What’s the Best Wood for an Axe Handle?
When you chop wood, the last thing you want is for your axe to break. To prevent that from happening, it is vital to choose the best wood for your axe handle. But what is the best wood? In this article, we’ll provide the answer. We’ll discuss the nine best wood types for axe handles, compare their attributes, and provide a convenient user manual. After the reviews, we’ll examine the factors to consider when selecting wood, discuss how to make an axe handle, and show you how to maintain the handle.
The 9 Best Woods for an Axe Handle
Hickory is the most common wood type for making an axe handle, and it has long been a favorite since the founding of America. Several reasons contribute to Hickory’s popularity. First, Hickory is a domestic wood that is found all over the nation, making it readily available and affordable. In addition to affordability, Hickory is very strong.
Since it is a straight-grained hardwood, it is highly durable, absorbs shock, and minimizes user fatigue. These factors ensure that a Hickory axe handle will last many years. More so, the straight-grained nature of Hickory makes it easier and more convenient for fashioning the handle. This wood produces straight staves, which can easily be carved into an axe handle.
Another popular wood type for axe handles is Oak. In many ways, Oak is famous for the same reasons as Hickory. Like Hickory, Oak is a readily available wood type in America. As a result, you can find Oak easily and at an affordable price. Also, Oak is one of the most durable woods available.
Its high density allows the wood to be strong and absorb some of the shock. These facts allow Oak to last for many years and minimize user fatigue. The main downside of using Oak is that it is more prone to splintering than other wood. To prevent your handle from splintering, you must oil it regularly.
Ash is the most common wood in European countries, but it is available worldwide. For that reason, ash is a popular wood for axe handles. Ash has long fibers that allow the wood to absorb shock easily, minimizing user fatigue. Additionally, Ash is strong and flexible. The strength will allow the handle to withstand years of use. At the same time, flexibility will allow the handle to move with the shocks, minimizing user fatigue and preventing it from splitting or chipping. The main downside of Ash is that it is not as durable as Hickory or Oak. As a result, it will not last as long as the other two, especially if left outdoors.
4. Sugar Maple
Sugar Maple, also called Hard Maple, is native to North America. It has long been used for making baseball bats, but some people also use it for making axe handles because it’s an incredibly durable wood.
Unfortunately, its strength makes it more brittle as well. As a result, it’s easier to shatter when using. Additionally, Sugar Maple does not absorb shock well. This causes the user to become more fatigued when handling an axe made with a Sugar Maple handle.
5. Yellow Birch
Yellow Birch is a popular wood for axe handles in Europe, specifically Scandinavia. Yellow Birch is popular because it is about as strong as Hickory and Ash, but it is not prone to shattering like Sugar Maple. As a result, Yellow Birch is often favored over Sugar Maple. More so, Yellow Birch is popular because it absorbs shock well. In fact, Yellow Birch is one of the more shock-absorbent woods, but Hickory is still the best type for absorbing shocks.
The main downside of Yellow Birch, however, is that it is more expensive than Hickory, Oak, or Sugar Maple, especially for those who live in North America. Yellow Birch is not as readily available in the US.
Some people prefer to make their axe handles out of Cherry, and depending on where you live, Cherry can be easy to find and more affordable than other wood. Cherry is more attractive and looks more upscale and refined than the other wood used for axe handles.
However, Cherry is a softwood. It is more flexible and softer than the other woods on this list. As a result, Cherry handles are more prone to breaking and will not last as long as other wood types.
Walnut will give your handle a beautiful finish and a good direction. However, it is very brittle. As a result, Walnut axe handles are more prone to breaking and will not last as long as other wood types.
Another wood type to consider is Mahogany. Mahogany is beautiful, but it’s incredibly expensive. Also, Mahogany is more brittle than Ash or Hickory. As a result, it will splinter, shatter, and break much easier than other wood. Additionally, Mahogany does not absorb shock well. Therefore, it increases user fatigue and makes it even more prone to cracking and snapping due to the shock impact.
9. Carpinus Betulus
Finally, the last wood type on our list is Carpinus Betulus. Carpinus Betulus is a popular wood for making axe handles, especially in Europe. Most ancient axe handles were made from Carpinus Betulus. However, Carpinus Betulus is less popular today because it is less durable than other varieties.
We hope our breakdown of the nine most popular wood types makes selecting a wood for your axe handle easier and less stressful. If you are still unsure which wood to choose, don’t fret. Here is a user manual to help you even more. We’ll discuss the factors to consider when selecting wood for your axe handle. Additionally, this manual provides instructions for making and maintaining your axe handle after you have selected the wood.
How To Make An Axe Handle
1. Select a Wood Type
The first step of making an axe handle is selecting the wood. We recommend selecting Hickory or Oak for your axe handle, but you can use a different type of wood and select one from our list.
2. Choose a Freshly Cut Bolt of Wood
The second step is choosing a freshly cut bolt of wood. You must ensure that the bolt has enough wood so that you can whittle away the excess to carve your handle. We recommend going to a firewood cutter for more options. Ensure the bolt is green, straight-grained, without knots, and about 10 to 16 inches in diameter. If you look for bolts of this type, it will be easier to shape into an axe handle.
3. Split the Bolt
Next, you need to split the bolt. Depending on the bolt’s size and the axe handle’s desired dimensions, split the main bolt into quarters, sixths, or eighths. Each split piece is called a billet. Ideally, each billet should have 4 to 5 inches of bark.
As you separate the billets, keep the same annual growth ring at the center of where your handle will be cut. This is because it will provide the handle with more strength and shock absorption.
4. Hew the Billets
Now that you have your billets, it is time to score and hew them. More specifically, score and hew the triangle inside the billet and remove the bark. Then, hew the surface so it is smooth. On the smooth surface, trace an outline of the shape of your desired handle.
At this point, the billet should be about 1½ inches thick, oversized at the bottom, and about 4 inches wide. The length of the handle varies based on your preferences. Here are the standard lengths for different axe types:
5. Score and Hew Handle Into Rough Shape
Begin to score and hew the handle into its rough shape using the outline drawn on the surface. You may need to redraw the outline as you cut away. Make sure that the area of the handle that fits into the axe head is kept oversized.
Additionally, shape the shaft into an oblong profile with a 1:2 thickness-to-width ratio. It prevents the handle from turning in your hands while using it. Typically, axe handles are ¾ inch thick and about 1½ inches wide.
6. Dry the Handle
At this point, the handle is almost finished. Before it is completed, you need to dry it out for a few weeks. Seal both ends to keep them from drying faster than the rest of the wood and chipping. You can mix equal amounts of white glue and hot water and smear the paste on the end grains. Then, hang up the handle and let it dry.
Once the handle is dried out completely, finish by sanding it into a smooth finish and treating it with coats of boiled linseed oil thinned with turpentine.
7. Attach to Axe Head
The last step is attaching the handle to the axe head. Ensure it has a tight fit so the head doesn’t come undone and injure someone. You can get a tight fit by adding a wedge between the head and handle.
How to Maintain Your Axe Handle
Now that you have made an axe handle, it is vital to maintain it properly. Wood requires more maintenance than rubber or other synthetic materials. Although the maintenance can be a bit aggravating at times, it will be worth it because your axe will functional and more attractive. Here are the best ways to maintain your wooden axe handle:
1. Using Drying Oils
Treating the wood with drying oils such as hemp, walnut, or linseed oil is the best way to preserve your wooden handle. Drying oils are different from non-drying oils like coconut, almond, and olive oil. Drying oils harden, which is a process known as polymerization. The hardening protects and preserves the wood. Non-drying oils do not do that and will not protect the wood.
The best drying oil for preserving your handle is linseed oil. It is cheap and dries quickly. Many people debate whether or not you should use boiled or raw linseed oil. Overall, though, most people choose boiled linseed oil.
2. How to Treat the Wood
Wood will absorb the oil better when it is warm. Therefore, it is best to treat the handle with oil on a warm sunny day in the summer or a bright sunny day in the winter. You will apply the oil by wrapping the handle in a paper towel and pouring a small amount of oil onto the towel.
Rub the paper towel over the length of the handle and wrap it like a mummy. Make sure that the top and bottom of the handle are well-oiled. Leave it wrapped in direct sunlight. After a few hours, flip the handle over on its other side. When it is finished, wipe down the handle with a different paper towel or clean cloth to remove any excess.
3. Remove Any Ground-up Dirt Or Surface Materials
Since axes are used in the woods, they often are exposed to dirt and other surface materials. As a result, ground-up dirt or other items can cling to the surface of your axe handle. It is crucial to remove these items to preserve your handle. You can remove ground-up dirt or other surface materials from the handle in two ways. You can clean the handle with a moist cloth and dry it, which is suitable for materials not heavily caked onto your handle. Or, you can use fine-grit sandpaper to remove dried surface materials.
After reviewing the most popular wood types for axe handles, we recommend selecting Hickory. Hickory is affordable, highly durable, and absorbs shock well. You can use your Hickory axe handle for a long time without feeling tired or the handle breaking. If you are not sold on Hickory, we recommend Oak. Like Hickory, Oak is durable, shock-absorbent, and affordable. We hope this article has helped make the wood selection process for your axe handle easier and stress-free.
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