We tend to focus a lot on the different types of tools that we use in woodworking. But we rarely consider the wood that goes into making the handles for those tools. As a woodworker, it is useful to know about the most suitable wood for making tool handles and why we choose them.
In this short but interesting post on something obscure as tool handles, we take a closer look at the best wood for tool handles. You will find that most woodworking tools have handles, and most of them are made of wood.
Whether you’re trying your hand at making a mallet or replacing the old handle of a chisel it’s important to pick a sturdy type of wood, here are our top recommendations
Best Wood for Tool Handles
For a tool handle, you need wood that has strength, flexibility, and durability. The handle should be capable of taking massive shocks without splitting or cracking. Here is a list of the best wood for tool handles:
It is one of the most readily available types of wood in the United States, and the one most suitable for making tool handles. Hickory has been around literally since America’s existence. The reasons why hickory is the first preference for tool handles are many.
To begin with, it is readily available and affordable all over the country. Then, it is incredibly durable and absorbs shock well, reducing fatigue for the user. And finally, the long, straight grain makes it easy to produce long tool handles easily.
Like hickory, oak is also readily available all over the United States. Hence, you will be able to procure oak easily and at an affordable price. This wood is exceptionally durable as well, and due to its high density, it absorbs a fair amount of shock on impact, thereby reducing user fatigue.
The downside of using oak for a tool handle is that it tends to split. You can resolve this issue by oiling the handle regularly. You can also use it for tool handles that will not receive a direct impact, such as a saw or knife handle.
Although you will find ash more abundantly in European countries, you can also find it in many other parts of the world. It plays a prominent role in making tool handles in America as well.
The wood’s long fibers enable handles made from it to absorb shock and make it easy on the user. Ash is a flexible wood and will not split or chip easily. However, ash handles may not last as long as those made from other types of wood, and you would do well not to leave tools with ash handles outdoors to extend their life.
Sugar maple that also goes with the name of hard maple, is a wood that you will find worldwide. It is the wood that we use to make baseball bats. Because of its hardness, sugar maple enjoys wide popularity in making tool handles. The downsides of this wood are that it has a tendency to shatter on high impact and does not fully absorb shock, resulting in fatigue to the user of a tool with a maple handle.
Another popular type of wood that makes a good tool handle is yellow birch. This wood shares the strength of hickory or ash but will not shatter the way sugar maple does. Although yellow birch has good properties for use as a tool handle, its downside is that it is native to the Scandinavian countries of Europe, making it one of the more expensive types of wood in the US.
Cherry wood is softer than many other types of hardwoods but is still a pretty robust variety of timber. Depending on where you live in the US, you should find cherry easily, making it more cost-effective. The advantage of using cherry is that it has an attractive wood grain pattern and color, making your tool handle look upscale and trendy. However, a drawback of cherry wood handles is that the wood is soft and flexible, and more prone to breaking.
Walnut is known for its rich, deep coffee-brown patterns and the subtle finish that you can get with it. That said, walnut is highly brittle, hence prone to cracking and chipping on impact. Thus, this wood is best-suited for tool handles of tools that will face no impact, like knives, lathe tools, or files.
Mahogany also exhibits some delicate patterns when fashioned into a tool handle. This wood is not as readily available as many of the other woods we have mentioned here. You will find mahogany more expensive than most other types of wood, even if you want it only to make tool handles.
A disadvantage of using mahogany as tool handles is that it is more brittle than other types of wood like ash or hickory. Since this wood does not absorb shock very efficiently, you may feel fatigued while using tools with mahogany handles after extended use.
This wood makes excellent saw handles. Beech is strong and durable and can be shaped and worked easily as well. It gives a good finish and ages well. However, today beech comes primarily from European countries, so you may not find it that easily, and for this reason, beech is more expensive than other types of wood in the US.
Carpinus Betulus also goes with the name of hornbeam, and it grows in Europe and America. Hence you get two varieties of this wood – European hornbeam and American hornbeam. It is a rather hardwood and was used to make tool handles, specifically, ax handles since ancient times. It is less durable than many other types of wood, but it makes reasonably useful tool handles because of its hardness.
As a woodworker, you use a variety of tools daily. However, few of us give much consideration to the type of wood that makes the handles of the tools we use. Until a handle breaks or gets chipped and needs replacement. Then, you will start looking for some suitable wood to repair your handle.
You can get ready-made tool handles at hardware stores or order one off the internet. But knowing the type of wood for replacing your tool handle can benefit you in getting the best handles for your tools, especially if you need to make one from scratch.