Wood for Ax Handle

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Adventure Wolf, Sep 15, 2012.

  1. Adventure Wolf

    Adventure Wolf

    Sep 1, 2012
    What wood do you prefer to use for an ax, hatchet or tomahawk handle? Personally I go with hickory because that's the wood my dad used when I was growing up and he was teaching me stuff. To quote Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider "There's nothing like a good peice of hickory", but I've heard people argue in favor of other other types of wood.

    What do you all think?
  2. G-pig


    Jul 5, 2011
    I have used hickory, red oak, ash, locust, sugar maple all successfully. Birch is okay for smaller axes. Beech is used in some other countries. I dont really notice that big of a difference.
  3. Kentucky


    Dec 13, 2008
    Hickory, Ash and Ive used oak too..Used a lot of maple for hatchets..
  4. Operator1975


    Sep 24, 2010
    Stay with time tested logger approved hickory.
  5. Square_peg

    Square_peg Basic Member Basic Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Elm is reported to be a good substitute for hickory.
  6. Wolf Creek Forge

    Wolf Creek Forge

    Jul 4, 2012
    I know we burned a lot of elm for firewood a couple of years ago and it was a bear to split even with a hydraulic splitter..It is very fibrous and clingy if that makes sense..
  7. Adventure Wolf

    Adventure Wolf

    Sep 1, 2012
    I once heard the same thing about Ash. I bought an ax with an ash handle once, but it was so old I thought it best to pull the handle off and replace it.
  8. wildmike


    Nov 17, 2007
    Elm is a very tight wood and makes nearly as good if not as good a handle as hickory, ash, or oak. But it is much more difficult to find straight grain in. One must generally split out the billet with wedges.
    Miller '72 likes this.
  9. G-pig


    Jul 5, 2011
    The major characteristics you want in a handle are flexibility (Shock absorption. most woods used for bows willl make adequate handle) and a stringy fibrous grain that is not brash and resists splitting. Tons of woods work great as long as you can hit where you are aiming and dont over strike a lot.
  10. Double Ott

    Double Ott

    Jan 3, 2011
    HICKORY!!! All the premium Swedish and German axe makers import American Hickory for their handles and proudly advertise it.
    What more can one say about hickory, other than as said above, "Stay with time tested logger approved hickory. "
  11. klammer


    Jan 30, 2009
    a few that were missed: Osage, Black Locust.
  12. garry3


    Sep 11, 2012
    It has interlocking grain. If you smooth a piece(with the grain) and look close you can see a herring bone pattern. It would be way down my list for handles but it has other uses.
  13. garry3


    Sep 11, 2012
    Yes I agree. Lots of choices out there that may even be better than hickory. And anyone that has built many bows can tell you that there can be a huge difference in strength from one tree to the next. Even growing yards apart.
    What has led to the demise of most of my handles through the years has been weather. If you work with a tool much in damp or wet conditions that wood is going to swell no matter what you put on it to try to seal it. The weather changes and it gets warm and dry it shrinks and it is just a matter of time. It will never return to its original size. I have often thought about soaking my handles or better vacuum sealing them in water and then dry them to about 5% moisture before I used them. It might help?
  14. Adventure Wolf

    Adventure Wolf

    Sep 1, 2012
    Any good carpenter can tell you that too. Every tree is different depending on where it grows, the soil its in, the amount of sunlight it gets etc. etc.
  15. garry3


    Sep 11, 2012
    Yep. Genetics might even play a role. Kind of hard to say flat out that one type of wood is best. Hickory is good but there are other factors also that make it the most popular wood handle. Straight grain, easy to work and available.
    I have had a few ash handles. In my experience I would walk over a couple of them to pick up one hickory handle.
    junkenstien likes this.
  16. G-pig


    Jul 5, 2011
    I have and use handles made of hard maple, ash, red oak and used locust in the past. I dont think hickory has much on any of them except for a bit of abrasion resistance, which I dont really worry about. I find hickory to be a bit stiff most of the time, even when I thin the crap out of it. Ive still yet to break an axe handle, even the comparatively weak maple despite some heavy use limbing blow down crap. Once you start over striking and swinging too hard is when that comes into play. Hickory will defenitely take more abuse than maple or birch or ash ( to a lesser extent), but I try not to abuse axes in general.
  17. Stubai


    Mar 16, 2007
    I'd go with a hickory handle. There are other types of wood that can be utilized but you are probably going to have to shell out a bit more dough for the custom ones. My last good handles came from Doc Jastad at www.theaxehole.com and they were superb.
  18. Joe J

    Joe J

    May 12, 2016
    Do you generally get your wood material from a lumber yard? Or what?
  19. Hickory n steel

    Hickory n steel Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 11, 2016
    If nothing more than American tradition I use hickory. but I don't make handles from scratch anyway, I buy fat handles and carve different handles out of them .
  20. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    You don't see Hickory much at lumber yards unless it's 1 inch nominal (ie 3/4") flooring. Making an axe handle from scratch (a stave or billet actually) is hugely satisfying in that you've learned about patterns, grain and shaping etc etc and done it yourself. Otherwise a $12-15 ready-made handle from the hardware store is infinitely more cost-effective and efficient.
    Hickory is economical from a commercial harvest standpoint (lots of trees and lots of good straight strong wood from those trees) but if you're going to try making one yourself there are many other choices. Rifle through a few neighbour's firewood piles and see what they've got that might work. Europeans use a lot of Ash, Birch and Beech so don't think you're thoroughly constrained. One of the premium east European axe makers exclusively uses Elm.
    Miller '72 likes this.

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