Jump to content
I Forge Iron

Who makes handles?

Recommended Posts

I'm wondering how many folks make their own hanles?

I have a hickory that needs cutting and I plan to cut out some sections for hammer handles and ax handles.

I'm assuming that I should cut out the blanks while the wood is green. How long should this season before making a handle? I'm thinking about a year.

I need to make a fro first though. It seems as though I always have to do something else before doing what I want to do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I made a bunch from some ash. We had a big tree fall in a storm so I took the trunk to a friend who has a saw mill and had him cut slabs for me, let those season in the barn for several months and then ripped them with a circular saw. When I need a handle, I grab a blank and profile it with the belt sander, which is faster for me than trying to carve it.

Ash makes good handles but you can't leave it where the termites can find it. Don't ask me how I know...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I work with greenwood a fair amount my primary interest is woodturning. I would strongly recommend quarter sawing the tree as soon as possible after dropping it. If it's a big tree find someone with a portable mill the cost usually isn't to bad. If it's a smaller tree quarter saw with a chainsaw/bandsaw. DON"T leave the log in the round it will split and crack. To prevent cracking you need to cut the log through the pith there shouldn't be any whole growth rings left. Seal the ends of the boards with either end gran sealer or paint. Find a good place to stack and sticker the the wood and let it set for 1-2 years. For hammers you could rip some boards a little larger than needed and they would dry a little faster. The general rule of thumb for green wood is 1 inch per year plus a year to dry.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For short handles (like hammer handles) I just rive out a blank, rough it with the drawknife and then I microwave it till it's nearly dry. I finish the drying by baking in the oven at about 175 degrees (keep warm setting) for several hours or a day or so. This works for me because I live where I have several forested acres and I can always get a chunk of limb or trunk. As the timbers age they become spalted and very beautiful! Then they are too soft for hammer or axe handles but they do make beautiful handles for carving knives, hoof picks, spoon scrapers etc. When they get too punky to use at all they feed the mushrooms. AHHHhh... Nature!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I make mine normally from hickory I used to use hockey sticks and whatever else I came across, but now I think that it pays to buy the right stuff. I like to use what I think is called bastard cut these handles take a lot of abuse far more that the handles that I used to buy ready made and of course are much less expensive than anything I can buy here. I saw them to size and then rasp off the corners with an old hoof rasp.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I use a plank of white ash. Hickory is great but I prefer ash. it seems to let less of the vibration, from impact, from traveling up my hand and arm. But thats just my belief. If you hit hickory on something hard it gives you a high, hollow, dinging sound, ash when you hit it sounds more of a deep thud sound. I'm not for certain but I believe that ash is just a hair softer, which seems to absorb more vibration. But I could have it all wrong. I use 48" sander to form my handles, you can knock out a few of them in pretty good time!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The "what wood for Handles" question pops up from time to time, it was on another forum a while back. The two main criteria seem to be strength - ie is the wood strong enough for the job, and does it transmit or rather limit vibrations to the user. I'm no expert but expect that almost any wood that meets these criteria should be ok, no need to get hung up over Ash or Hickory! Don't get me wrong though Hickory is a very tough wood if you can get it. I currently have one Hammer handled with Oak and another in Beech - I'll let you know when they fail, but don't expect it to be anytime soon :p

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All of my woodworking experience has taught me that when it comes to tool handles, especially hammer handles, you want a wood that has certain characteristics; Just like there is a right steel for the job, there is also the right wood. A good tool handle wood should have the following ...

  • it needs to be a hardwood
  • it needs to be strong
  • it needs a tiny bit of flex
  • it needs a certain amount of density
  • it needs to have straight grain

There aren't many woods that have all of these qualities, but there are quite a few that have most of them.

Hickory, some types of maple (like red maple and sugar maple), ash and beech are all native to N.America (as so relatively readily available) and make excellent hammer handles because they have all of these qualities.

White oak makes a good handle as well but tends to not have as much flex as so can become brittle over time (especially as it dries out).
Box wood is one of the densest species found in N.America and makes the best short handles (like for chisels or knives) but doesn't make as great long handles. Some hard fruit woods make decent handles as well (apple and plum come to mind).

Of all the qualities I listed, straight grain tends to be the one most overlooked, and just happens to be one of the most important. All of these woods mentioned have straight grain if cut correctly. If you're cutting your own or buying from a supplier, you want the wood to be quartersawn or hand split with a froe (an axe or wedge will work as well). These methods of cutting or splitting preserve the grain structure making optimum handles.

"Pretty woods" like curly maple, birdseye maple, walnut, cherry, etc, are very attractive and can be very strong, but do not have a straight grain structure - some species like cherry can even have a completely unpredictable grain structure (which makes them tricky to work with even for woodworkers). This makes them prone to splitting and splintering under stress, especially if the grain structure has been cut through.

Species of wood found outside N.America are a totally different ball of wax and needs someone more experienced with their qualities than I to talk about them.

Now ... NONE OF THIS IS MEANT TO BE SCRIPTURE. This is just a general guideline as to what to look for in a handle material. There are always going to be exceptions. It may be that one billet of curly maple that made the best handle you've ever used, or that hickory handle that failed on its first try. This information is meant for "the most probability for success", but nothing is guaranteed. Remember, handles are organic and untimately disposable - they are going to fail long before the hammer itself ever will.

Hope this helps.

Wood - the smith's other material.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...