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Winsted Tools


Making and Using Tools - Tool Handles


Quilted Madrone Handles by Scott Grandstaff

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I needed some hammer and ax handles.

I live on the west coast. There is no hickory growing within 1500 miles from where I am writing.

Even when we do get a factory handle here, it is often number 6 or 7 grade.  Tool handles come in 8 distinct grades. From the lowest, (8's), to the highest (number 1's).

Grade 8 will have knots and will be undersized and the grain will be oriented any old way and sometimes, it will even run out.  Pitiful...

People used to know about handles but that has been slowly forgotten in most circles.  Have you ever bought a new tool or changed a handle on a sledge or hammer and had it snap off first time you swung it in anger?  This is why. Low grade handles.

The other thing, as fewer and fewer people know what to look for in a handle, the handle companies have lately been simply sawing out a crude handle shape from flat plank lumber and rounding over the edges with a shaper.

A ONE (1) dimensional tool handle!!! As if!!...

The oldest handle mills, like O. P. Link still make higher grade handles for the few who know enough to demand them.  But most hardware dealers simply order handles now. Generic one word.  They can't even begin to specify and wouldn't know if they were sent the proper grade if they did order something else.

A proper hickory handle should be full 3d carved with a wide comfy fawns foot on the bottom to a narrow throat up top. It should be snow white, fine grain and free from defects.  The grain should be oriented to run the same direction as the eye of the tool all the way to the bottom.  Try buying one of these in Home Despot or Blows, go ahead...

So anyway, I have trouble getting real handles anymore.  Besides I personally like a little different style than anybody on this side of 1840 has carved.

Well, 3 years ago I got a load of firewood. I got it cheap because someone had ordered oversized wood for a large fireplace and then folded on the deal.  So my guy was stuck with extra large pieces.  I'm thinking "Hey I have a big stove and I can split wood all day, this is a sweet deal!!"

It wasn't.  Not for firewood anyway...  Part of the reason the pieces were cut long and left large was because it was a "defective" tree.  Some trees lean and some trees are backed up against the forest so all the limbs are on one side.  Some grow up in the thick so there are no real major limbs until they reach the canopy.  Trees that grow up alone in the middle of a meadow have major limbs on every side all the way up.

Nothing but knots.  But sometimes something else happens. Something that alters the way a tree grows all its life.  Some people say genetic defect and some say fungus or other natural attack, or injury early in life.  Truth is, humans don't get to know why this is, yet.  But something happens and the tree can grow twisted or all bunched up inside instead of straight.  Its called figure or curl or quilt.

My load of firewood was from such a tree.  A Pacific Madrone tree, which hardly ever happens to this species.  This tree grew "all wadded up" in a random pattern all the way to the top. You can see it from the outside.  And when you try to split it, it is quite clear.  Well, once you get it split.

You can take an 8 pound splitting maul and place the piece on a chopping block, and use every bit of the handle, reach all the way back to your full extension and even rise up to your tip toes for every last crumb of leverage you can muster, and give as mighty a swing as you have.  A short wedge shaped edge with 8 pounds of iron behind it, producing literally many thousands of pounds of force.  A full stroke straight and true...  And it will bounce harmlessly off without hardly a scratch, the round of wood laughing right in your face.

Hit it again, and again.  Until, with 3 or 4 strokes in exactly the same place, it will finally crack.  This is tough wood ladies and gentlemen.

I had nearly 3 cords of it.  I split part of it with a maul and wedge.  I had to break down and borrow a hydraulic machine for a lot of it and believe me, that machine grunted.

Think you can see any figure here??  Look at the brown covered bark
piece on the left and notice all the bumps coming right through the bark.

I stacked this near miracle wood in my woodshed and honestly burned much of it. But the really special pieces? I held back and stacked in a corner.  It has now been three years seasoned and what hasn't cracked yet, probably won't.

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