An ax serves dual purposes as a tool and a weapon. Today, some of the more cruel-looking axes occupy a prominent place in museums.
The more moderately designed axes evolved into the form of practical tools. While axes are most commonly associated with chopping and splitting wood, there are times when we also use them in woodworking projects.
In this post, we will be considering the best wood for the handles for axes that are strong and durable. While you could just go out and buy a replacement handle (like these on Amazon) there is something rewarding about tooling your own handle from a raw piece of wood. So whether your doing DIY or buying a replacement handle, here are our recommendations for the species of wood to consider.
Best Wood for Making an Axe Handle
For any tool handle, and an axe handle, in particular, the wood needs to be strong, shock-proof but with a comfortable grip as well. The wood should not be prone to splitting or cracking and it should be durable enough to be exposed to the elements without showing too much deterioration. Here are a few of the best types of wood that you can use for an ax handle:
The commonest choice for axe handles is hickory. This wood has been used by ax makers since time immemorial for making sturdy handles. You can find hickory easily and it is an extremely tough and durable wood. It is also extremely flexible which every naughty schoolboy knows, having found themselves on the wrong side of the cruel schoolmaster’s hickory stick! This wood makes the most suitable backpacking ax handles among a variety of other tool handles as well.
Ash comes from various countries across Europe. Like hickory, ash is a flexible and strong wood. However, it is not much of an outdoor type of wood. People prefer ash to other types of wood but it is always the second preference after hickory.
Birch, more particularly yellow birch makes cheap and moderately strong handles. Yellow birch is native to Scandinavia. It can shatter on very high impact, but will not shatter as easily as maple. Hence, although maple also makes ax handles, many people will choose birch over certain types of maple.
If you want an ax handle with strong wood but one that exhibits smoothness but with an ample grip, walnut may be the wood that you would prefer. This wood gives a good direction to the handle, enabling the user to cut in smooth, accurate strokes.
Sugar maple is a type of wood that you can get all across North America and finds common use in making baseball bats. The drawback of sugar maple is that it can easily shatter because it has a low resistance to shock and sudden impact. The key to making a sturdy sugar maple axe handle is to ensure that you orient the grain direction properly. Rubbing oils like linseed oil into the wood also helps to enhance durability. Sugar maple is stronger than ash, so many prefer it over ash, perhaps after hickory.
Hard seasoned white oak can serve well but it tends to splinter on sudden impact. But this wood exhibits considerable resistance to insect attack and augers well against the elements. The wood is resilient, hard, and durable but you may experience some difficulty getting a blank of the required size without any flaws.
Beech grows primarily in the UK and other countries across Europe, but you can get it easily enough in the US as well. You could find this wood almost as good as hickory, when wet. When the wood dries, it tends to become weaker, but rubbing some linseed oil into the finished product helps. It is a good practice to keep some linseed oil handy and rub some into the beechwood handle every time you sharpen your axe.
You get European yew as well as Pacific yew, so whether you are in Europe or the US, you can have access to this wood. Yew is a tough but ornamental-looking type of wood. It is used to make archery bows, which due to its high flexibility and toughness. So, if you make a handle from yew, it will be ornate, tough, and durable.
You may not be able to get elm easily in the US. It has become even scarcer due to the decimation of trees due to Dutch elm disease. If you can procure this wood, you may end up paying a considerable amount for it.
Elm has an extremely tight grain and possesses the toughness and resistance to shock that you need for an ax handle. Hence, if you use this wood you will end up with a handle almost as good as one made from hickory, ash, or oak. But another issue you may face with elm is the difficulty in finding a piece with a straight grain. You will need to split out the billet using wedges.
The wooden handles of many tools like a saw or a hand drill do not have the requirement of shock-resistant properties. But like a hammer, axe handles necessarily have to be both tough and shock-resistant. It is also important that such handles provide a comfortable grip.
We have carefully selected the types of wood highlighted in this list based on the required properties of an ax handle. Although you can get commercially available readymade axe handles from the market, you may not always get a suitable size length or strength.