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#173778 - 05/25/09 07:33 PM Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass?
dougwalkabout Online   content
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2894
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Looking through my collection of axes, it seems that I have a lot more fibreglass handles than I did five years ago.

Fibreglass handles seem to be just about indestructible, and nearly impervious to weather and abuse by overstrike. The axes I use and abuse all the time (pulaski, splitting maul, 2.5lb car axe w/24" handle) all have fibreglass handles.

Weight-wise, wood wins every time. For the self-propelled traveller, that matters a lot. And it seems that for a true cutting axe, the "swing" is better and more effective with a wooden handle (highly subjective). High-end axes (no root choppin' with these) all seem to come with wooden handles.

In preparing for an unknown situation, is the extra durability of fibreglass worth it? (I think it is, since axes get used as hammers too. YMMV.) I wonder what firefighters use these days; that's a good indicator for hard use.

So: which do you prefer, for what tasks, and why?

#173797 - 05/26/09 03:46 AM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: ]
Chris Kavanaugh Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/09/01
Posts: 3824
American hickory wood seems to be declining like so much of the natural world :O(
Aside from simple aesthetics and wieght,I prefer wood.
My Estwing geologist pick with one piece head and handle was durable and horribly uncomfortable. I've never warmed to fiberglass, but in a serious situation I wouldn't complain to loudly if one was handed to me.

#173799 - 05/26/09 05:06 AM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: Chris Kavanaugh]
Tom_L Offline

Registered: 03/19/07
Posts: 690
If you want good, honest advice, just look at what the pros are using.

Logging is pretty big where I live. Whenever I look around, all I see are traditional axes with wooden handles. Good ash or hickory. The axes don't get used as much anymore because most of the heavy work is done with chain saws. But the folks working in the logging industry still need an axe now and then and they sure know how to keep it sharp and properly helved. I suppose there must be a good reason they don't use fiberglass.

Anyway, I think the average outdoor enthusiast really shouldn't dwell too long on the whole issue. Unless you do HEAVY chopping on a daily basis the extra durability of fiberglass just doesn't matter. A wooden handle on the other hand is easier to replace when necessary.

If your skills are so bad you keep smashing your axe handle into wood then you need to practice some more. If you can't hit what you're aiming at your axe becomes a liability and it's just a matter of time before you injure yourself.

So far I've only had to replace the handle on my axe once in well over 20 years. Dad and I have used that axe a fair bit, I dare say a good deal more than the average outdoor freak. The handle was damaged somewhat but I'm sure it could still go for a few years. Eventually I decided to replace the handle just to be on the safe side. Goes to show even plain old wood is totally up to the task.

#173802 - 05/26/09 06:32 AM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: Tom_L]
dougwalkabout Online   content
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2894
Loc: Alberta, Canada
I certainly agree that for pure cutting, a high quality axe head on a tight-grained wooden handle is a joy to use. No doubt about it. (BTW, thanks for reminding me of the word "helved.")

But in everyday life, at least for me, axes frequently do a lot more than cut wood. Demolition, pounding posts, chopping roots, levering, tamping clay and loosening rust-welded parts.

And I think that sort of abuse would be realistic in a lot of SHTF scenarios. You use the tools you have at hand. And an axe is the original multitool, filling a lot of roles. With a fibreglass handle it is nigh unbreakable; but wooden handles don't care for that sort of work. At least that's been my experience.

(This is of course horror and heresy to people with fine axes such as Gränsfors. I wouldn't dream of heaping disrespect on such a fine tool. Sorry if I made you cringe. :-)

#173803 - 05/26/09 08:35 AM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: dougwalkabout]
Tom_L Offline

Registered: 03/19/07
Posts: 690
Yes Doug, for that kind of work an overbuilt axe with a fiberglass handle might be a better option. When it comes to demolition, I'd rather have a Pulaski, maybe a big crowbar and/or a heavy maul.

BTW, another very important factor to consider as far as axes go - ergonomy. One of the reasons I truly love my Gransfors Bruks small forest axe is that aside from an excellent head, the handle is absolutely perfectly shaped. Wherever and however you grip it, it allows full control whether you do heavy chopping or finer work like carving. Most other axes on the market, either wood or fiberglass handle, fall way short in that department.

A quality axe truly is a joy to handle. People tend to forget there is a lot more to a good axe than just decent steel and hickory. Everything has to be tuned just right - balance, handle length and shape. You really have to try a high end axe like Gransfors to appreciate the difference.

#173821 - 05/26/09 05:47 PM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: Tom_L]
benjammin Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/06/04
Posts: 4020
Loc: Anchorage AK
The best handles? I've worn out so many wood handled axes, mauls and hatchets that I consider wood something cheap and easy to replace, but not as reliable as fiberglass. However, the best handles I've ever used were the steel pipes grandpa welded onto his axeheads, and loaded with a powder that absolutely deadened the handle and made it such a pleasure to swing I prefered it anytime we were at his house splitting old growth fir and hemlock, which anyone with any woodsplitting experience will tell you is atrocious wood to split by hand. I dunno what the powder was he put in the pipe, but he worked as a machinist at the Bremerton shipyards since WWII, and he had tons of stuff in his myriad sheds that he played with like that. We never had a head come off, nor a pipe bend, chip, splinter, or crack, in twenty years of heavy chopping. My brother and I used to swing a pair of 8 lb mauls into the big rounds, and occasionally we'd embed one and use the back of the other to sledge our way through a particularly nasty piece (sometimes adding up to three wedges along with). I'd hold the embedded maul handle while my brother would pound blows on the back of it with his, and my hands never got jarred near as bad as when we tried that with wooden handles. We had a number of double bit heads with pipe handles, and the extra weight sure made quick work of limbing on felled logs. Of course, we never tried chopping through logs with an axe, that was what the saws were for.
The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
-- Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)

#173841 - 05/27/09 01:17 AM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: dougwalkabout]
trooper0366 Offline

Registered: 06/21/03
Posts: 59
Loc: Missouri
As a firefighter with a rural mid-west fire district, I see more fiberglass handles in the fire service. My best guess is that it is a maintenance issue. Fire axes get a lot of abuse. They get used to chop things that would normaly make people cringe, like door hinges to name one. The handles get hit a lot, because when you're tired your aim gets off. Yes it is dangerous to work tired, but you have to accomplish the mission. They are laid in who knows what in fire debris. Fiberglass does not absorb the water and other junk like wood. They are exposed to all types of weather on the outside of apparatus. Wood used in fire axes doesn't seem to stand up to exposure as well. I have seen dry rotted handles on fire apparatus. Not a good thing I know, but it is reality. Maintenance is not always the priority it should be. They get used to pry things a lot of times because you don't have a prying tool, wood breakes easier when prying from the side. I'm not sure what the large career departments use but small rural seems to head towards fiberglass from my observations. All this is very different from the use I was taught in Scouting. Hope this helps. I will defer to others with more knowledge as far as ax use for its intended purpose.

#173846 - 05/27/09 02:17 AM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: trooper0366]
SwampDonkey Offline

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 1268
Loc: Northeastern Ontario, Canada
I prefer a wooden handled axe or maul for my own use but we use fiberglass handled axes with our youth group as they are much tougher.

I have wrapped the area behind the head of a maul with wire before to prevent it from damage when splitting blocks of hardwood.

At work I keep a steel shafted/rubber handled Estwing axe on my snowmobile because it is used for a specific task. I often use it to test the thickness of lake/river ice and it is very easy to break a wooden handle doing this. You need to chop the ice in a trough shape to keep the handle from hitting the ice surface. I also spray paint the entire axe black to blend-in with the colour of the snowmobile, people notice it less and therefore I think there is less chance of it being ripped-off.


#173870 - 05/27/09 04:01 PM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: SwampDonkey]
Tyber Offline

Registered: 04/27/09
Posts: 298
Loc: ST. Paul MN
I have a full set of Fiskars axes and I prefer them for weigh (they do weigh less than wood) and for durability.

For practicality, industrictability and just all round effectivness I would suges the Fiskars axe collection. I have the splitting axe, chopping axe and two hatchet style axes. Never have failed me and my very first axe from Fiskars was the camping axe by Gerber (they just put there name on a Fiskars axe) and the sucker would swing like a 5 pound sledge but only weighed in at 2 pounds. The weighting and the balance gave you more force than you would think posable. During my service witht he Maine Conservation Socity the hand axe did everything from felling 8 inch treas, to limbing, to pounding in 3 inch stakes into the ground to make x-country skiing trails.

#173871 - 05/27/09 05:16 PM Re: Axe handles -- wood or fibreglass? [Re: Tyber]
dougwalkabout Online   content
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2894
Loc: Alberta, Canada
I've never used the Fiskars axes. I guess I always choke at the price when I see them in the stores.

I'm not sure I'd trust those hollow handles for $***-and-abuse work. Solid fibreglass seems best for that.

But maybe I should get one for pure cutting duties. (Yes, I 'need' more axes.) Are they worth the money?

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