Utilization of Waste in Handle Making (1915)

Originally published in:
Canada Lumberman & Woodworker – May 1, 1915

Cross Section of Handles – 1913

No substitute has yet endangered the position of wood as the most suitable all-round handle material known to man. Some handles are made wholly or in part of other things, but the number is small in comparison with those in which wood plays the principal part. This field offers few inducements to substitutes.

Wood’s qualities which fit it for the pre-eminent position which it holds in the handle industry are many. If a springy, resilient handle is wanted, such as are fitted in axes and some hammers, wood has the properties to a greater degree than any other available material. If a short, stiff handle is demanded, there is no equal of wood, when strength and weight are considered. If protection against heat is desired, or electrical insulation, it is still the best that can be had.

It is, therefore, natural that the handle maker, no matter what is the particular line in which he is interested, should look upon wood as his most valuable resource. He should be no less interested in protecting that resource. Some handle makers do so, while others are not looking as carefully after waste and better utilization as they should. A great deal has been said and written about the waste of hickory by handle manufacturers, particularly the waste which occurs in the forest before the rough material reaches the factory; but much waste has occurred along other lines.

The Turning Tide

There is unquestionable evidence that the tide is turning. Better methods are coming into use. The spirit of conservation is abroad in the land, and the men who make handles are awake to the situation. It is understood that the scrap heap is a mighty poor payer of dividends, and the tendency of business now is in the direction of having no scrap heap, or, at any rate, to make it as small as possible.

That result may be brought about on the one hand by each manufacturer working up his own material as closely as possible; and on the other hand by turning over what he cannot use to somebody who This is being done in numerous instances and with results which are encouraging.

The public once insisted that axe, hammer and hatchet handles, when made of hickory, should be of ivory whiteness. That is, none but the sapwood was allowed. That necessitated throwing the red heartwood away, and that was frequently half the tree.

That is not done now. It was discovered that the red wood of the heart was as good as the other for many kinds of handles, particularly for short kinds, such as those for hatchets, knives, augers, and numerous other small tools. Even for long handles of large size it is good enough.

It is difficult to estimate how much good hickory has been saved from the scrap heap by the discovery that red color did not disqualify the wood for use. In fact, when it is employed in making some kinds of small handles it is preferred to the white sapwood by many.

The Range of Handle Woods

Hickory is only one of many handle woods, and, except where great toughness and resiliency are demanded, it is not the most important. Vast quantities of both softwoods and hardwoods are annually converted into handles in the United States. Take the State of New York as a typical example.

Hickory is there the sixth wood in quantity used, and it is scarcely one-fifteenth as prominent as beech, which is chiefly made into pail, package, broom, mop, knife, and other small handles which are demanded by the million. Sugar maple is valuable for the same class of handles as beech, and is bought in large amounts.

The following table shows the woods bought annually by handle makers in New York, with the quantity of each:

Beech 3,076,000
Sugar maple1,418,000
White Oak336,500
Silver Maple10,000
White Pine10,000
Lignum Vitae1,500

The foregoing table represents fairly well the proportions of various woods used by handle makers in northern states. The principal handles made of some of the woods follow:

BroomBeech, maple, birch, ash
ShovelSugar maple, white ash
BrushSugar maple
HandsawBeech, applewood
Hoe & forkWhite ash
Coal sieveBasswood, beech, maple, ash
Small toolMiscellaneous

Waste from Veneer Plants

The makers of handles are in a position to use some of the waste of veneer plants, chiefly the cores of logs from which the veneer has been cut by the rotary process. Smaller handles for pails, tubs, packages, and for such articles as dippers, ladles, and knives, want no better material than some of the cores. One of the highest uses of core waste yet reported is shown in the manufacture of gunstock and pistol grips. The woods must, of course, be suitable for these articles.


Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
1. Canada Lumberman & Woodworker: Vol. 35, No. 9 – May 1, 1915
2. National Archives Catalog – NAID: 7102344