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What is your best wood... For handles!


Ryan Hobbs
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Howdy! 

The Army moved me again to another place where I can't forge (can't dampen the noise enough to not be a nuisance), so I decided to work on making handles. I've ordered some seax blades (got 5 to work on altogether), and plan on doing simple wooden handles for them. I'll be burning them in, maybe throw on a thin copper or brass bolster.

 

So, what are your favorite woods for knife handles and why? 

Edited by Ryan Hobbs
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zercote as is or boxelder burl colored and stabilized but i dont like "plain woods" but im fine with antler??? so anything with color or swirls plain woods are ok oak plain maple but they invite carving or engraving and i aint got time for that :rolleyes:

 

little hint thin metals for a guard tend to look amateurish/importy and are more likely to bend when you least want it to even on a finished knife depending on use you can stack it up with spacer material or additional layers of metal for a more pro look but the top layer i stick with at least 1/8 unless your meaning a ferrule then thin is in :D 

Brandon Sawisch bladesmith

 

eagles may soar but weasels don't get sucked in to jet engines

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If you're going to be burning in the tangs, stabilized/dyed woods are out.  For seax handles, if you want to be "traditional" (for a given value of what that tradition is...) cow horn was the most common.  Ash, oak, boxwood, maple, alder, and birch burl were also used, depending on where and when you're talking.  Myself, if I was going freeform/unmoored from any historical precedent, I'd slap curly maple on just about anything. Or antler, but don't try to burn in antler.  

 

Like Brandon, I don't usually carve handles, but mostly because I'm really bad at it. :lol: 

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This is a worse question to ask than "What is your favorite blade steel?" :P

As Alan said, it depends on whether you care about "traditional" or "historical" accuracy.

If you just want some ideas and photos to look at, follow these steps:

1. Right click this link and choose "open in new tab" so you can follow the rest of the steps. Read the post.

2. In the upper right corner, click the little magnifying glass to open the search engine.

3. In the Search Term box, type Seax Handle, click the All of my search terms button, click the big blue button at the bottom of the page that says Perform Search.

4. Spend a while reading and looking at photos.

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

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Box wood, used frequently on medieval knives, and also found on one broken back style seax. I'm also fond of apple wood, though no direct evidence of it having been used on seaxes (though fruitwood in general I believe is supported). On Merovingian seaxes, the hilt woods were just whatever was available: oak, ash, beech, willow, alder, poplar, cherry etc.

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/barbarianmetalworking

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Well, I wouldn't put it on a seax, but my favorite knife handle wood is desert iron wood.  Second would be just about any darker burl.  I like fancy wood.

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-Brian

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You may already be aware.....but certain woods are toxic....as far as dust goes. Ironwood ,cocobolo,I just finished a dagger with brazillian kings wood.

I am not sure but I think that falls in the rosewood category which I believe is also toxic.

I always wear my respirator no matter the species.....but have heard of people having skin reactions also.

A couple of my favs are peruvian pepper burl and curly walnut....and ya gotta love ironwood.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/20/2022 at 10:45 AM, dragoncutlery said:

little hint thin metals for a guard tend to look amateurish/importy and are more likely to bend when you least want it to even on a finished knife depending on use you can stack it up with spacer material or additional layers of metal for a more pro look but the top layer i stick with at least 1/8 unless your meaning a ferrule then thin is in :D 

Ah, good point, I think I'll stick with 1/4-3/8. I just don't like the look of anything thicker.

 

On 2/20/2022 at 12:40 PM, Alan Longmire said:

If you're going to be burning in the tangs, stabilized/dyed woods are out.  For seax handles, if you want to be "traditional" (for a given value of what that tradition is...) cow horn was the most common.  Ash, oak, boxwood, maple, alder, and birch burl were also used, depending on where and when you're talking.  Myself, if I was going freeform/unmoored from any historical precedent, I'd slap curly maple on just about anything. Or antler, but don't try to burn in antler.  

 

Like Brandon, I don't usually carve handles, but mostly because I'm really bad at it. :lol: 

 

 

Unfortunately I don't have any cow horn to hand. For these knives I'm not really tying myself down too historically; my main focus is just get in some practice.

 

On 2/20/2022 at 4:10 PM, Rob Davis said:

Being admittedly ignorant about this blade, I say, when in doubt Black Walnut.  

 

I did just that ;)

 

 

On 2/20/2022 at 8:40 PM, Joshua States said:

This is a worse question to ask than "What is your favorite blade steel?" :P

As Alan said, it depends on whether you care about "traditional" or "historical" accuracy.

If you just want some ideas and photos to look at, follow these steps:

1. Right click this link and choose "open in new tab" so you can follow the rest of the steps. Read the post.

2. In the upper right corner, click the little magnifying glass to open the search engine.

3. In the Search Term box, type Seax Handle, click the All of my search terms button, click the big blue button at the bottom of the page that says Perform Search.

4. Spend a while reading and looking at photos.

 

Anything I can do to help cause a fuss ;)

Thanks for the search tools!

 

On 2/21/2022 at 1:14 PM, Kreg Whitehead said:

You may already be aware.....but certain woods are toxic....as far as dust goes. Ironwood ,cocobolo,I just finished a dagger with brazillian kings wood.

I am not sure but I think that falls in the rosewood category which I believe is also toxic.

I always wear my respirator no matter the species.....but have heard of people having skin reactions also.

A couple of my favs are peruvian pepper burl and curly walnut....and ya gotta love ironwood.

 

 

Ya, I dabble in making bows. I always wear a mask, especially when working with certain woods. However, thanks for mentioning it, a lot of guys think wood dust is no big deal, so the more times the danger of it put out there the better!

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Thanks for all the suggestions and feedback, I truly appreciate them and took them to heart! Sorry for taking so long to reply, work had me busy, then a wedding, and then the Hobbs House vs. Covid Round 2. We won again ;)

 

I decided to get a mix of a lot of the woods that yall suggested. I have some white ash, soft maple, curly maple, flame birch, birdseye maple, and some walnut. I want to get a good sampling of wood and see what works best for me, aesthetically, ease of use, and functionality. I'll fit handles on some cheaper blades, and work my way up to finally putting a handle on a hearth steel knife I won from a drawing Niels put on (covid shut down the carpentry shop I was planning on using when I originally won the knife). 

 

If time permits I'll put up some pictures of my progress so yall can tell me to start over again ;)

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You could also try American Osage Orange.  Just be careful where you shape and sand it because it sends a fine yellow dust all over.  Even though it starts out a greenish yellow you can speed up the oxidation to a deep russet brown by sitting the knife in a sunny window.

 

Doug

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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14 hours ago, Ryan Hobbs said:

Ah, good point, I think I'll stick with 1/4-3/8. I just don't like the look of anything thicker.

 

 

 

Unfortunately I don't have any cow horn to hand. For these knives I'm not really tying myself down too historically; my main focus is just get in some practice.

 

I did just that ;)

 

 

 

Anything I can do to help cause a fuss ;)

Thanks for the search tools!

 

 

Ya, I dabble in making bows. I always wear a mask, especially when working with certain woods. However, thanks for mentioning it, a lot of guys think wood dust is no big deal, so the more times the danger of it put out there the better!

Ill go down to 1/8 for smaller stuff and 1/4 for bigger and start stacking with spacers if i need it to look beefy 

Brandon Sawisch bladesmith

 

eagles may soar but weasels don't get sucked in to jet engines

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36 minutes ago, Joël Mercier said:

...coco makes nasty nasty dust, like cinnamon. My nose gets runny even when wearing a mask. 

That is one of the worst offenders among the woods that can make you sick.

-Brian

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Years ago a coworker asked me to put some rosewood grip scales on his "Steamer" machete blade.  I called a specialty hardwood place in the Boston area and ordered a small plank of said wood.  What I got was labeled bocote but looked very much like rosewood so I went with it.  I sawed out the pieces with a jewelers saw and shaped them with a 1x42 belt grinder.  When I delivered the piece another coworker saw it and had me make some handles for a meat carving set so there I was back at it with the 1x42 grinder.  During that time I started to develop a cough that became extremely chronic and I started hacking up lots of clear watery mucous.  Went to the docs and got prescribed all kinds of anti cough meds but nothing worked.  Started to get scary as it was constant and restful sleep was non existent.  Then my job sent me to Japan for a bit over a month and when I returned, I was feeling much better.  Until I went back into my shop and started using the belt grinder again and it all started again.  I got suspicious of the wood dust that was all over the machine so I wet my finger with some spit, collected a bit of the dust and rubbed it on a small spot on the inside of the tender skin of my forearm.  Within a day it started to turn red and within a few days blisters appeared and it became very nasty looking.  I showed the doc who was impressed with my test but told me I should have also made a similar test with just spit to make sure it wasn't my spit causing the rash.  Funny guy.  It took many months for the red spot on my arm to go away and subsequent chest x-rays showed scar tissue in my lungs that the radiologist said was from when I had pneumonia which as far as I knew I never had.  

Be careful with that stuff!  I still have the plank and figure I will use it for another project but this time dust masks and vacuum will be used and showering when I'm done.  Or maybe I won't use it for anything.  Pretty stuff though.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Osage Orange; its durable as hell it takes a beautiful polish and over time it changes color to a dark chestnut brown

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I've seen rosewood mentioned already... but I'll add purpleheart wood to the list.

 

It ranges in color from a dark, almost black purple- to a light blonde almost lilac color.

 

It's my favorite, it's an extremely dense hard wood that will actually polish to a shiny surface just on its own.

 

It's another of those irritating, make you sick, dust woods as well. Sigh...

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20200630_000958.jpg

Edited by Welsh joel
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On 3/10/2022 at 2:29 PM, Gazz said:

Years ago a coworker asked me to put some rosewood grip scales on his "Steamer" machete blade.  I called a specialty hardwood place in the Boston area and ordered a small plank of said wood.  What I got was labeled bocote but looked very much like rosewood so I went with it.  I sawed out the pieces with a jewelers saw and shaped them with a 1x42 belt grinder.  When I delivered the piece another coworker saw it and had me make some handles for a meat carving set so there I was back at it with the 1x42 grinder.  During that time I started to develop a cough that became extremely chronic and I started hacking up lots of clear watery mucous.  Went to the docs and got prescribed all kinds of anti cough meds but nothing worked.  Started to get scary as it was constant and restful sleep was non existent.  Then my job sent me to Japan for a bit over a month and when I returned, I was feeling much better.  Until I went back into my shop and started using the belt grinder again and it all started again.  I got suspicious of the wood dust that was all over the machine so I wet my finger with some spit, collected a bit of the dust and rubbed it on a small spot on the inside of the tender skin of my forearm.  Within a day it started to turn red and within a few days blisters appeared and it became very nasty looking.  I showed the doc who was impressed with my test but told me I should have also made a similar test with just spit to make sure it wasn't my spit causing the rash.  Funny guy.  It took many months for the red spot on my arm to go away and subsequent chest x-rays showed scar tissue in my lungs that the radiologist said was from when I had pneumonia which as far as I knew I never had.  

Be careful with that stuff!  I still have the plank and figure I will use it for another project but this time dust masks and vacuum will be used and showering when I'm done.  Or maybe I won't use it for anything.  Pretty stuff though.

I've had a similar experience with yew. I couldn't stop coughing, up to a point that I had slept only one hour a night for three nights in a row just coughing my lungs out continuously with barely being able to catch a breath. I got various medications to reduce the coughing, and after several months it went away, but I ended up with asthma and had to take medication for that for a while to be able to breath at night. It took me a few years until my lungs got back to mostly normal, with the exception that I now get post viral coughs whenever I get a cold that usually last one or two months, due to a lingering itch in my lungs after each infection. So yeah, I now only use non-toxic woods. 

 

And I had used yew wood before, without any issues. It was just one particular piece that got me, and it was the worst few months of my life. 

Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/barbarianmetalworking

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