Making Sourwood Tool Handles

Unfinished and Shellaced

Sourwood is a fairly common tree in the South, known primarily for its Lily of the Valley like blooms, and the famous Sourwood Honey, the result of the partnership between said flowers and honeybees. One particularly large (for a Sourwood) tree was uprooted when it was whacked by a broken off White Oak during our latest tornado. That led me to search for uses of Sourwood lumber.

The most common answer for traditional uses of this wood was for tool handles. More deep diving came up with spokes and arrow shafts. These things all had something in common, which is the best quality for all of these dinguses is resistance to splitting, even when made from green wood. This is the result of the fact that Sourwood has a very low T/R ration, which means it is unlikely to split while drying from green wood to seasoned.

The T/R ratio is the ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, which for wood working purposes, should be as close to one as possible. This info is easily obtained for most species via a simple Google search. Species with very low T/R ratios are usually little used or non-commercial woods, such as Southern (evergreen) magnolia, and sourwood. Evergreen Magnolia has a T/R ratio of 1.2, and sourwood is 1.4.

Making the traditional octagonal carving tool handles was simple enough, and only needs two or three tools–a drawknife (optional), a smoothing plane, and a drill. Take a round limb of unseasoned Sourwood slightly larger than the final handle, and rough it with a drawknife or plane into an octagon. Continue spinning it around, and taper it down to an inch or so at the tang end. When satisfied with the results, drill a tang sized hole and whack in the tool blank. The green Sourwood will slowly shrink around the tang of the tool, and will never, ever, come off.

I bought these Italian made carving tools from Mountain Woodcarvers for $6 each, although they are mistakenly selling them as USA made. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the mistake. They might raise the price.

Spud or Peeler?

Because I have more sourwood on the ground that I can say grace over, I also decided to turn another limb into a handle for a log processing tool, a bark peeler, aka bark spud. This one a a beastly tool that doubles as an axe/brush cutter by having both sides beveled and sharpened. It is made by Ochsenkopf (Oxhead) in Deutschland. After five months of drying, the handle has no sign of a crack or split. Big tool handle is in a permanent world of hurt in this household.

Author: southernfusionfood

Writer, Woodworker, and Happy Eater

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