Birch for outdoor tool handles?

White birch's comparative weakness renders it a poor choice for handles on tools that must sustain high impacts. 1998.

by Professor Gene Wengert

Is there any good reason not to use White Birch (betula papyrifera) for the making of handles of tools (ax, hatchet, sledge hammer, adz, mattock, etc.) for tools that will be used outdoors, and sometimes subjected to a bit of the elements?

If there is some tendency to decay, can this be alleviated with some kind of fungicide that isn't harmful to the human skin, or isn't absorbed through the hands and harmful to the human system?

White birch is not a very strong wood. Its impact strength is low, compared to other species used for impact handles. For non-impact handles (brooms and the like), white birch could be used, adjusting the size to achieve the desired strength.

Note: Birch will decay easily, but usually the handles would not be left in the rain, so they would not pick up enough moisture to support the decay fungi.

I know of no approved, safe fungicide. If you left the handle in the rain, it would likely come loose when it dried out.

Professor Gene Wengert is Extension Specialist in Wood Processing at the Department of Forestry, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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