Wood used for carving hilt?
I was just wondering which type of wood would be best for creating a hilt. I have heard a lot of wood carving is done on basswood and purpleheart, amongst others. What are your opinions? The only preferences that I have are a darker wood.

Basswood is a very softwood. It's used by begining wood carvers for it's ease of use and also that it's stong enough to hold shape and not splinter. I carved for around 4 years before I sliced my hand open during a project, during the healing process I picked up other hobbies. I recently returned to woodcarving because I'm interested in crafting a dagger handle. For practice I carved a new handle for my arming sword using basswood. It was easy to shape by hand, and so far has held up. Because of the grain structure of basswood though, I would steer away from using it has a finished surface, stained or otherwise (though it takes paint quite well). I would love to try some purpleheart. My friend just gave me a project of carving a new hilt for his Celtic blade out of maple burl wood, which I'm hoping for a cool pattern. Basswood so far has worked for me as a laminate core for a handle.
I think that just about any wood would work, as long as it's not rotten or too soft. On Darkwood Armory's website alone, they mention Walnut, Cherry, Oak, Maple, Purpleheart, Zebrawood, Yellow Heart, Wenge. I know some use ebony or cocobola. Just my two cents, though I'm by no means an expert.
Oh, and as to darker wood, basswood is very very light colored. Walnut, Purpleheart, Zebrawood, Wenge, Ebony or cocobolo, are all darker.
I'm not sure if you were thinking of staining the wood or not, but keep in mind it would give you some flexibility when it comes to colour while still keeping the natural grain appearance of the wood. As for the wood itsself, for appearance maple can come in a fair number of varieties, but can have a higher internal stress than other woods. Although it may not have as nice a grain, rosewood (various different types exist) can be very nice. Its a fairly sy olid wood and has nice colour. Michael specifically mentioned, Cocobola is a quite nice wood and good in colour and strength, and should be able to a fair bit of wear.
Because you expressed preference for a darker wood, I am guessing that you do not plan to wrap cord or leather over it.

For money, durability, and ease of machining, "stabilized" species (composite wood laminate sold by most of the wood working companies, and several knife maker supply retailers) may be worth considering. These are similar to well seasoned (avoiding corrosion and warp issues) natural wood, and can be very beautiful as well as available in suitable sizes for a grip. Even though the price per linear unit sounds high, getting the look you want in ideal condition for your intended use has value.

I am not 100% confident how Albion is doing their grips today, but at one point I believe they chose stabilized wood for their grips.
One thing you should probably consider is what wood is historically accurate. I donít know if itís just me but it irks me whenever I see a beautifully made medieval, European, sword (dagger, knife, seax, etc.) with a nicely carved hilt and then see that the wood is from South Africa or America. When making my own knives and such I didnít really care what wood I used when I was just starting out, and I have gone back to re-hilt many of my earlier pieces. I donít really know what period or place you are making your hilt for so I canít make any suggestions history wise, but a quick search of relevant historical artifacts should yield some results for you. Two woods that I like quite allot are: Boxwood, Yew, Curly Maple, and Dark Walnut, and Oak. For medieval pieces I tend to use either Boxwood, Yew, or for certain periods Antler, or Bone. Stabilized Oak is nice for grip pieces that are going to be covered in leather, last I heard this is what Albion uses.
Hadrian Coffin wrote:
Stabilized Oak is nice for grip pieces that are going to be covered in leather, last I heard this is what Albion uses.

I'm pretty sure Albion uses stabilized birch - not very attractive, so that's one reason why they cover it with leather.

Bubinga, AKA African Rosewood, is a beautiful exotic hardwood that Angus Trim used on his early models. Below is a Darkwood Armoury hilt that uses bubinga and an early ATrim that uses the same wood.

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from Darkwood Armoury

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ATrim TL1506
You should do some research first. Oak, for example, contains tannic acid that will turn black in contact with steel or iron. It can also corrode the metal. Other woods also contain or release acids.

According to research, you can coat the tang with a protective coating and/or coat the wood with poly, acrylic or epoxy. Also, keeping the wood dry is important.

I'm sure someone else will pop by shortly and add more detail.

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