Two popular types of axe handle materials are composite and wood. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so which is the best choice? This article compares wood and composite axe handles to help you choose the best option for your needs.
What’s the difference between composite and wood axe handles?
Wood axe handles have been used for centuries and have a classic look and feel. They are typically made of hardwood like hickory, ash, or oak, which are strong and flexible.
The downside is they’re often heavier than composite handles, which makes them more difficult to swing. They also require regular maintenance and can splinter and crack over time.
Composite axe handles are increasingly popular as they’re lightweight and extremely durable. These handles are less likely to sustain damage and require minimal maintenance.
You can check out a comprehensive list of all the benefits of composite axe handles here.
Their biggest weaknesses are they don’t have the same classic look or feel as wood handles, and some people find them less comfortable when swinging.
Wood Vs. fiberglass axes: a head-to-head comparison
The following section contrasts the two axe haft materials to see if one is a clear winner. For quick answers, skip down to the summary table.
Few would argue that fiberglass handles offer superior durability. They withstand extreme impact like overstrike and splitting the worst, knotted crotch sections of a plum tree.
A high-quality handle made from hickory will also provide many years of service. But it needs to be looked after and won’t take the same level of punishment as a synthetic handle.
A cheap wooden axe handle often won’t absorb shock well. The jarring is unpleasant and quickly leads to hand pain and fatigue.
Well-made wooden handles do a much better job reducing vibration, but they aren’t as effective as composite handles.
Some products like the Fiskars X25 combine their proprietary Fibercomp material with an innovative hollow handle. This mix significantly reduces the vibrations you’d expect during tough splitting work.
When comparing the weight of similar-length axes made from different materials, fiberglass will usually weigh less. This is especially the case with axe ranges that have a hollow design.
A lighter handle is a valuable benefit. It means the head can weigh more, which helps the tool power its way through the wood fibers.
A composite handle will weather extreme heat and wet weather much better than a wood handle. Weather extremes eventually cause a wood handle to expand, contract, crack, and splinter. A composite handle will better withstand these conditions.
Both material types don’t conduct heat or cold. On freezing days, the handle won’t feel freezing in hand. Although you may see other comparison reviews claiming composite handles are bad for this, we reached out to several brands and confirmed their handles are fine for use in hot and cold weather. You can also see a reference to it here.
Whether you prefer wood or fiberglass will depend on personal preference. There are two groups: one loves traditional wood for its natural beauty; the other prefers sleek, modern design.
Maintaining a wood-handled axe is essential for a long-lasting tool. For some, this isn’t a huge burden. But others prefer not having to perform handle maintenance. It is practically impossible for many composite axes to break off the head from the handle.
Woodsmiths and shed tinkerers enjoy working on their tools, occasionally even sanding the handle to a more comfortable shape. However, a maintenance-free tool is only ideal for some. Maybe you want to attach a refurbished Michigan axe head you managed to pick up from a local antique store? This upgrade is not possible with axes made from synthetic materials.
A wood axe will quickly catch fire, while some composites are fire retardant. This isn’t a concern for most, but it’s a helpful feature in some industries like firefighting.
Easy to spot
It’s super-easy to misplace your axe. This problem is prevalent in forests or even a light stand of trees full of weeds. Beige-looking wood axes tend to blend in with dried grass, but most composite axes are colored brightly. They’re much easier to spot in the outdoors.
Summary table: Wood vs. composite axe handles
|Shock absorption||Ranges from low to high, depending on the axe||Very high|
|Weight||Light to Heavy||Light|
|Aesthetics||Best for traditional axe enthusiasts||Best for those who love sleek, modern designs|
|May crack or splinter||Yes||Unlikely|
|Can replace head||Yes||No|
|Easy to spot||No||Yes|
The decision of which type of axe handle is best for you depends on your personal preferences. Wood is the way to go for anyone wanting the look and feel of a classic handle. It feels good in hand, and premium brands design them to provide amazing balance. Wherever the grip is, the tool will feel comfortable.
Composite is the best choice for a lighter, more durable axe handle. It will endure weather extremes and won’t require a lot of maintenance.
Our summary table paints composite handles in an excellent light. It wins more attributes than it loses. But if you’re looking to buy a new axe, pay close attention to what matters most. For example, if you won’t subject the axe to extreme conditions and you love the look of wood, then all the other factors have little consequence. Choose a quality wood axe, and you’re likely to be satisfied.
When researching wood vs. composite axe handles, be mindful of some forums that have advice from the early 2000s. Composite handles have come a long way over the last ten years, so much of the old comments from experienced axe users have dated.