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What’s the Best Wood for an Axe Handle?

axe chopped fire wood

Whenever you are chopping up wood, the last thing you want is for your axe to break. To prevent this from happening, it is important to choose the best wood for your axe handle. But what is the best wood?

In this article, we answer just that. We look at the nine best wood types for axe handles, compare their attributes, and provide you with a convenient user manual. This manual covers factors to consider when selecting wood, how to make your own handle, and maintaining the handle.

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9 Best Woods for an Axe Handle

1. Hickory

Truper 30818 34488 Hickory 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. There are several reasons that contribute to Hickory’s popularity. Firstly, 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 of use.

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.

Pros
  • Readily available in America
  • Affordable
  • Strong hardwood
  • Produces straight staves
  • Traditional look
Cons
  • Not as attractive as other woods
  • Sensitive to extreme weather conditions

2. Oak

Axe or hatchet oakwood handle

Another popular wood type for axe handles is Oak. In many ways, Oak is popular for the same reasons as Hickory. Like Hickory, Oak is a readily available wood type in America. As a result, you will be able to find Oak easily and at an affordable price.

More so, Oak is one of the most durable woods available. It has a high density, which 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 types. In order to prevent your handle from splintering, you will need to oil it regularly.

Pros
  • Readily available
  • Affordable
  • Very strong
  • Absorbs shock
  • Resistant to bugs and fungi
Cons
  • Splinters if not maintained

3. Ash

GEDORE OX E-91 E-0800 Spare Ash Handle

Ash is the most common wood in European countries, but it is available all around the world. For this reason, Ash is a popular wood choice 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, which not only minimizes user fatigue but also prevents 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 wood types, especially if it is left outdoors.

Pros
  • Available around the world
  • Absorbs shock easily
  • Minimizes user fatigue
  • Durable
  • Flexible
Cons
  • Will not last as long as Hickory or Oak

4. Sugar Maple

sugar maple
Image credit: James St. John, Flickr

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. The main reason for this is its strength.

Unfortunately, its strength makes it more brittle as well. As a result, they are 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.

Pros
  • Very strong
Cons
  • Brittle
  • Shatters easily
  • Does not absorb impact well

5. Yellow Birch

yellow birch wood

Yellow Birch is a popular axe handle wood type in Europe, specifically Scandinavia. The reason for Yellow Birch’s popularity is that 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, although Hickory is still more absorbent.

The main downside of Yellow Birch, however, is that it can be more expensive than Hickory, Oak, or Sugar Maple, especially for those who live in North America. The reason for this is that Yellow Birch is not as readily available in the US.

Pros
  • Very durable
  • Not prone to shattering
  • Absorbs shock easily
  • Minimizes user fatigue
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not readily available in the US

6. Cherry

Cherry wood
Image credit: CG Masters, Flickr.com

Some people have chosen to make their axe handles out of Cherry. Depending on where you live, Cherry can be readily available, making it more affordable than other options. Additionally, Cherry is a highly attractive wood, which will allow your handle to look very upscale and refined.

With that being said, Cherry is a softwood. This means that 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.

Pros
  • Attractive
Cons
  • Highly flexible
  • Very soft
  • Not durable

7. Walnut

Walnut
Image credit: Martin Lorenz, Wiki Commons

Walnut will give your handle a beautiful finish and a good direction. However, Walnut is very brittle. As a result, Walnut axe handles are more prone to breaking and will not last as long as other wood types.

Pros
  • Attractive
  • Provides good direction
Cons
  • Very brittle
  • Not as durable as other woods

8. Mahogany

mahogany
Image credit: Maniz Ong, Wiki Commons

Another wood type to consider is Mahogany. Mahogany is highly attractive, which will allow your axe handle to look more attractive and refined than other wood types. The attractiveness of Mahogany makes it more expensive, though.

More so, Mahogany is more brittle than Ash or Hickory. As a result, it will splinter, shatter, and break much easier than other wood types. Additionally, Mahogany does not absorb shock well. This fact will increase user fatigue and make it even more prone to cracking and snapping due to the shock impact.

Pros
  • Attractive
Cons
  • Brittle
  • Does not absorb shock well
  • Prone to snapping

9. Carpinus Betulus

Carpinius betulus
Image credit: beentree, Wiki Commons

Finally, the last wood type on our list is Carpinus Betulus. Carpinus Betulus is a popular wood type for making axe handles, especially in Europe. In fact, most ancient axe handles were made from this wood type. Today, however, Carpinus Betulus is less popular because it is less durable and strong than other wood types.

Pros
  • Traditional look
Cons
  • Not as durable as other woods
  • Not readily available in the States
  • Expensive

User Manual

We hope that our breakdown of the nine most popular wood types makes selecting a wood type 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.

In this user manual, we go over factors to consider when selecting wood for your axe handle. These factors will allow you to better determine what wood you need based on your needs and preferences. Additionally, this manual provides instructions for making and maintaining your axe handle after you have selected the wood type.

axe in wood block
Image: Pixabay

Factors To Consider When Selecting Wood For An Axe Handle

Strength

The most important factor to consider when choosing a wood type for your axe handle is strength. The strength will ensure that the handle is durable and lasts a long time. The strongest wood types (in order) are:

  1. Hickory
  2. Sugar Maple
  3. Oak
  4. Mahogany
  5. Yellow Birch
  6. Ash
  7. Walnut
  8. Cherry
  9. Carpinius Betelus

Shock Absorbency

Another factor to consider is shock absorbency. Shock absorbency means that the wood is flexible enough to resist impact, which prevents it from splintering or shattering. Additionally, shock absorbency minimizes user fatigue.

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How To Make An Axe Handle

1. Select a Wood Type

The first step to making an axe handle is selecting the wood type. We recommend selecting Hickory or Oak for your axe handle, but you can opt for a different type of wood if you would prefer. Consult our list of the top nine wood types for more ideas.

2. Choose a Freshly Cut Bolt of Wood

The second step is choosing a freshly cut bolt of wood. You want to make sure that the bolt has enough wood so that you can whittle away the excess to better carve your handle. We recommend going to a firewood cutter for more options.

Make sure that 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 size of the bolt and the desired size of the axe handle, 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, try to keep the same annual growth ring at the center of where your handle will be cut. The reason for this is that 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 on the inside of the billet and remove the bark. 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 standard lengths for different axe types:

  • Shaping axes: 19 to 22 inches
  • Camp axes: 20 to 26 inches
  • Chopping and splitting axes: 28 to 31 inches

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 ratio, thickness to width. This will prevent the handle from turning in your hands while using it. Typically, axe handles are ¾ inch thick and about 1½ inch wide.

6. Dry the Handle

At this point, the handle is almost finished. Before it is completed though, 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 do this by mixing equal amounts of white glue and hot water and smearing 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 the handle 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. Make sure that it has a tight fit so that way the head doesn’t come undone and injure someone. You can get a tight fit by putting an additional wedge between the head and handle.

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How to Maintain Your Axe Handle

Now that you have made an axe handle, it is important to maintain it properly. Unlike rubber or other synthetic materials, wood requires a little bit more maintenance. Although the maintenance can be a bit aggravating at times, it will be worth it in the end because your axe will be usable and more attractive. Here are the best ways to maintain your wooden axe handle:

1. Using Drying Oils

The best way to preserve your wooden handle is to treat the wood with drying oils such as hemp, walnut, or linseed oil. Drying oils are different from non-drying oils like coconut, almond, and olive oil. The reason for this is that drying oils harden, a process known as polymerization. This hardening protects and preserves the wood. Non-drying oils do not do this and will not protect the wood.

The best drying oil for preserving your handle is linseed oil. It is cheap and dries quickly, making it convenient as well. 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 oil better when it is warm. For this reason, 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 some time, 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 important to remove these items in order to preserve your handle.

There are two ways that you can remove ground-up dirt or other surface materials from the handle. You can either clean the handle with a moist cloth and dry it. This will be suitable for materials that are not heavily caked onto your handle. Or, you can use fine-grit sandpaper to remove dried surface materials.

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Conclusion

After reviewing the most popular wood types for axe handles, we recommend selecting Hickory. The reason for this is that Hickory is affordable, highly durable, and absorbs shock well. These factors will allow you to use your Hickory axe handle for a long time without feeling tired or the handle breaking.

If you are not sold on Hickory, then we recommend Oak. Like Hickory, Oak is highly durable, shock-absorbent, and affordable.

We hope that this article has helped to make the wood selection process for your axe handle easier and more stress-free.


Featured Image: Pixabay

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