I am carving a box with a pin-hinge lid out of a spalted japanese maple branch. The branch had an egg shaped cross section, so there is a ridge running down one side of the box. I am considering carving a hole in the ridge in order make a handle, but I'm concerned that it might not hold up to use.

Are there any structural guidelines for carving this kind of a wooden handle?

Side profile. There's at least 3 inches of wood from ridge to the cavity. The piece sticking up at the top will be the stop for the pin-hinge lid. Top view. You can see the minor spalting. The walls aren't straight - it narrows as you go down.

  • A picture would help a lot.
    – jbord39
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 20:33
  • @jbord39 I was looking for something along the lines of "a sturdy wooden handle should have a radius of x to hold y weight." Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:46
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    But, I think the rule for sturdy wooden handle changes based on wood type/quality and how the knots align with the handle and the grain. As the simplest example consider that your requested rule of thumb does not even distinguish between long grain handles or end grain handles (long grain will be MUCH stronger). Since you mention spalting (which weakens the wood) a picture would really help those more informed give a proper answer.
    – jbord39
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:51
  • @jbord39 as mentioned in the question, the ridge i'm cutting in to runs along the branch. Ergo, the handle being carved is long grain. It's maple with a little bit of spalting (but the wood has been pretty firm), so you've got wood type and quality, Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:54
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    @jbord39 That's a bit of a strange assumption for you to make. I'm not refusing - I've been at work all day. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:57

1 Answer 1


If I'm visualising this correctly you're fine, on paper at least, as you'll have long grain running down through the thin strip that remains outside of the hole. But branch wood isn't that predictable and also you say the wood is spalted, which adds some additional uncertainty. I'm afraid this is one of those try it and see propositions.

  • The spalting isn't that severe - enough to add some interesting visual character but the wood I'm carving has been pretty firm... any suggestions on how thick the handle should be? Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:52
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    I don't think you'll regret making it a bit stronger than is strictly necessary rather than weaker :-) The photos make this look bigger than I was imagining so I'd want to go fairly beefy if the handle will be used much, I'm thinking at least 1/2" thick. BTW how long did that hollow take to bore out?!
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 9:16
  • it's a fairly thick piece of wood. I didn't realize you could make the handle that thin, I was thinking closer to 1" thick! I cored the heart wood out with a 1" drill bit, but I've spent hours working with hand tools (and the occasional rotary) to get a feel for the wood... :) Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 11:25
  • If you can go 1" thick then by all means do. It's hard to tell from the photo just how much wood you have to work with!
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 18:43
  • At the very top there's about 2.5" thickness, but I've got almost 4" further down as it narrows. I think I'll start at 1" and work it down to see what I'm comfortable with... btw, this was a "starter project" for me... I took down most of the dead maple and I'm currently air drying with a dehumidifier in my basement workshop... :) Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 20:04

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