Axe handle wood grain orientation?

Discussion in 'Edged Tools' started by Ullr-North, Aug 14, 2019.

  1. Ullr-North

    Ullr-North Scout

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    I always thought that the best axe handles had a wood grain orientation in line with the cutting edge.

    I get emails from various retailers I have ordered from in the past.

    This one caught my eye.

    https://www.canadianoutdoorequipmen...portance-of-axe-handle-grain-orientation.html

    In it, Gabriel Branby, retired and previous owner of Gransfors Bruks states;

    " Grain orientation in high quality hickory axe handles is not a make or break proposition, and is by-and-large immaterial to the function and longevity of the axe."

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. dial1911

    dial1911 Supporter Supporter

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    Interesting... but I'm only here to learn. Couldn't tell you much snot the handle grain orientation.
     
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  3. JerseyDevilJeeper

    JerseyDevilJeeper Professional Guide Supporter

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    Just hang tight; the knowledge base will soon chime in w all you need and then some ;)
     
  4. MAD Punty

    MAD Punty Supporter Supporter

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    I think what they are saying is that grain orientation is not crucial for an axe to perform reliably, which is probably true, but that doesn't mean that good orientation isn't more desirable and stronger. Also, I think good orientation means less runoff in the handle, the grains should pretty much go the entire length of the axe, whereas bad orientation will probably have more runoff....where you will see delta patterns in the grain on the handle.

    They also mention heartwood and sapwood, that both are fine. I believe that, but what you don't want is a mix of the two. The two types of wood will react differently to temperature and humidity, and create a weak point in the handle...but all heartwood or all sapwood is fine.

    I also appreciate their commitment to not wasting wood as an ethos.

    That being said....if I am paying $200 for an axe, I expect a premium axe and a premium handle, too, and I think that is a reasonable expectation for a premium price. If you're paying $100 or so...that's one thing. Maybe you can accept a medium grade handle on a high grade axe head. If you're hitting me up for $200, I expect the extra $100 I'm paying to get me a beautiful handle as well as axe head.

    Let me put it this way....if you charge me $150 for a good axe, and gave me the option of paying another $50 for a hand selected handle with good grain orientation, I would probably pay the extra $50 to get it and be happy. I kind of think that should be included in their prices.

    Full disclosure, I don't think GB is any better than, say, Hults Bruk or the new Council Tool axes. Wetterlings are nice, but I have heard a lot of QC issues, so I am less enamored of them. They are all basically equal in quality to GB, though, in my book, so what is the extra money for? You should be buying something more than just the brand name. You should be buying one step higher in quality, from bit to knob.

    Just my opinion.
     
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  5. Texas Scout

    Texas Scout Tracker

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    Does anyone have any popcorn???
     
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  6. Texas Scout

    Texas Scout Tracker

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    Mad, I am with you.

    I just made an order thru Handle House a couple of weeks ago. I willing paid extra money for the hand picked handles.

    In addition, I think I would like to continue to follow the recommendations in the USDA Forest Service publication, An Ax to Grind. Pages 19-20, but that is just me...

    Duane
     
  7. 556mp

    556mp Bushwhacker Vendor Bushclass I

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    Grain runout is far more important than anything else. "Just use it" is my motto.
     
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  8. Bush Billy

    Bush Billy Supporter Supporter

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    It’s my understanding that the wood grain should be in-line with the cutting edge as well. Much like a wooden baseball bat, you always face the makers mark towards you, so the ball is struck against the grain (if that makes sense). I would think by orienting the blade perpendicular to the cutting edge would increase your odds of breaking the handle, especially if you have a run-off grain. I’ve never broken an axe handle (or a baseball bat for the matter), so who know? Bueller. . .Bueller??
     
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  9. Texas Scout

    Texas Scout Tracker

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    From Daniel Carter Beard: Camplore and Woodcraft, page 239

    ...when your axe handle ...come(s) down heavily and suddenly upon the... log, no matter how good a handle it may be, it will break into fragments, as the writer has discovered by sad experance.

    I have to say I have made the same mistake in my youth. LOL.

    But it does get me thinking.

    If I can chose between two axes, I would still chose the axe with the “better” handle.
     
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  10. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Testing says otherwise... technically the handle with the strongest breaking strength was 15 degrees off in line orientation. I had the data set and posted it up before but can't remember which thread it was.

    Oh, one thing of note... Sap/heartwood didnt matter in the testing. If you understand how heartwood becomes heart wood you know why.
     
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  11. ANFwoodsman

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    What @MAD Punty and @556mp said.

    Lots of debate. But if I'm picking or paying high dollar, I do have a grain orientation preference. Grain run out being the worst flaw.
     
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  12. NevadaBlue

    NevadaBlue —- Roughian #7 -— --- Graybeard -— Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    Preference for a given orientation is not PC.
     
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  13. Kelly W

    Kelly W Love the Axe Supporter

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    I agree with the email 100%. Grain is so over blown. I've had some of the prettiest handles break and some of the ugliest last forever. My experience is that most of my handle failures is my fault, not that of the handle. If you want to show it off and analyze it with your buddies then grain is what it's all about. If you want to use it for it's intended purpose the grain is of little consequence. I'm sure other opinions vary greatly.
     
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  14. seasonofthewoods

    seasonofthewoods Lost In the Woods Hobbyist

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    Eh, never had a issue . I got a old collins on a handle with terrible runout and grain is barley decent. 0 issues and its stored outside next to the splitting block.
     
  15. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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  16. americanstrat98

    americanstrat98 Wanderer Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    ∆ These guys are nailing it. I don't see a debate, but a general agreement. Use it, and if it breaks make another. Handles are consumables.
     
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  17. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Basically. The 90's study found that yes orientation mattered in terms of certain orientation is stronger but that the added strength was not significant enough to worry about. Grain runout, obviously is more of an issue.
     
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  18. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    And here is a quick copy paste of my other study on heartwood (specifically hickory) where they talk about what to actually look for in an axe handle:

    "The man who is buying only one handle will usually
    find a visual method of judging hickory more convenient
    and practical than weighing. A fairly reliable visual
    guide to strength is found in the proportion of summer-
    wood appearing on the end of the piece. The summerwood
    is the solid-looking or less porous portion of each
    yearly growth ring. It is quite easy to distinguish
    from the springwood portion of the ring, which is full
    of pores or small holes. The summerwood has much greater
    strength than the springwood, because it contains more
    wood substance per unit volume. Wide bands of summer-
    wood and relatively narrow bands of springwood, there-
    fore, indicate a stronger piece of hickory than bands
    of summerwood and springwood of nearly the same width.
    The greater the proportion of summerwood in a tool
    handle or other piece of hickory, the greater will be
    its strength."


    TDLR.... Buy the heavier axe handle (more dense)


    I should add, as a personal preference... if I can get all heartwood axe handles they are what I buy.
     
  19. ANFwoodsman

    ANFwoodsman Supporter Supporter

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    Yep.
     
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  20. Northwest Axe

    Northwest Axe Supporter Supporter

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    I always explain grain orientation like this. Say your trying to break a board with your hand. You're a lot stronger with your hand in a chop set up than trying to slap something with a flat hand.

    Writing this I realize this may not make sense being written lol but hopefully someone gets the just!!
     
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  21. ANFwoodsman

    ANFwoodsman Supporter Supporter

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    There is also handle shape and thickness relative to the eye. Thicker not necessarily being better and most times worse.

    So geek out or just use it. Up to who owns it.
     
  22. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    That has more to due with point force contact than the orientation of your hand. In a chop setup your force is spread over a smaller area, hence more force per square in of contact. Slap is more area hence less force per square in of contact given the same force generated.
     
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  23. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Oh and a note: Maple, esp Sugar Maple, and Yellow Birch does not follow all these same rules for handles. Orientation actually matters with these 2 species... which is why in the early 2000's all those Maple baseball bats were exploding.

    From the USDA recommendations to MLB on the manufacture of their baseball bats after a study of why the maple bats were exploding

    "3. The orientation of the hitting surface on sugar maple and maple bats should be rotated 90o (one quarter turn of the bat). The edge grain in maple that is currently used as the hitting surface is the weaker of the two choices. To facilitate such a change in the hitting surface, manufacturers must rotate the logos they place on these bats by 90o."

    Just a FYI so people dont think tax dollars paid for this study... MLB paid the USDA to study it then passed the costs of the study off onto the baseball bat manufacturers in their licencing fees.
     
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  24. garry3

    garry3 Scout

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    At one time Bernie rewrote the FS specs. With input from other experienced people, it was to be all white sap wood. Of coarse that spec never made it and it did fly in the face of the FS own study done many years prior. For you guys that think it is all the same all you have to do is cut a couple of slivers of wood from the same stave one being sap wood and the other heart wood and break them in your fingers.
    I am not saying heart wood won't make a good haft it will and I own some. If you say the early wood to late wood ratio is the most important thing you have a case for that. But if I wanted to build the best handle possible it would be hand rived, vertical grain all white hickory. It's not a new concept and it isn't just dogma either.
     
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  25. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Conjecture. The forest service has known since the early 1900's it wasn't true. The study was repeated in the 90's with the same results. Just remember that the wives tale from experienced people was passed down for hundreds of years... If I remember correctly it originated in Europe. They traditionally made handles out of Oak, Ash and Beech... Oak is prone to heart rot and early onset in wood can be hard to detect. So back in the day if you made a tool handle you used the oak sapwood. European Beech has a disease called "false heartwood"
    [​IMG]

    European Ash also suffers from this disease. This is where the origin of the assertion comes from. Since early stages looks solid but are stained common people didn't make the distinction.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
  26. Metaldog

    Metaldog Just chasing my tail... Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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  27. John from Alberta

    John from Alberta Supporter Supporter

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  28. OrienM

    OrienM Guide

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    Grain orientation isn't that big of a deal; runout and heartwood content both can be problems. Dense sapwood with wide, latewood-heavy rings is the good stuff, pretty much the same qualities I look for in wood to make selfbows. Ultimately, to me an axe is mostly a beater tool for heavy woodworking...if the handle breaks, carve another ;)

    I have read that traditional grain orientation for axe handles in Scandinavia is with rings perpendicular to the edge...in Japan, it's using a whole whole oak limb, including the center of the trunk.

    I LOL'ed at that one...:cool:
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
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  29. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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  30. garry3

    garry3 Scout

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    We could go in circles for a couple of pages and not change each others minds. But the popcorn crowd would be very amused. I wouldn't mind it so much if it hadn't been beat to death already. For that reason I'm out! :D
     
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  31. kronin323

    kronin323 the barbarian Supporter

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    I'm still undecided.
     
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  32. TWill

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  33. MrFixIt

    MrFixIt Old Jarhead LB#42 Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    I would very much appreciate some photo examples of grain run out.
     
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  34. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    [​IMG]

    That is grain run out. the fibers do not run the full length of the handle
     
  35. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    [​IMG]

    This also appears to be grain run out


    This also
    [​IMG]




    BUT none of these are so bad as they should cause a failure under normal use of an axe... it's when splitting crappy wood and you overstrike you might snap one. A handle like the bottom could last years or weeks depending on how good you are with an axe.



    [​IMG]

    The 2nd handle handle down is a more extreme form of run out... and is more likely to break. As you strike down the pressure is bending the handle trying to make the rings separate... and in that handle they are only attached by a few inches.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019
  36. MrFixIt

    MrFixIt Old Jarhead LB#42 Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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  37. Tangotag

    Tangotag Field Gear Junkie Bushclass I

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    I always thought it was a guy selling something with wood grain looking odd always says, grain doesn't matter.
    Where a guy buying something with his hard earned cash and appreciates how his things look, it does matter.
    :16:
     
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  38. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    If I'm honest... I generally dont care about orientation so much... I mean look at the handle I made lol

    [​IMG]
     
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  39. garry3

    garry3 Scout

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    I hand selected this axe off the rack. It was the only one with the grain running contrary to my optimum vertical grain. But it had less run out than the others.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    It also had a very good early to late wood ratio. A lot of these hafts get broke using the nail notch so not a bad trade off here at all. I would never go with that grain orientation on a curved haft though.
     
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  40. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    Here's a good example of excellent grain orientation.

    20181016_180801.jpg
     
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  41. garry3

    garry3 Scout

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    It is actually, because growth rings and grain are one and the same when we talk about axe handles. But that handle is running out in a plane that never gets talked about.
    These kind of handles break at a much higher rate.
    [​IMG]
     
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  42. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Yay for grain that is 90 degrees out of whack lol.
     
  43. MJGEGB

    MJGEGB Bushmaster

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    They are talked about more often in circles like this. For example the majority of the responses above. I think you missed my point though, even perfect handles can break. Get the best you can get your hands on and just use it.
     
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  44. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Im pretty sure I mentioned it in comments early in the thread as did others. The problem become the "get the best". Technically the "Best" is 15deg off parallel, heartwood hickory with no grain run out. Which flies in the face of what everyone except the research says. It took about 500 PSI more to break these handles than the sapwood ones. it was something like 11,300 for the sapwood and 11,800 for the heartwood. If you are not using hickory though the results may be different as whether the heartwood is stronger than the sapwood is species dependent. Hickory heartwood also has the benefit of being a bit more decay resistant if you do not take care of your toys. Heartwood doesn't take oils and such as well though so people who like to finish their axes with stains and oils and such dont like it. Your comment of even perfect handles can break is so spot on it isnt funny... if you can make it I can break it is my motto lol
     
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  45. garry3

    garry3 Scout

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    Not at all, I understood what you were saying. I was getting at something different than that and I am already sorry I brought it. But I will try to articulate what I was getting at. It is a weakness of curved handles and pretty much unavoidable. When we split a log it follows the grain of the wood. It is clearly visible on the outside of the tree, it flows around knots, can be twisting or straight ect. Its why hand split is better than sawing.
     
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  46. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    Yep, but since I don't know any manufacturer who hand splits for handles it's kinda moot unless you make one yourself. If you know of one, please do share! I do remember seeing a custom maker who steam bent his handles so there was basically zero run out but those axes were like 300-400 dollars.
     
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  47. garry3

    garry3 Scout

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    The self bow crowd understands it intimately and makes the distinction. Everyone else uses growth ring run out as grain run out. It runs so deep that it is just easier to go along.
     
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  48. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

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    True, but again you can't really bring it up when people are buying handles not making them. Sawn wood doesn't follow the growth form of the tree it's cut from. So if the log had some sweep or twist the only way on a handle to notice is comparing the growth rings on the top and bottom of the handle for a difference in angle and following the rings on the handle for run out...

    You're arguing
    This:
    upload_2019-8-16_14-45-15.png

    Vs

    upload_2019-8-16_14-45-40.png

    however, if you are buying a handle like 99% of people looking at this thread will you dont get this info, just a handle that you have to try and interpret this info from the behavior of the growth rings.
     
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  49. Michaux

    Michaux Tracker

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    [​IMG]
     
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  50. A17

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    Commiefornia
    Sorry for the poor pic, but this is the best quality picture I have that deals with the only thing that really matters with a handle. Runout. The only hafts of mine that have broken were either rotted in the eye where I couldn't see it, or had a knot/runout. I've used hafts where the grain ran parallel to the eye, at an angle, and horizontal to it, and none have broken due to the orientation. Some people will say this orientation is better, that orientation is better, Fords are better than Chevies, Peterbilt vs. Kenworth, Stihl vs. Husqvarna, don't even start guys on better bar or mix oils, but it all boils down to personal preference. I also included a diagram I found that shows what I mean, and an image of an axe with what appears to be "suboptimal" grain orientation that has survived a lot of overstrikes without splitting.
    [​IMG]
    grain-orientation.png
    Axe-Safety-Around-Camp_L1160261.jpg
     
    beestokk and OrienM like this.

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