Making an axe handle is not the most complex job. Many DIYers make their handles from home using standard tools. Alternatively, you can purchase a ready-made handle from an established brand, such as Tenessee Hickory or the House Handle Company.
But, there’s a problem. Many people are not just looking for a handle; they want value for money too.
This makes selection a little difficult given that not all woods make strong, durable, and beautiful handles. Moreover, what if you cannot readily find handles in your preferred wood species? What are your options?
This guide reviews the fifteen best wood types for axe handles, so you have a few alternatives ready in case you can’t find your favorites.
What is the Best wood for Axe Handle?
- Yellow birch wood
- Ash axe handle
- Carpinus Butulus
- Hard maple
- White oak axe handle
- Cherry wood
- Red elm
- Black locust
Top Considerations When Choosing the Best Wood for Axe Handle
Before we list the best wood types for axe handles, perhaps it helps to explain what makes a good wooden axe handle.
Strength and hardness
The best axe handles are hard and strong. Wood hardness is measured on the Janka scale and determines the wood’s resistance to dents and scratches. Meanwhile, wood strength measures its ability to withstand stress.
Durability and longevity
We all desire highly durable wood handles that can withstand external elements and stay in pristine condition for a long time. Granted, this also depends on how you use and maintain the handle. However, the best wood handles are inherently durable.
Shock absorption capacity
The axe handle experiences substantial shock due to the impact of cutting. Unfortunately, this can cause splitting or cracking if the wood cannot absorb shock. A highly shock absorbent wood handle remedies this problem.
Type of axe
Are you making a hatchet axe, tactical axe, or splitting axe? Or perhaps it’s a grub axe or backpacking axe. All these axe styles require unique handles. So, you must ask whether you’re getting the best wood for that type of axe.
Aesthetics and personal preferences
Everyone has a unique taste and style. For instance, while some people love classic reddish brown woods, others prefer modern, lighter shades. The grain pattern and handle type are two other important factors.
For instance, do you prefer a straight handle or a carved handle? Similarly, do you prefer a straight grain or figured grain pattern?
Other important considerations when selecting wood for an axe handle are price, eco-friendliness, and whether you want an exotic or domestic wood handle.
15 Best Wood for Axe Handle
Now we know what to look for in a wooden axe handle. But this can still leave you wondering where to start your search. So, we’ve identified 15 excellent options to give you a headstart.
Ask any experienced woodworker, and they’ll tell you without second thoughts that hickory is the best wood for axe handles. The main reason is that hickory is strong and highly shock resistant. Additionally, it offers a good snap when chopping wood.
Hickory also offers a level of flexibility most wood species don’t. This makes it the best backpacking axe handle material. We also love its straight grain pattern that produces beautiful straight staves.
Unfortunately, a hickory axe handle is difficult to carve due to the wood’s high Janka rating (1820 lbf). So, you must be patient, especially if using hand tools.
- Readily available domestic wood
- It’s a durable, strong wood
- It offers a traditional look
- It’s affordable
- It’s sensitive to extreme weather
- It’s difficult to carve
Walnut is a tough hardwood of medium density. American species are deep chocolate or coffee in color but lighten over time. However, European walnut trees are naturally light-colored. The choice is yours. All walnut trees have tints ranging from brown to purple, gray, and even red.
Anyway, it’s a hard, straight-grained wood, sometimes with wavy curls that enhance the character of the wood. The American walnut, for instance, scores 1010 lbf on the Janka scale. This is excellent for axe handles.
However, beware that walnut is brittle and not as durable as hickory and other stronger hardwoods.
- It offers a smooth feel
- Enables straight chopping strokes
- Provides good direction
- It’s a very beautiful wood
- Walnut is brittle
- It is not very durable
3. Yellow birch wood
Yellow birch is one of the best wood types for tool handles. It’s particularly a good alternative to sugar maple. So, you don’t want to miss it on your priority list.
The main reason for yellow birch’s popularity is it’s almost as hard and strong as hickory and ash but less prone to shattering than sugar maple. In addition, the yellow birch is an excellent shock absorber. Only hickory is better.
However, be warned that yellow birch wood doesn’t come cheap. It’s more expensive than oak, maple, and hickory. Its mechanical qualities are also questionable. So, we mainly recommend it for splitting axes or tree-felling axes.
- Strong and durable
- Good shock absorption
- Resists shattering
- It’s weather resistant
- Fairly expensive
- Hard to find in the US
4. Ash axe handle
Ashwood should have come much earlier on the list. Indeed, some people consider it the best axe handle wood pound-for-pound.
The main reason is that ash is strong, durable, and more readily available than species like hickory and birch wood. Additionally, ash is highly shock absorbent. It boasts long fibers that allow the axe handle to process shock without cracking or splitting.
Ash wood is also springy, lightweight, and highly flexible, a quality that minimizes user fatigue. The only downside is that it doesnt stand up to weather elements (moisture, rain, sun) very well.
- Good shock absorption
- Strong and durable
- Readily available
- Affordable price
- Poor weather resistance
- Requires regular oil treatment
5. Carpinus Butulus (Hornbeam)
The Hornbeam tree, Corpus Betulus, is common in European countries, where locals use it as a shade tree for lawns. It also makes a good urban street tree due to its fast growth. However, you can also use it for many woodworking applications, including axe handles.
It features nearly white sapwood and pale yellow heartwood, though the two aren’t clearly demarcated. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful wood with slightly interlocked grains and a fine, even texture.
Its hardness (1,600 lbf on the Janka scale) and compressive strength (16,000 lbf/inch square) make it ideal for handles. Additionally, it’s shock absorbent and doesnt split easily.
- Strong and durable
- High compressive strength
- Attractive aesthetics
- It’s rare/difficult to find
6. Hard maple (sugar maple)
Sugar maple is not a vocabulary for many woodworkers. It’s one of the most common furniture woods because of its availability and affordability. It’s also used in making baseball bats.
The main reason it’s an attractive choice for making axe handles is strength. Sugar maple scores 1,450 lbf on the Janka scale and boasts a high modulus of rupture. It also has a high crushing strength. Better still, sugar maple is dense and compact. This gives it sufficient shock resistance.
Beware, however, that maples, including sugar maple, cause skin irritation, runny nose, and asthma-like symptoms among allergic users.
- It’s strong and durable
- Sugar maple is beautiful
- Readily available
- It may trigger allergies
- It’s prone to shattering
7. White oak axe handle
Hard, seasoned white oak is comparable to sugar maple. It’s strong and durable. The wood is also very resilient. For instance, you don’t have to worry about scratches if you drop the axe accidentally.
However, it has a few downsides that leave question marks around white oak axe handles. First, oak wood is prone to splintering. So, although an accidental drop may not cause surface scratches, you may eventually notice cracking. Additionally, white oak requires regular oiling to maintain its natural looks.
Nevertheless, it’s an affordable wood readily available in the US. It’s also highly workable. So, carving it into an axe handle shouldn’t be a problem.
- Beautiful straight grains
- Readily accepts stains
- Scratch resistant
- Fairly flexible
- It shatters readily
- Requires regular maintenance
8. Cherry wood
Cherry wood is a woodworker’s dream. It’s readily available and fairly affordable. Moreover, cherry wood is strong, durable, and weather resistant. Cherry is also a beautiful wood with a gorgeous red tint.
Better still, cherry wood is easy to work with and takes stains well. Its low stiffness is another major advantage. You can even stream-bend it a little if you wish.
Nevertheless, it comes with a few downsides when making axe handles. Notably, though strong, cherry is softer than most woods on this list. Therefore, cherry axe handles break more readily than oak, ash, and other stronger woods.
- It’s a gorgeous wood
- readily available
- Attractive straight grains
- Cherry handles break easily
If you’re considering a replacement handle for your axe and can’t find hickory or ash wood, beech would be a great option. Specifically, we recommend the European beech.
Though it doesn’t offer the flexibility or elasticity of the hickory, European beech wood is sufficiently hard and strong for axe handles. A 1450 Janka hardness rating means the wood withstands abuse and can last a few decades with good maintenance. Additionally, it has a very high modulus of rupture (compressive strength).
A straight grain pattern and fine to medium uniform texture make the wood highly attractive. But more importantly, it comes in a beautiful pale straw color with a hint of pink.
- Boasts a beautiful color
- Attractive texture and grain pattern
- High compressive strength
- Withstands abuse
- Requires regular oiling
- It becomes weaker when dried
So far, we’ve only discussed hardwoods because axe handles require strong, hard, and durable woods. However, a few softwoods make the grade if you can’t readily access the top hardwoods. One of them is yew.
It is a slow-growing tree that produces hard, strong, dense lumber. However, the good news is that yew wood is flexible and elastic. Indeed, its mechanical elasticity is considered unique among softwoods. Despite a high density, it exhibits a highly elastic behavior in the longitudinal direction.
Yew also comes in a beautiful orange-brown color, with straight grains and a uniform, smooth texture that translates into easily paintable surfaces.
- It’s dense but flexible
- It withstands wear and tear
- It’s rot resistant
- It’s easy to finish
- Yew wood is toxic
- It’s too oily
11. Red elm
Elm is another softer wood if you can’t find the hard hardwoods. Though a hardwood, it has a Janka rating of 830, making it a soft hardwood.
One of its biggest qualities is that red elm doesn’t easily split. It takes substantial force for the wood to crack. Therefore, red elm axe handles can live for many years with good maintenance.
Additionally, red elm offers great flexibility. This allows it to bend significantly without breaking. The smooth texture and natural beauty are other attractive qualities of red elmwood.
However, beware that it exhibits poor workability and takes ages to dry. In addition, red elm handles are prone to insect attacks.
- Highly split resistant
- Attractive smooth texture
- Highly flexible
- Natural beauty
- Poor dimensional stability
- Poor workability.
Native to Indonesia and Australia, ironwood is the hardest wood in the world. A Janka rating of 5,060 lbf makes it four times as hard as white oak and five times as hard as walnut. So, you can tell that ironwood axe handles are very durable.
Additionally, ironwood is one of the most insect-resistant woods. Termites and bugs naturally avoid it. It’s also highly resistant to weather elements such as humidity and temperature changes.
The main downside is its workability. Nailing or screwing ironwood is a big challenge. Of course, ironwood is also very expensive, costing up to $90 per board foot.
- Extremely hard and durable
- Highly resistant to pests
- Weather resistant
- Difficult to work with
- It’s very expensive
You cannot go wrong with a rosewood ax handle, particularly the Brazilian rosewood. It’s a durable wood that’s rot resistant and insect resistant. Additionally, rosewood has a characteristic scent that many love.
However, its strength and beauty are the main reasons it makes a good choice for making ax handles. The Brazilian rosewood boasts a Janka rating of 3,000 lbf, making it the second hardest wood on this list after ironwood. This hardness level makes it very durable.
Additionally, rosewood comes in a gorgeous dark brown color with straight grains and a fine texture.
- Very hard and strong
- Exceptionally durable
- Naturally gorgeous
- Weather resistant
- It’s expensive
- It’s difficult to find
Mahogany is a popular hardwood. It makes beautiful, durable furniture that attracts high prices. Mahogany is also water resistant and can withstand bad weather. Therefore, it makes a great wood choice for outdoor benches and garden chairs.
The main reason it’s a good option for wooden ax handles is its strength. Mahogany items can last 40-50 years with good care. Additionally, the wood is resistant to shrinking and warping and doesn’t rot easily.
However, beware that mahogany is dense and heavy. In addition, it’s hard to identify and darkens over time.
- It’s strong and durable
- It’s a beautiful wood
- It’s easy to work and shape
- Highly resistant to weather and rot
- Poor shock absorption
- Brittle and prone to snapping
15. Black locust
Finally, black locust is widely considered the most rot-resistant wood in the world. It has a high concentration of lignin and two fungus-killing flavonoids within the heartwood, making it almost impossible to rot.
However, that’s not the only advantage of black locust ax handles. For instance, it’s a strong and hard tree that highly resists abrasion and dents. So, you don’t have to worry about damage if you drop the ax.
But beware that the coarse texture makes black locust hard to finish. It also splits easily during nailing. Therefore, pre-drilling is necessary. In addition, black locust wood is prone to insect attacks.
- Strong and durable
- Extremely resistant to decay
- Can survive 70+ years without staining
- It does not need special maintenance
- Prone to pest and insect attacks
- It readily splits
Tips to Maintain Different Axe Handle Types
Now that you know the best woods for an axe handle, you also must learn how to maintain your axe, including the handle, to prolong its life. Fortunately, you don’t need to break new ground here.
- Clean it regularly: There are no timelines here. Scrub the handle and axe head with a stiff brush and some water whenever you feel it’s dirty. Then air the axe to dry away from direct sunlight.
- Smooth it periodically: Tool handles occasionally become rough following periods of heavy use. You can use a quality wood sandpaper (100 grit to 150 grit) to smooth the surfaces. Alternatively, use a spokeshave.
- Coat it with drying oils: An oil coat helps preserve the wood’s natural beauty while protecting it from external factors, such as moisture and UV. We recommend oiling your axe handles with boiled linseed oil.
- Burnish periodically: Burnishing (or polishing) is optional. However, it can significantly improve the appearance of wooden handles. It also smoothes the handles and helps prevent cracking. Ideally, you want to burnish with 0000 steelwool after the last oil coat.
Best wood for handles FAQs
What is the best material for an axe handle?
The best material for an axe handle is wood. Although fiberglass and metal handles are also available, many ax owners prefer wood because it’s more natural. Specifically, ash and hickory wood handles are popular as they look and feel great. However, other hardwoods, including rosewood, elm, and ironwood, make excellent ax handles too.
How thick should an axe handle be?
Traditionally, axe handles are 18mm to 21mm thick, translating to 0.7 to 0.825 inches. Thin handles are more shock absorbent and more controllable. However, inexperienced users often struggle to grasp them comfortably. On the hand, thick handles offer a better grasp but are more difficult to control.
Is oak good for handles?
Oak wood is perfect for axe handles. It’s beautiful, strong, easy to carve, and offers exceptional stability and durability. Additionally, oak wood is highly resistant to moisture/water and also rot resistant. So, you don’t have to worry too much about the storage conditions.
Is pinewood good for axe handles?
Unfortunately, pinewood doesn’t make good axe handles. First, it’s too soft, making it likely to fracture. Additionally, pine is naturally knotty wood. You cannot tolerate knots on axe handles as they are weak spots. Also, pine is susceptible to rot.
Is rosewood good for axe handles?
Yes, rosewood is a good choice for axe handles. It’s durable and resistant to water and rot. Moreover, rosewood has fairly high shock resistance and crushing and bending strength. These qualities make it ideal for tool handles. The Bolivian rosewood and Brazilian rosewood are the best choices.
Who makes the best axe handles?
The best axe handle makers in the US are House Handle Company, Tennesee Hickory, and Gransfors Bruk. All three boast 50+ years’ worth of industry experience, offer high-quality products, and have handle grading systems to help you quickly identify the right handle. The best part is that all three companies allow special requests.
What are axe handles made of?
Most axe handles are made from American hickory wood. Hickory offers a combination of strength and flexibility that allows axes to take any level of shock without cracking or splitting. Additionally, it is waterproof, rot resistant, and resistant to pests and insects. Ash is a nice alternative, though.
What is the best wood for a tomahawk handle?
The best wood for a tomahawk handle is hickory. It is a straight-grained wood species that produces long, straight staves. Moreover, hickory handles are shock absorbent and very strong. Therefore, they don’t break easily, even when subjected to high levels of shock. Ash is a good alternative if you can’t find hickory wood.
The best axe handle wood summary
Hickory and ash are the best woods for making axe handles. They are strong, elastic hardwoods with exceptional shock absorption. Moreover, the two wood species resist weather elements, rot, and splitting. However, you can also consider walnut, yellow birch, hornbeam, and hard maple, among other hardwoods, for your ax handle.