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What is the correct wood for tool handles?

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Forum topic by Combo Prof posted 06-11-2016 08:45 PM 825 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Combo Prof

2581 posts in 852 days


06-11-2016 08:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question tool handle wood

By tools I mean hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, handsaws and so forth.

The question is three fold:

  1. What was the classic/vintage preference for the tools handle?
  2. What is a good/acceptable modern replacement?
  3. What can use found in very northern Michigan forest? (Western upper peninsula)

For example, I would think the answer for Saws is (1) Apple, (2) Apple, beech, cheery, walnut although I think I have seen other choices; (3) apple, I have enough of it drying. Is it Ash for chisels?

Specifically I need to make some tool handles for three hammers, two ball-peen, one claw. The vintage hammers I have look oak to me, but I understand oak is not a good handle choice. So I wonder what was traditionally used.

I have not found Hickory around here but I am sure it exits. We are zone 4.

Yes its another of my odd little questions. Thanks for trying to answer it.

-- Don K, (Houghton, Michigan)


14 replies so far

View Brit's profile

Brit

6838 posts in 2417 days


#1 posted 06-11-2016 09:20 PM

English quartersawn beech was the wood traditionally used for saw handles back in the day. Some makers also offered ebony and mahogany at a premium price, but I’ve yet to see any of those turn up on the secondhand market. Beech is an excellent wood for saw handles IMO because it is strong, durable, easily worked with hand tools, finishes well and ages well. Nowadays, most beech comes from Europe though rather than England.

For chisels typical woods are beech, hornbeam, ash, box, rosewood and more recently bubinga.

Screwdrivers can be any hardwood you like really since you aren’t (or shouldn’t be) pounding on them.

Hammers are more often than not hornbeam or ash.

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

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Combo Prof

2581 posts in 852 days


#2 posted 06-11-2016 10:06 PM

Thanks, Andy. I have (or will have when it dries) plenty of hornbeam, apple and ash. So that good news for me. Beech of course I would have to import.

-- Don K, (Houghton, Michigan)

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Richard H

489 posts in 1255 days


#3 posted 06-11-2016 10:18 PM

You are lucky if you have a good supply of hornbeam and apple. I have a short section of apple that is slatted for a couple replacement saw handles but the stuff is just really hard to find around here for some reason. I think the smoke chips industry pretty much eats up any supply there is.

View summerfi's profile

summerfi

3461 posts in 1261 days


#4 posted 06-11-2016 10:36 PM

Hickory is the traditional wood for American hammer handles. If you can’t get hickory, I would use tight grain ash. Orient the grain so it is vertical when in the hammering position.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works http://www.rmsaws.com/p/about-us.html

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bold1

271 posts in 1421 days


#5 posted 06-12-2016 01:33 AM

Here in Pa. White Oak split not sawn was the best choice for hammer handles. Also used for wheel spokes, gun ramrods, and ship ribs.

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Combo Prof

2581 posts in 852 days


#6 posted 06-12-2016 01:41 AM


You are lucky if you have a good supply of hornbeam and apple. I have a short section of apple that is slatted for a couple replacement saw handles but the stuff is just really hard to find around here for some reason. I think the smoke chips industry pretty much eats up any supply there is.

- Richard H


I agree I am lucky.

Last year I was given a 10-11 inch diameter log of Hornbeam which I have had sawn 8/4 I have another small 6” inch diameter log too. My sawyer happened to have an apple tree sawn in to 8/4 slabs last year. I bought most of it.

-- Don K, (Houghton, Michigan)

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Combo Prof

2581 posts in 852 days


#7 posted 06-12-2016 01:43 AM

I don’t know what this means but I have read that oak doesn’t have enough “spring in it” to be a suitable choice for hammers.

-- Don K, (Houghton, Michigan)

View Boatman53's profile

Boatman53

1018 posts in 1771 days


#8 posted 06-12-2016 02:21 AM

Don, if you want to pay for shipping I’ve got a lot 2”+ ( most around 2 1/2”) hickory a bit under 3’ long. I could rip off a square for you it you like.
Jim

-- Jim, Long Island, NY Ancorayachtservice.com home of the chain leg vise

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Combo Prof

2581 posts in 852 days


#9 posted 06-12-2016 02:58 AM

Jim, p.m. sent.

-- Don K, (Houghton, Michigan)

View TheFridge's profile

TheFridge

6544 posts in 1060 days


#10 posted 06-12-2016 03:00 AM

Hornbeam is good for striking I’m pretty sure.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View konnon6's profile

konnon6

34 posts in 1888 days


#11 posted 08-02-2016 12:53 AM

Well if its a new hammer I try to use any kind of hardwood that I can find in the forest. The spring in the handle will go away as its in your shop. Why? because its the loss of moisture in the wood, So I used linseed oil or a nice hard finish even beeswax! My apprenticeship to a blacksmith told
me to never throw away a broken handle and keep your grain inline with your tool.
I have handmade handles that are over a hundred years old and in great shape!

View jwmalone's profile

jwmalone

769 posts in 276 days


#12 posted 08-02-2016 01:07 AM

I agree with Konnon6, never throw away any wood for that matter, broken hammer handle today tomorrow a scribe handle or something. “you cant beat a good piece of hickory”

-- "Boy you could get more work done it you quit flapping your pie hole" Grandpa

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Paul7775

1 post in 237 days


#13 posted 08-02-2016 01:38 AM

The folks I worked with thirty-some years ago advocated oak sapwood from the bottom of the tree to get the sweep for an adz handle. Spring was the reason for the choice. They said that the handle would not last as long as heart wood, but that it would have more spring. I haven’t gotten my lipped adz down in a long while, but it still has the same handle.

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bondogaposis

4208 posts in 1925 days


#14 posted 08-02-2016 01:59 AM

Hickory for hammer handles.
Screw drivers can be anything, I have seen a lot of them in soft maple.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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