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Hammer handle material


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I'm headed out to pick up some wood for my little 1 1/2 pound Dog's Head hammer handle.  I know Hickory is the preferred wood for hammer handles.  But never having made a handle before I'm wondering if "just any" Hickory would do.  :wacko:  Or should I specify "straight grained", "quarter sawn" or anything else that would make for a nice handle?  My supplier has 12' lengths of 5/4 Hickory in stock at $3.85/bd ft.  But I don't want to spend that kind of money on something that won't be good.

On another note, are there other good hammer handle materials?  I've got some nice straight grained, old growth Oklahoma Black Walnut that would make a nice handle, I think.  Also some good Ash.  But I just don't know if these materials would do a good job as hammer handles.

If I end up with the 12' piece from my supplier, I'm going to have a lifetime supply of hammer handle material and will need to go into the business of selling billets. :D

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Chris; pretty much any wood that was used locally for bows will work. Straight grained Osage Orange is nice.  You want the straight grain with all the grain running from one end of the billet to the other.  Walnut tends to be a bit brittle in my experience and it's also slightly toxic. Crab Apple works well too.

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I know that but was thinking of buying in sawn planks that are kiln dried.

I'm just now home with my 5/4 x 6 x 86 plank of straight grained Hickory.  Getting ready to go out and run it through the planer to see what I "really" have.  Looked mighty good to me in the pile.

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Well I made the handle.  The head end of it is sitting in a cup of Boiled Linseed Oil.  I'm kind of embarrassed to show it to anyone.  Doesn't look anything like any blacksmiths hammer handle I've ever seen.  On the majority of Dog's Head Hammers it looks as if the maker used a "Tomahawk" handle..........just straight.  This looks more like a carpenter's pin-nail hammer with a thinner neck.  I've always liked thinner necks on hammers because they allow the head to whip a little and they also don't seem to transmit vibrations back up the arm to the user, which I believe contributes to what many call "Blacksmiths elbow".........or Tendonitis.   Of course, that's just my (uneducated) opinion.  As good as the handle feels in my hand, I think I'll post a picture of it before actually installing it to see if there are any "no-no's" I've committed.  Originally I was going to shape the handle on my new belt grinder, but I didn't have a belt that did well with wood, so I used what I'm most skilled with, knives and a spoke shave.  I like the faceted surface and only hit it lightly with a 220 grit 3-M pad to slightly soften the facet edges.

 

100571210_DogsHeadHammer-half.thumb.jpg.33ccc9f6a2975a09996e695e44705bd0.jpg

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Looks fine to me and if it works for you it's a good handle---even it it has a helical twist in it!

(Of course I like terminal bulbs on my hammer handles as I don't have to grip them as tightly as a hawk hammer handle...)

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I agree with Thomas. If it works for you, that makes it a good handle. I left a bit of a bulb in the middle of my main forging hammer handle and I've used it like that for about a year and half. But I'm considering shaving that down now. The way I work has evolved and that bulb isn't working for me as well as it once did. I think that's the way it is for all blacksmithing. The more you do, the more you develop your own way so there's no one size fits all

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For your next one... walnut is a poor choice but ash is fine.  Any hickory is very good including pecan!  I actually prefer green wood for most tool handles.  It’s best to dry it after shaping but before final fitting.  Short tool handles are easily dried in a microwave oven.  Baking in the sun for a few days works well too.  In summer my pickup’s dashboard is a handy drying oven!  Once you’ve worked a lot of green wood... it’s not scary anymore.  The finished products are much superior!  Air dried woods are prettier, stronger, more flexible... basically better in every way!  If I happen to have a handle that splits when dried... I just fill it with epoxy or super glue. The cyanoacrylate (super glue) is for very thin splits that I can’t get epoxy into.  
Yard trimmings like lilac, holly, dogwood, oak, redbud, persimmon and many others can be good handle materials!  

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Thomas, the helical twist at the top isn't so bad.  It's when it reverses itself toward the butt end of the handle that poses the problem. ;)

I may actually trim that bulge down a little, CGL, but for right now I think I'll just make it a permanent handle and go with it like it is.

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  • 1 month later...

I've got a decent older cross peen (spelling?) head that my little brother gave me. I have a commercial handle, but it's not a good fit for the eye... so I'm going to make mine.

But the only good hardwood I have large enough right now is some maple.

Worked alot of wood, just never made a hammer handle- thoughts on maple for use?

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What type of Maple?  Any chance of sourcing a broken pickaxe, sledgehammer or axe handle that you can remake?  (When I run across such things I toss them in a barrel for later use.)   Crab Apple is a good wood for handles.   Being in Ohio you should be able to find some bodark!

Fire wood can often be a source of handle wood; can you recognize shagbark hickory or other nut woods?

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That's where my maple is from, firewood- I helped a younger brother cut up a tree a few weeks back. I've got a pile of it in green wood out back. Also have some dried pecan, apple, and some smaller walnut I think?

I do have some finished, kiln dried maple, and oak... but they're 3/4" dimensioned lumber I'd have to laminate to make a thick enough piece.

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There are a number of different maples with quite different properties.  Pecan and Hickory are sold interchangeably in woodworking.

From your list I would choose the pecan for hammer handles and apple for top tool handles.  Avoid kiln dried if you can.  I used to get the extra long and stout pallets drywall comes on to get air dried hardwoods to play around with. (Drywall comes up to 4'x12' fairly commonly.  I used to own a 100 year old high ceiling house and so made use of extra long drywall  to avoid butt seams whenever possible!)   When I reroofed the shed extension to my shop there I use 4"x4"x12' oak from pallets the sign maker behind my house used to get sheet metal delivered on. It was free!

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Lots of good input here already. At some point, I came across this gem of a report.  You can take a look at the table that starts on page 6 of the pdf.  I think the impact test is probably the most relevant one for impact tool usage.  
 

There is a ton of data here - maybe too much...  What I suggest is you look for woods that are known to be good for tools - Osage orange, hickory, and ash.  That can establish the ballpark that one needs to be in for the impact test and you might be able to find some suitable sources for handles from some local woods.

I am lucky to be in Ohio...  I have some Osage orange fully dried in my shed (which when you look at the data is truly an incredible wood.)  Also have a bunch of hickory and locust drying.  All of it was blow downs I found on relatives property.

I will second a comment above in that the exact species really matters. A native sugar maple compared to the silver maple in my back yard is a world apart.  I can snap large branches of the silver maple with minimal effort that would be unbreakable from a sugar maple.

Good Reference for Wood Properties

 

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