New York though not a leading State is an important one in the production of handles. The Lake States and other central western States have the principal factories of the larger well known corporations manufacturing fork, hoe and axe handles. Nearly every large manufacturing establishment has need for handle stock in one form or another. A number of industries like broom factories and cutlery stock occupy a prominent place. Establishments producing farm tools, files, saws, cutlery and other metal implements call for a great variety of woods.
Beech leads all species in the amount of wood consumed because the principal handle business from a standpoint of quantity is that of brooms. Over 2,000,000 feet of the 3,076,000 feet of beech reported goes for such use. Broom handles also consume a large amount of sugar maple, birch and white ash. Shovel handles are made largely of sugar maple, while snow shovels consume a great deal of white ash. Axe handles are made of hickory, brush handles of sugar maple, pick and peavy handles of white ash, hickory and yellow birch; while handsaws consume only applewood and beech.
Fork and hoe handles are rarely ever made of any wood except white ash, of which a large amount is consumed for this purpose in other States, and most of the half million reported in New York goes into these articles. White ash is used for fork and hoe handles because it is tough, strong and white.
Hammer handles are made of hickory generally, this wood being almost indispensable for slender tool handles where great stiffness, strength and elasticity must be combined. Hickory is used in the rougher forms for mop handles, handrakes, sledge hammers and pick handles, along with white oak, white elm and ash, where strength and resistance to sudden shock are essential requirements. Handles for coal sieves are made of basswood, beech, soft maple and white ash.
Many of the firms reported several woods under the general use of “handles” and the relative importance of each wood in the production of a given style of handle cannot be accurately determined. Broad conclusions are easily reached, however, relative to the specific uses of such woods as ash and hickory, the former being very generally used here for fork and hoe handles, while hickory is used universally for small tool handles and for axe handles. Saw handles also depend largely upon apple and beech, while the ordinary cutlery or knife handles consume all of the foreign woods such as ebony, rosewood, coco-bolo and granadillo.
The form of the raw material going into handle factories is so varied, owing to the extremes in the dimensions of the finished articles, that detailed descriptions cannot be given. The class of handles including the stock for hoes, forks, rakes, spades and shovels, calls for squares of about 2 to 2½ inches and the extreme length of 5 feet. One large plant producing fork, hoe and rake handles uses clear white ash in the form of rough squares or strips 1⅝ by 1⅝ and 5 feet in length.
Saw handles, on the other hand, are made from rectangular squares about 4½ inches wide, 1¼ inches thick and only 12 inches long, while from this small block two saw handles are cut. In the production of articles such as saw handles, where a scroll saw turns out two handles from a pattern requiring such dimensions, there is scarcely any waste.
Broom handles are usually made from 2-inch squares about 5 feet long. Axe handles call for an entirely different class of raw material, which is generally purchased by the cord and in the form of billets or bolts, either split or in round timbers, and cut 40 inches long. Small tool handles, cooking utensil holders, brush and pump handles, all call for different forms of raw material, according to their special needs. There is much waste in some branches of this industry, especially the manufacturing of handle stock from bolts.
The public has always demanded an ivory white axe handle to the exclusion of all heartwood. Specifications calling for all clear sapwood results in extreme waste. Forest Service tests have proven that a small amount of heartwood does not weaken the handles and manufacturers should promote a general movement to moderate handle specifications. The War Department has already consented to alter the specifications for handle stock for use in the Canal Zone, allowing a reasonable proportion of heartwood.
John T. Harris
Wood-Using Industries of New York – 1913