3

Following on from the comments in this question how does one orient the grain when making a tool handle that takes shocks?

These images show a piece of pinyon pine that I used to make a hammer handle. First time I've done this. Feel free to be brutally honest about the mistakes I made otherwise I won't learn.

This question is specifically asking how I should have oriented the grain from this piece of wood to create a stronger hammer handle.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

6

This question is specifically asking how I should have oriented the grain from this piece of wood to create a stronger hammer handle.

The closing of my Answer to this old question, What are some suitable woods to use for tool handles? covers this, and previously some other important points.

In short, experience has shown that grain should run front to back in a hammer eye (ditto hatchets, axes etc.).

How you can see this most easily when viewing a tool or loose handle is when laid flat you should be looking at 'cathedral' grain facing straight up (i.e. you shouldn't be seeing tightly packed straight grain, that should ideally face directly front and back).

These images show a piece of pinyon pine that I used to make a hammer handle. First time I've done this. Feel free to be brutally honest about the mistakes I made otherwise I won't learn.

The grain orientation is not the best but by no means the worst either.... I've seen much worse on commercial handles, more on that in my closing!

You used only a portion of the piece, cutting out the heart which is generally a good thing (unless you can arrange to 'box' it, so that it runs centrally through the entire handle, which is sometimes done on tool handles).

A straighter piece would have been better, unless you wanted to incorporate the natural curvature into the handle, in which case this would have been perfect. And one without knots or any areas of swirling grain is generally recommended.

Now about the wood type, it's not necessarily bad news. Repeating the point from the above link, forget the species, what's this piece like? Pinyon pine, as a slow-growing variety is certainly far more likely to have better handle properties1 than your average piece of unguessable 'pine' 2x construction wood from the big-box store with grain lines about a yard wide.

TL;DR diatribe on commercial handles
Whatever you do, don't get guidance from commercial tool handles! Commercial handles, both those already fitted and replacement handles — even some sold to be upgrades to factory-fitted handles — are simply a terrible guideline to how to best orient the grain for hammers, but more importantly axes, mauls and sledges because there is zero consistency, including handle to handle from the same maker! They're churning them out from rough blanks without regard to colour, grain orientation or anything else, and it can result in some truly godawful handles that are doomed to failure.

This is obviously in modern handles, however, and this will surprise some people, vintage tools and spare handles are guilty of the same thing. Although the frequency of better or ideal grain orientation may have been higher in the past (possibly better and better the older you go) many observers have independently noted the same thing: that vintage and antique tools can still have textbook bad grain orientation, and sometimes bad grain runout. Occasionally both, which is the cardinal sin of wooden handles. Where you can often see this most pointedly is on old hammers and axes where there's just a handle stub remaining, or where the only wood left is stuck in the eye. Nine times out of ten it's because of one or both problems.

By comparison, producers of commercial major-league baseball bats can be far more conscientious about doing this the right way2. In this image of a selection of bats note that the logo is invariably placed on the side of the 'cathedrals':

MLB bats


1 The narrower the grain the better since this decreases the amount of pale earlywood, which is meh, and increases the proportion of the darker latewood which is more akin to hardwood, improving toughness (more likely to hold up to the rigours of use) and adding weight (gives better balance).

2 See this previous Answer for a little more on grain orientation in bats.

3
  • 1
    Great and comprehensive answer - thank you. I think I'll be able to make a much better handle with my next attempt. With hindsight I think that my initial wood selection could have been much better. I had a lot to select from and didn't know what to look for when selecting it.
    – Guy
    May 29 at 18:16
  • 1
    Welcome Guy. If you want to try to salvage the effort from making this handle, you could go somewhere safe like the middle of the yard and hammer the hell out of a piece of scrap wood, basically using this much more forcibly than you'd expect to normally. If you hear nothing and no cracks form then you should be good to go. I can't tell what size of head that is from the photos unless you're into blacksmithing you're probably not going to be hitting your ball pein in normal use! When I use the round end to pein over the end of something I use pretty light taps, just lots of them.
    – Graphus
    May 30 at 5:31
  • 1
    I tried to shoehorn something about this into the Answer but it came out too wordy. In tool handles what's good enough has a lot to do with how it'll be used. Jeweller's hammers for example have handles that are super skinny in the middle of the haft! But because the head is small and light and you don't wail on them it's fine and using a lesser wood, but thicker, would be fine too. To test out this idea practically I've made two handles (one for a cross pein hammer, the other a hatchet) out of 2nd-tier woods, not conifers, but not known hardwoods either and so far they're holding up fine.
    – Graphus
    May 30 at 5:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.