Axe handles – ash vs hickory

Ash vs Hickory

Re-handling and maintaining good tools is a real joy to me. I love working our home grown ash into handles for tools. It cleaves and cuts like a dream, and the grain looks amazing. However today I had desires for hickory. After returning from a day’s felling using the 35” long felling axes I was saddened to find a fracture in the relatively new handle that I crafted only last year. The beast has had only a small amount of use, but it does get used hard. Those long axes have a heck of force when swung and a long leaver for twisting the axe head to pop out the chips after you strike a cut. Also on occasion if the head gets stuck in the tree someone might lever it out sideways. Here is the risk for fracturing. Now it does make a big difference if you are able to get hold of tough, stringy ash for your handles right from the bottom of the tree. This stuff will resist a lot more abuse then clean stuff from further up the tree. Hickory doesn’t grow in the UK as far as I know and I’ve always been a snob for home grown timber. But I am now considering whether to buy in some plank hickory to use as handles or even to buy in some hickory blanks just for my long handled axes as I don’t want to be replacing the handle every year! I’m happy for ash handles in every other tool I use particularly those with shorter or fatter handles.


A good axe handle should be slightly thinner in the shaft than you might imagine so there is a little flex at point of impact to spare your wrists from impact or shudder. This is of course not were the handle breaks if it does. Usually the break will happen right up next to the head at the point where the wood in the metal which is kept straight meets the handle which can bend.