Archive | Handle making

Detail knife handle

After reading a request by a customer for information on how to fit these blades I remembered that I haven’t ever shown how to fit small straight blades so put this together today. As it was spur of the moment thing whilst waiting for some Twca Cams to anneal I didn’t have my camera with me or a finished detail blade but used my phone and found a blank that had been used for hardness testing after heat treat- hence the small impressions on one face.

I used some birch for this handle, it wasn’t fully dry but had been in the workshop for a few weeks in a 1″x 2″ section which is turned out well, dry enough so that it will take a good finish but still enough moisture that it didn’t crack and will tighten onto the tang as it dries later. Ash is also good as is elm, harder woods such as yew seem to be prone to splitting.

I took the pictures for this sequence as I did it, it was all by eye, not marked out on a table. This really can a very quick process. If when you get the handle on it doesn’t line up well split it off and have another go,  you may only be 10 minutes in.

As I general rule I make a handle one finger width wider than my palm. So I cut the birch to length and shaped one end, leaving the other end largely untouched. Then lined up where I wanted the blade to be.

I then marked where I wanted to drill the hole for the tang.


Rather than drill immediately I then used a bradawl to start the hole to be certain the drill wouldn’t wander. I chose a drill bit to give a hole slightly undersize.


The hole was drilled in a press but you could do it freehand, main thing is to be certain that the orientation is good left to right, up and down there is more leeway for error in this blank.  Make sure you drill the slightly deeper that the length of the tang. I then put the drill bit in the hole and used this as a guide to see how well it all lined up. As I have done it this many times is was fine, but if it wasn’t the idea is that you have left enough excess wood in the butt end of the handle to bring everything back into line.


If you are using a cordless drill after drilling you can put it in a vice, put the handle back onto the drill bit and spin the handle slowly whilst holding a marker to the other end, it should scribe a circle with the middle being your centre. This trick works well for lots of instances where you need to drill dead central. As it was all I needed to do was mark the centre on the butt and draw on the rough outline of the handle.


I shaped the handle, including cutting the face that the tang was going into, I left the butt unfinished. The blade was then put in the vice protected by a wrap of cardboard and then it was tapped gently into place.


When I was happy with that is had gone in OK I cleaned up the Butt, no point getting it perfect then marring it by  hammering on it.


Finally I gave the handle a coat of oil and as I wanted to use it for something ground the point to a pyramid to make a bradawl.




“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Vince Lombardi Jr.

I heard this quote from a very talented local carver. This crystallized my ponderings on perfection and why I had disliked it so viscerally when applied to craft. If you believe the last thing you made is perfect, then that’s it. Your work is done and there is nowhere further to go. The flip side though is that it can be hard not to see fault in everything you do and get overwhelmed by it; often in the past I have driven home thoroughly disheartened by a tiny aspect of a tool that to my eye ruined it completely. And the next morning struggled to find this terrible flaw.

I like this quote, find it reassuring, thank you Grant.

Last post showed the axe I forged on a course, I was really pleased with it; however when I came to try it out I felt that the handle was too long, using it at full length made it feel a bit floaty and imprecise, as I suggested at the time it is a bit light for its size and a longer handle didn’t really cure this. So I used it to  carve another, by the time I had finished the new handle I largely come to grips with the old one, but this one feels right immediately, not after 10 minutes use so it is a step forward.

I have also included a picture of my hammer handle one week in; I took it to Barns where I was running an axe making course, really impressive set of axes came out this time, hopefully I will get some images of them to share soon. I had a fair go with it then and then and did a short run of  axes back at my workshop; managed to drop a red-hot head on the handle and burn a notch in right at the weakest point, the handle isn’t really right on this either; it feels great when I hold it at full length and I get the impression that vibrations are not transmitted up a thinner handle. However at times I really like to choke up on a hammer and when I do this I am gripping the a section that is too narrow for my hand and this can cause real problems. I’ll probably keep the handle for another hammer and make a new one. You can see why I love ash though, it starts off looking very bland but very quickly the porus grain fills and it takes on a whole new character, there is a difficult teenage period when the ash grain is neither clean or fully filled and just looks dirty but with hands like mine it doesn’t take that long.


Axe and hammer a week later


And the new heads, a few subtle tweaks and variations in the designs, a more boldly incised pattern and new, hopefully superior steel, it forges nicely and as far all the readings tell  me the heat treat has worked well, but I won’t know for certain until I put a handle on one and see how the edge holds up in use. But which one? always in the past when I make a batch there is one that to my eye stands above the others, this batch I am still undecided, really I want to try them all.


First three

Axes and Adzes, Again.

I had a great day last week with Richard and Jules Heath, they came to forge axes. It has been a while since I have taught axe making in my workshop, concentrating on larger groups at the Green wood guild in London, and a new adze course at Westonbirt, see my courses page for details. This time they were aiming to make a head each in a day, this seemed easy enough so I decided to forge an axe alongside them. On a course I will typically start off a head to give everyone an idea of what we are doing but rarely finish them off; and if I do try they often end up going wrong as I am actually concentrating on my students 6 axes rather than my own.

This time though I decided to make a much more extreme version of my carving axes. The blank was around 2 oz heavier but the techniques for forming the eye, lug and throat of the axe were identical. My blank was on the right.


Next we marked out where the eye will be slit; this is done cold. I have been in two minds about this for a long time, it is much more accurate to mark out cold but I do think that it is shame that the first forceful blows on the steel of the day are not done under heat. However accuracy is so important at this stage that it overides my aesthetic concerns.

marking out

Finally into the forge.

first heat

And slitting the eye, Jules was concerned that his tennis elbow would preclude his ability to make an axe, but as you can see from the picture both of his hands are taken up, I am striking with the sledge but Jules is definately in control of the preceedings.

eye slitting

When it came to forging out the my axe I tended to use the powerhammer to speed things along. I am drawing out the lugs on the eye.

cheating on the powerhammer

Back to the sledge and drawing out the blade on Richard’s axe.

flareing the blade

At this stage we run out of pictures and jump to their finished axes, I carried on completed forging on mine whilst they were doing the heat treat and some of the grinding.

Here we have Richards head.

Richards axe

And Jules’.

jules aze

I great day that I throughly enjoyed, Jules and Richard are well known green wood workers and I always find that these skills transfer well to forge work. It was really liberating making an axe alongside them, I decided to have a play and see how far I could draw out the edge. The past year has been focused soley on production and I enjoyed making this so much that the next day I went on to make a couple of rounding hammers, I had used tools like this to finely control the flow of the steel to get the maximum edge length from a relatively small piece of steel; it ended up a fraction over 7.5″ and  1 1/2 lb ( 675g)

When I came to make the handle I fitted one of my temporay handles using a long wedge and carved the handle for the axe head with the axe head, wordplays like that in action please me immensely. On a more practical level whilst it would have been quicker roughing out with a drawknife (or bandsaw and linisher if I was really willing to sell my soul.)  it was really useful to try out the axe and see what I liked about it and what needed changing, the handle I had put on turned out to be too curved so I altered my design to account for this, also the head felt a bit light considering how much potential edge could be used to hew with so I put a longer handle to allow it to feel more powerful if need be. I only made the head as an exercise to see how much edge I could tease out of the blank but ended up really liking it however I still feel that anything over 5 1/2″ inches on a carving axe is overkill.

handle underway


However there are certain features that I like about this axe that will subtley show themselves in future, less extreme runs that I produce. The handles on the hammers I made very thin, I wanted to see if this would help reduce the shock back up my arm when working harder grades of steel, will be interesting to see how they hold up; they certainly won’t look this white for long. I doubt I will ever put them into the mix of my teaching hammers as they would easly break with a misshit. Also I tend to purposely make teaching tooling with a bit less care than this; it is not that I want my students to use inferior tools (and most of the differences I am talking about are asethetic not functional) , just that I know that the tools are going to get a fair beating and I find it very hard to let go of a tool that I have lavished alot of attention over. It would not be fair for me to be wincing every time a student slightly mishits a tool and marks it so I make sets up that are a bit more robust and rustic than these.

axe finished

Axes, adzes and reamers

It feels like most days I receive emails asking when I will start making axes again, finally I have some news. Firstly though a quick update, two months ago I crushed my thumb in some machinary and it has been very slow to heal, I am still having to bind it up with duct tape at work and it has slowed me down considerably. It was quickly apparant that production work would be too taxing so have been concentrating on making, then testing new tooling and refining a few designs, some new, some old. I have also finished off an order for Lie-Nielsen, tools for another course that Peter Follansbee is teaching. This has meant that my website has run dry and wait lists are very long but I am back into production now and stock should filter through to the site in a couple of days.

Some of my tooling has been aimed at refining the way I forge axes, originally the idea was that I could make them quicker, but as soon as I tried them out it became apparent that I can now forge more accurately and cleaner than ever before, I could rush through and do them faster but I have decided not to take this route, the end result is that axes aren’t actually coming out any quicker but they are the best I have ever made, I am also testing better steels so the edge holding is going be enhanced. I decided to reinforce the point that these aren’t bashed out at speed by putting some subtle decoration on them. So far I have made a couple with handles and masks and another pair as heads only. The finished ones are quite extreme, rather closed eyes necessitated very curvy handles, I got a bit carried away on the paler one and ended up putting more of an adze shaped knob on, but it feels good in use. The wedges have been left long but I would expect to trim then down after a few weeks use.  The next pair of heads were more conventional and will be fine on straighter handles. It was great to be forging axes again, and a joy not to have my eye on the clock all the time which often happens with pure production runs.





One thing I have found with axes is that they are pretty forgiving when it comes to handles, after a few minutes you can get used to quite different handle geometries. It should be said though that I go to a lot of trouble to make sure all my own axes swing the same, this way I can swap straight from one to another without any break-in period needed.

Adzes however are very different, get the handle to edge geometry just a few degrees out and they really won’t work well. This was brought home to me a while back when I steepened an edge that kept rolling, when I got back to the bowl I was working on it was immediately apparent that the edge now held, but the geometry was wrong.

Paul Hayden runs chair making courses at Westonbirt and over the years I have known him he has bemoaned the fact that it has become more dificult then impossible to get an adze out of the box that is suitable for hollowing chair seats. His brief was quite specific and I came up with a design that seems to tick all his boxes, except to my eye the aesthetic, but that should progress in later versions. These carve beautifully on a  fairly short, straight handle, used two handed. Very different to the bowl adzes I am used to, the inside bevel though is not ideal, as it is not so easy to sharpen. Next versions will explore if an external bevel can carve as smoothly.

Finally I have made the tooling for these reamers for Barn, they seem to work well but when I go down to London to for an Axe course this weekend we will spend some time testing and refining grinds.


Then, as I said a short run of spoon carving tools to go to the States, handle making underway.


And the finised batch, with the two pattern handle tools in the foreground


My next priority is to get fully back into production to stock this site; however as time presents itstelf I will be doing some limited runs of axes and later adzes, these will be done on my terms, so no special orders will be taken. This current batch is already spoken for and when I have decided how I will be sellling later batches and finalised specs I will update again here. So, progress of sorts!


Aspiration vs Perspiration

This post is about the motivation behind my toolmaking. First and foremost there is the need to provide a living for my family and however idealistic I may sound later on there are economic realities that can’t be provided for by the feelgood factor of working with your hands. However, if money was my sole concern then I probably would be an accountant not a craftsman.

When making a tool the aim is to make the best that I can, no concern about time taken or price, it can take years to get a tool to a point that I am really happy with it yet still some tools stall at this point as it becomes obvious that they are going to be too expensive regardless of how good they are; I won’t reduce quality to come in at a certain price point.

In Maine this year I used a wonderful shave horse that Lie Nielsen had made, asking when these would be in production I was told a familiar story, they were too expensive to make, still with the way Green woodworking is taking off in the States it wouldn’t be a great to surprise to see it back in production in the future.

As to processes, my first love is to forge steel. It is important for me to do this rather than grind it or have it lazer cut. In the past I have been selling blades only and will continue to offer these but recently have been completely finishing more of my tools. My preferred method with handles is to cut them green, although some finishing needs to be done when the wood is dry.  As an example I will take you through a knife I took on as a commission a few months back, contrasting it with my preferred methods of making carving knives

This knife was full tang and not really suited to forging so I drew out the outline on a piece of steel and cut out the shape.



I drilled some holes to take to balance the knife a bit better, as this is not something I do very often I ended up not being very happy with the hole placement near the front of the handle, so filled them with weld, unhappy with the welds another bar was marked out and cut, the blade pictured will probably end up as scrap.


The scales ( wood either side of the full tang ) needed to be bone dry, a pair were cut from Yew and a pair from Spalted box.  I was unsure if the box would work but it was my preferred option, they were cut oversize, then dried, finally they were flattened on a sander to make a good fit on the tang.


The blade was heat treaded and ground, the box scales survived drying with only minor warping and cracking the latter fixed with super glue.  Everything glued up using some cool mosaic pins that I dug up.


Finally it was sanded and oiled, it came out well I think, but there are lots of makers that can do this sort of work and for me was very time consuming, largely due to my inexperience in using these methods of construction. The price I charged for it compared to the lost production time meant that this knife actually cost me £1200- which made it abundantly clear that I can no longer take on one off commissions!


This is the way I prefer to work- steel is cut roughly to shape


It is then forged to size, in batches- this I find tricky to get right, if the batch is too large I will damage my elbow as I like to forge hard and fast and the steel I use is very tough, too small a batch is not efficient 20 in this size is about right I feel. You can see how effective forging is: the blades are bigger than the blank ( well obviously they can’t be but you get the idea) compare this to all the wasted steel on the stock removal knife.


Then handles, green ash, cut to length, split with a froe and in this case roughed with an axe. IMG_7900

Final shaping is done on a shave horse although some cleaning up was done with a knife.



I like 12 sided handles as octagonal tends to feel too sharp to most people meaning that the corners need to be sanded down. The contrast between forged steel and crisp shiny bevels play well against carved handles, I have also been experimenting with different woods and staining as the aesthetic is important to me; a tool that lifts the spirits inspires you to do better work.


It is also deeply satisfying to use and develop my own tools to do the woodwork with. I could use my powerful linisher to rough out and finish handles at a good speed, but it would be noisy, unpleasant work requiring ear, eye and lung protection. The way orders are stacking up it seems likely that I will be either outsourcing my handles or directly employing someone to make them. I want them to be made this way, if a job is being created it should be one I would want to do myself. It would be disingenuous of me to embrace and promote the dust free ideals of unplugged Green Woodworking and then employ someone to rip out all my handles on a linisher.

A few provisos about the video-  The quality is poor as our camera is ancient. No power was needed so I set up at home, which made a pleasant change. My starting point was split wedges of ash. In this instance all shaping was done on the shave horse, as the ash was  pretty dry I could crack off large sections early on when shaping with the drawknife, it is pleasing working this way as it tells me exactly which way the grain is running. In the second sequence my new drawknife, code named PMPY,  allows me to cut the facets and deal with any unruly grain without having to flip the blank continually. It actually works slightly better with slower deliberate strokes,  but being videoed made me nervous and I worked it backwards and forwards a lot quicker than normally. You can hear how tough trimming the end grain was with a knife, if it is green it is quicker to do it like this, but when it is this dry it would have been better to clamp it vertically in the shave horse and use a drawknife. My much admired shavehorse was made for me by Lee Stoffer although some features were used from Peter Galberts designs, I love it, but a bit more fine tuning will improve my posture and comfort.


This post has been much longer than expected; I touched on batch size but will next time talk more about jigs and quantity production, hopefully soon!



Twca Cam Handle

I get asked about these often, they really are very easy so just a few pictures, as my spoon blades are are forged with a round tang as well this method is directly applicable.

Roughen the tang section that you want sunk into the handle with coarse paper. All the blades are left with the final polishing compound on as this protects against rust but a wipe down with some solvent will help to keep thing clean during the handling process.


Drill a hole that the tang will fit into. I get it as straight as possible but if it is slightly out of line would advise rotating the blade until you get an orientation that suits you , I have heard from some people that a leading edge is desirable, others have said trailing.

I always seal the handle with oil first that way any excess glue won’t stain the handle.  Then mix up some epoxy and dribble it into the tang. let it settle to the bottom of the hole for a few minutes.


If you judge it perfectly when you push the handle in you will get a nice fillet of epoxy showing. Remember it does soak into the wood and shrink slightly on drying so if you wipe it off flush you will probably end up with a crater when it is set. if you have put to much in wipe it off with a tissue as it goes in.


Check you you are happy with the orientation, the put aside to set. Another coat of oil and you are done.


I am off about to leave for Barn’s  Green Wood Guild to teach a course,  hopefully there will be time to put together a quick video on how I sharpen and explain the edge geometry on these curved blades.


Knife handle making – using dowel

I have been trialling this method of knife handle making for a while now, the dowels will be for sale on the site soon but for the moment any Sloyd ( small/ standard/ laminated)  blade will come with one for free. The straight edged blade is another pattern that I used to make that may well make an appearance on the site. I would advise taping up the blade for safety, I haven’t for clarity.


I make them in a couple of sizes, a smaller dowel still will be needed for my detail blades, still working on those. This is the sort of fit that we are after. It is possible that the slot might be a bit tight on some blades. My approach ion the workshop would be to grind the tang down to fit, but another option is to sand or carve down the inside of the slot until the blade goes in without spreading the arms of the dowel.



Drill a suitable hole, 10mm in this case, in an oversized piece of wood, I used cherry. You want a few mm protruding from the handle at this stage. If the dowel gets stuck you can put the blade in and rotate and whilst gently pulling. Check that the blade is roughly in line with the handle, if it isn’t try rotating the blade or dowel, if this doesn’t help then your hole isn’t straight and you need to start again. When you are happy with the alignment mark the blade and dowel so they will go back the same way ( I know that if the tang was perfectly straight and the slot centralised this wouldn’t be necessary, but it doesn’t hurt)


When you are happy with the fit, glue the dowel in place, use enough epoxy to get a good joint but not so much that it fills the slot for the blade. Wedge the end of the dowel open with a scrap of wood, best to make it narrower than the dowel or it might get glued to the sides of the hole.


Sand down the tang of the blade, this will make a better key for the epoxy. You can see that the shoulders on the blade are not aligned, the shoulder at the spine needs to be recessed into the handle, leaving the edge shoulder will be slightly proud.


When the glue is set the blade is held in a soft jawed vice ( or a standard vice and the blade wrapped in cardboard. The handle is hammered onto the tang, it should only be a tight fit as the shoulder is being driven in, if it is tight earlier on then it is possible some epoxy has got into the slot; heat the tang gently over a flame and try again the epoxy should soften enough to allow you to get the blade in, it will grab as it cools, so pull it out and and sand off any epoxy stuck to the blade. You should end up with a flush shoulder like this, the handle is left oversize to reduce the chance of it splitting, but if you are worried you could remove some of the wood with a needle file or alike.


Check the alignment of the tang, and mark the centre lines of the blade.


Pull the blade out, if it is stuck you can hammer carefully on the front face of the handle whilst holding the blade in the vice. I then roughed out with an axe, using the x as the centre for the butt of the handle.


I then shape finally with a knife including both ends of the handle, and give the handle a coat of oil to stop the glue staining the wood. Then run some epoxy into the slot, let it settle to the bottom , push the blade in and ideally you should see epoxy drive out of the slot just as the blade goes up to the shoulder, if glue comes out too early I pull the blade out and wipe some epoxy off the tang and try again. If there isn’t enough I either add more to the slot or if it is nearly there run a bit into the gaps down the sides. Wipe with a tissue to get a neat fillet. The woods don’t match that well in this case, but the joint is sound.




Cygnet handle

Another tutorial on making and fitting a Cygnet handle, on my smallest bowl gouge, the Cygnet. This does not come with a ferule as the shorter length and handle means that extra reinforcement is not needed, it also means there is less chance of the tool bruising the wood you are working on.

My starting point was a gouge I forged as a demo at Bodgers Ball; not quite the same as my production ones ( on reflection this sounds rather grandiose to me, I still forge them all by hand and eye) however the principles are the same. I chose an oversized piece of dry cherry for the handle. I would recommend taping up the blade for safety and to protect the edge, but haven’t in this sequence for clarity.

Cygnet 1

I then  measured the length of the tang and diagonally across the corners. I  Drilled a hole in two stages ( diameters) that was fractionally longer than the tang and matched the taper on the tang; The tang dropped in this far:

Cygnet 2

Next the brutal bit; I held the gouge in the vice and hammered the tang flush to the shoulders. Padded vice jaws would have been preferable.

Cygnet 3


Then I marked the centre line of the gouge to be certain that the handle would line up with the gouge when it was finally fitted together.

Cygnet 4

The Cygnet handle was tapped off and roughed to size with an axe, using the cross as a reference for the butt of the handle.  When driving the tang in for the first time I leave a lot of excess wood around the hole to reduce the likelihood of spitting, but once the shoulders of the tang have been set in it is safe to take it down quite fine.

Cygnet 5


I tend to rough to octagonal with the axe but finish to 12 sides with a knife, this seems like a nice balance between facets that are crisp but not too sharp. The butt should be left pretty smooth though to reduce the onset of blisters, I then oil the handle trying not to get any inside the hole.

Cygnet 6

Here you can see how the mismatched shoulders have been driven into the wood, this was not a very good forging, current gouges have much more even shoulders, however when it is all glued up it won’t show. Note the tang has been roughened with coarse paper.

Cygnet 7


Epoxy is run into the tang hole, allowed to settle at the bottom then the tang is inserted. A small amount of glue should be driven out of the hole, the amount shown is about right when the tang is pushed home fully- this is quite easy as the glue lubricates everything , if it looks like to much is going to come out, take out the tang, wipe the glue of it and reinsert. Wipe of the excess glue from the handle and when the glue is set apply another coat of oil. Pre oiling the handle ensures that the epoxy won’t stain the wood.

Cygnet 8



Bowl Knife Handle making

A quick tutorial as to how I fit the handle on a bowl knife;  there are lots of ways to do it and a couple of jubilee clips would do fine, but I like the finish this method gives. It is a bit over the top though, very much belts and braces.

Starting point in this case was cleft dry ash, I left facets on for better grip.

cleft handle

I draw around the blade.

marked out

I cut a rebate for so the blade is inlet flush with the handle.  I found a chisel easiest for this job.


I then screwed the blade in place, notice proper slot head screws, I have a stash of these but they are increasingly hard to find.


I then took it apart, epoxied everything in place.

screwed and glued

When it was set I gave it a quick sand to remove any high spots and started the whipping. First cut off 6″ of thread and put it to one side, you will need it later. It  is a bit fiddly to get catch the loose end, you also don’t want to start to close to the end of the handle. Once you have got a good start of 4 or 5 wraps you can cut the tag end down.

catching the end

I only had very fine cotton so it took a while to  reach the end of the blade,  I then whipped in a loop of the material I had put to one side earlier. after 4 or 5 wraps cut your thread and pass it through this loop, pull on the two ends and your whipping will pass under the  earlier threads, cut the end flush with a knife between the wraps.

catching the other end

I then added a thin layer of epoxy as I was concerned that if the thread frayed it would all unravel. Also want to make sure the thread didn’t come of the front of the tool. The epoxy soaked in and didn’t leave a glossy finish. A coat of oil to seal the wood and it was ready to use.

finished 2

What I do like about this method is that the fixing is very low profile and so less likely to foul on the inside of a bowl in use.




Testing Grain Orientation

Which is the best way to orient the grain?

Which is the best way to orient the grain?


In my last blog post I wrote about grain orientation in carving axe handles, making the assumption that having the rings running parallel to the bit of an axe (1) would be stronger, however speaking to Lee Stoffer about this in December sowed seeds of doubt in my mind. I found lots of research on the effect of sloping grain on timber ( when the grain is not parallel to the to the cut timber) . A figure that stuck with me was that a 10 deg slope reduces shock resistance by 50%. I measured the slope on some handles I had rejected and found a slope of 20 deg. The most applicable research related to baseball bats, this paper suggested that grain orientation makes no difference to strength in non sloping grain. However there was a statistically significant difference when slope of grain was added into the equation. Interestingly the stronger orientation in ash was different to that found in birch and maple. Unfortunately no figures were given. However this research suggests a 25 degree slope of grain would reduce strength by 60-80% ( I am fudging here, toughness, modulus, compression, shock resistance were all measured, giving for a very confusing graph)
The plan was to test some sections at 25deg slope, very much a worst case scenario. the sections would then be tested in both grain orientation. I cut slices 1cm thick from two pieces of ash from my woodpile one with approximately 12 rings per inch/ 25mm and a second with 6 rings per inch. The slices would then be cut to make 1cm x 1cm cross sections. Some 1cm square non sloping sections were also cut to give a baseline measurement.

grain test1

The plan was to compare the strength of these different sections, I was going to support the sections a set distance apart on my digital scales, then slowly press down on the centre of the section and record the maximum weight recorded before the section broke.

grain test 3

Unfortunately the scales bottomed out at 30kg, and at this weight the sections all held. I put them on my belt sander and reduced the section to around 6mm. This thickness meant that most of the samples tested from the slower grown ash broke at around 15kg.
I have struggled how to describe this grain orientation, radially/ Tangentially, Vertical/ Horizontal? Edge and face loading was used in the baseball bat research. In terms of axe handles I think annual rings parallel to the bit of the axe – (1) or perpendicular (2) work well but again a  picture is clearer:

2 and 1numbers added



Put simply, taking 100% to be the non sloping baseline tests.

In slower grown ash: Orientation 1 gave 98% strength, and 2 gave 89%

In fast grown ash: Orientation 1 gave 41% , 2 gave 27%

However the fast grown was almost exactly twice as strong in the baseline tests. So the figures aren’t quite as far apart as at first sight.
The difference is significant though , also the sloping grain samples broke with virtually no warning in the fast grown ash, whereas there was noticeable bending and creaking in the slower grown samples. At 25 degrees slope a handle would have been stronger if made from  the slower grown ash, however as the angle decreases then the point will come that fast grown ash in orientation 1 will be stronger. In a straighter handle the fast grown ash will be stronger in either orientation.The increased strength in orientation 1 also ties in with the baseball bat research I came across.

These results ( see provisos at the end) are interesting, in a curved handle if I can’t use any natural curve in the grain to my advantage then I will be using fast grown ash with the annular rings parallel to the bit of the axe (1) If I wanted a really curved handle and had to make it out of straight grained ash I would choose slow grown ash over fast grown, a chain being only as strong as its weakest link.

This was only meant to be a light hearted test done over the Christmas break, my children helped break the sections . However my training was in similar sorts of research and I am very much aware that the sample size of this test (24) is too small. I hope to continue with the tests to see how repeatable these results are, in the meantime other related issues include:
1.  I have included odd spikes in the data to get averages, these should have been ironed out with a larger data set.
2. It is also very difficult to start with a grain aligned at 0 deg, the slower grown wood had definite twist in it. Again this error should be reduced with a larger sample size.
3. The fast grown ash actually bottomed out the 30kg limit on my scales on half of the aligned samples, I estimated breaking force in these cases.
4. I am not certain that the results from the small sections that I have been testing can be extrapolated to axe handle dimensions, instinctively I would say yes, but at any rate the sections used are not that far off spoon dimensions, which may well be of interest to a wider section of readers.
5 Lastly, is breaking weight/ force a good test to replicate failure in an axe handle? probably the Izod impact test would have been better but beyond me or my young assistants.

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