me cut two for the length of one. After sanding I warm them in the shop toaster oven enough Trewax soaks in, 200 f. is more than hot enough though occasionally when in a rush I'll pass one back and forth in front of the forge door and get a nice toasty color. 

I can't speak for or against actual benefits of charring wood but I've noticed over the last few years blackening hammer handles has assumed a "Traditional method" badge rather than earning the recommendation. I have heard some good reasons from folk who hand: split, hand shave and finish handles. I used to do similar to remove thorns from prickly pears before eating. Charring will indeed remove splinters better than sanding.

Of course that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. :ph34r:

Frosty The Lucky.

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Persistence hunting is a type of hunting where the predator (in this case, humans) simply wears down the prey by not giving it a chance to rest. A human could never run down, say, a gazelle if both start running at the same moment and run flat out; the gazelle will simply take advantage of its superior speed over short distances. However, if the human hunters take advantage of their greater endurance over long distances and keep the animal from resting or taking refuge in its herd, they will eventually be able to catch and kill it. 

 The “Running Man Hypothesis” posits that humans’ evolution of running ability was what lead to the ready supply of animal protein that enabled us to evolve larger brains and learn how to make tools. If I recall correctly, our ability to run (and thus to persistence hunt) evolved much, much earlier than our ability to make tools. 

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Correct. Persistence hunting and using the natural land formations like cliffs, bogs, lakes and the like was much less dangerous than closing in on a large animal and trying to kill it. Herd animals like bison and deer if spooked can be ran into natural traps like cliffs or into terrain that favors the hunters. On the plains in the US there's hills that form bottle necks. They look like two steep sided hills that form a v or an L that the indigenous people used to trap and kill bison by having a party chase the herd into the bottle neck and a party waiting concealed at the narrowest point and would shoot from atop the hill at less risk than doing it on the open plains. Persistence hunting was used more frequently in Africa but there's North American first people's tribes that employed the technique to lesser extent. Some of the bottle necks on the plains show evidence of being utilized for thousands of years. Another method used by the native culture of the Ohio valley was to have a party chase deer or elk into a lake while hunters in canoes waited to harass and prevent the animal from getting back to land until exhausted and then kill it.

Pnut

 

 

 

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I couldn't remember what it was called but that is exactly what I was thinking about when I mentioned cliffs. They've found mammoth remains at the bottom of jumps that had signs of human processing but no one can agree if it was hunting or scavenging on the part of the humans. I live about 15 or so minutes away from Big Bone lick where Lewis and Clark found a large amount of pre historic mammal remains that I believe Thomas Jefferson ended up with. 

Pnut

Iirc the animal bones found were from short faced bear, mammoth, saber tooth cats, giant sloths, relatives of horses that I can't remember the actual name of, and dire wolves and a few others I can't recall off the top of my head.

Edited by pnut

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