There is a wide range of axe handle quality. From wonky, imported, and mass-produced garbage to beautiful one-of-a-kind custom pieces – and everything in between.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to find a good axe handle if you know where to look, and what to look for.
I don’t have any affiliation with the shops or makers on this page.
1. Hardware Store Handles
Hardware store axe handles are going to be the cheapest and easiest to find but will be very thick, heavily varnished, and mass-produced with no consideration for grain orientation or run-out. You can find decent handles on the shelf, but there are a lot of lemons.
If you are new to hanging axes, you may want to start here. It’s easy to mess up when you’re learning. After all, this is where the phrase “getting the hang of it” comes from
Hardware stores only carry a small selection of handles. Usually 36″, 28″, and maybe one or two hatchet sizes. These are the “standards”, and they usually come with a wood wedge and metal step/barrel wedge.
House Handle, Tennessee Hickory, Bowman, and Garant are decent mass-produced brands (but you still have to examine them closely).
Quality standards are often low or non-existent, so make sure to check for grain orientation, grain run-out, cracks, and avoid any large knots. If there are a bunch of the same handles on the shelf and they are all slightly different shapes – that’s a bad sign.
If you don’t know what to look for, check out: What Makes a Good Handle
Don’t Buy Axe Handles on Amazon
You’ll regret it. Just don’t.
2. Manufacturer Handles
Most of the major axe manufacturers sell replacement handles that will meet the standards of their axes. These handles should be free of major flaws like large knots, but are still mass-produced and may have minor blemishes.
These handles can be designed for specific axes only, and may not fit all heads.
The “big 3” you are most likely to find are Gransfors Bruk, Hults Bruk (Hultafors), and Council Tool. And while the quality is good, the cost is often the same or close to the price of more premium handles.
Gransfors Bruk Handles
Nicely shaped handles, still a little on the thick side – but come with a coating of linseed oil and tumbled in wax. Most of their handles won’t fit the large full-size eye of most American axe heads.
Hultafors / Hults Bruk Handles
Standard Hults Bruk handles have good grain orientation but come thick, so expect to do some shaping. Many won’t fit a full-size American axe eye, so check the eye dimensions – they are often in the product name “63×23″(mm).
Premium Hults Bruk handles can be sapwood or darker heartwood, and come with better grain, and a thinner and better-shaped profile. I don’t think any of the premium handles will fit full-size American axe eyes.
Council Tool Handles
The standard handles are affordable but surprisingly thin and well-shaped with decent grain orientation. They also come oiled and waxed. Overall good handles (often best for the price).
The premium handles are used in their Velvicut & WoodCraft Lines. They have more consistent grain orientation and density and are all Grade “A” American hickory. They come oiled and usually include a wedge kit.
3. Premium Handles
Note for everyone outside the US – all these makers are American. They will ship to Canada (but it’s not cheap).
There are still a few companies that take pride in making great handles. They follow traditional best practices and offer a range of historic and specialized patterns. They are often made in small runs, so you need to keep an eye on what’s available. The cost is higher – but worth it.
They also offer both a lower priced B-grade version, that may have a little less “Instagram worthy” grain – but still follows all standards, is properly shaped, and are miles better than the hardware store options.
Remember even premium are just made of wood – there will always be natural variation in things like color and grain pattern.
Whisky River Trading Co.
Whiskey River has made a name for itself by offering many different patterns of premium axe handles, and by constantly testing and offering new patterns and models. Their latest project the Heritage line takes it to the next level. They offer two “tiers” of handles:
A Grade the top 25%, with grain under 20° off center, hand-picked without blemishes.
B Grade may have non-compromising blemishes and grain orientation under 35° off center.
Whisky River also offers an awesome range of wooden wedges.
Hoffman is very well known for their gorgeous hand-made axes. Selling them in small batches, with a year-long waiting list. But, in 2022 they also introduced a line of premium handles that are usually available without the wait.
They also offer 2 grades of handles, with beautiful shaping and curves. They offer a mix of straight and curvy single bits, as well as a full range of double-bit and hatchet handle sizes.
Beaver Tooth has been around a long time, and while they aren’t as flashy as the other brands – they offer a surprisingly large assortment of patterns, sizes, and grades.
While they offer a giant assortment of handles, many sell out quickly and it’s never clear when some of the more specialized models will be back in stock.
LAMACA handles are made by Colby Owens out of B.C. Canada. He is an axe collector with a copy lathe who turns out some wonderfully shaped handles. Most of his handles go to LAMACA axes themselves, so when a batch of handles comes in – move fast.
4. Custom Hand-Made Handles
These aren’t just axe handles, but functional works of art.
If you want your axe to be truly one-of-a-kind, there are some exceptional custom handle makers. They hand-make every handle, one by one with care and insane attention to detail.
You should be confident in your axe-hanging ability before considering one of these handles. I am still working up the courage myself.
Custom makers are regional – so look around on Etsy and Instagram for other makers in your country/area.
Keen Timber & Tool (USA)
Zach of Keen Timber & Tool creates jaw-dropping handles that combine a foundation of historic patterns with clean modern lines and the option of stunning mixed-material inlays.
Keen Timber & Tool also makes restored axes (hung on these exceptional handles). So he is also worth considering if you want to buy a restored axe that’s a cut above some of the other options out there.
One picture doesn’t do the work justice – Check out his Instagram for more, plus a glimpse behind the scenes.
You can see what is available on the Etsy store, or reach out on Instagram for commissioned pieces.
Stumptown Axes (USA)
Stumptown Axes out of Whitefish, Montana is another exceptional shop that builds axes using beautifully restored heads and gorgeous hand-carved handles.
Most of his work is finished axes, but there are often handles available on the site. The detailed shaping in the palm swells and the elegant lines of his handles have always stood out to me. And the addition of contrasting palm swell
His Instagram is a gallery of beautiful finished axes and handles, as well as tips and work in progress.
LN Axe & Tool Co. (New Zealand)
Gorgeous hand-carved handles out of Northland, New Zealand.
Worth the follow on Instagram if (like me) you are a long way in New Zealand, otherwise, they sell their handles on Etsy.
5. Make Your Own
Want to challenge yourself? You can always try making your own handle.
You will need to find the right wood, but you can an axe handle with some pretty cheap and simple tools. It’s not too complicated, but it can take some practice.
Take a look at my article on how to make an axe handle, and gauge for yourself.
You can always make it easier on yourself and buy shaped blanks. It simplifies the process and you can just focus on shaping.
Thrane Axe & Saw Blanks
Thrane sells a range of handle blanks and billets for those who want to make their own handle. They have an awesome selector so you can specify things like the pattern, length, and wood type.
They also sell a range of wood wedges and have great customer service.
Please comment below If I missed something or if you have any questions. I do my best to respond to everyone.