Buying Guide for Choosing Martial Arts Wood

Hello. This guide is to help you choose the type of wood that best suits you and your staff.

I sell only four main types of wood. These are Hickory, White Oak (Discontinued but I will leave the description here for your own information), Ipe, and Purpleheart. The reason I sell these woods and (mostly) only these woods is because the are all satisfactory or above in all categories. I ONLY sell woods I trust and have had extensive experience with. 

I use a rating system from F to A+ signifying B as satisfactory B+ as good, A- As Very Good, A as Excellent, A+ as the Best. I do not sell any woods that I deem below anything Satisfactory. (I do not sell anything that is anything less then good by the way)

There are a few categories that are of importance in choosing a martial arts staff. Will you be doing kobudo with it? Is it for tournaments? Do you want it for home use? To build muscles? To have an aerobic workout with? Do you want to take it hiking? Do you want a quarterstaff heavy feel or do you want as light as possible? There are almost an infinite amount of uses and considerations for a staff. So lets begin. 

The categories are: 

Hardness: This is what most people look at. You can look up the Janka hardness scale on the internet on your own if you wish. Hardness however does NOT mean it is best for impact however. It literally means how much it will dent when a force is applied to an area. Typically hardness and weight go together. There are other far more important qualities that go into a good impact staff. Hard staffs will last longer with contact, but a good staff will dent, but not splinter. 

Weight: The heaviness or density of the staff. Connected to hardness.

Flexibility: This is how much a staff can flex and bend before it becomes in danger of breaking or splitting. 

Impact properties: This is a hard one to describe. It is more a feel thing, however it refers to how the impact of hitting a stick on another stick translates into putting shock into your hand and transmitting force. You can get an idea of this if you played baseball and swung the bat and hit the ball on the inside of the bat and it transferred all the force to your hands. It hurts. This is not what you want for a staff.

Brittleness: This is a rating to describe how easy it is to get the wood to split. It is related to flexability, however it applies more to a sudden impact rather then a bending of the staff. It is however NOT connected to hardness and weight. For instance African Ebony, the hardest wood in the world, with the highest Janka impact rating, is quite brittle. I have received reports that my hickory staffs on occassion have shattered an (the Sensai's of the dojo actually) Ebony staff. (Afterwards he complimented the hickory staff, as he knows me, and said "That darn Hickory" Anyway... Brittleness is not at all connected to any of the other categories and each wood has its own brittleness. 

Beauty: This is subjective, however, it is not something to overlook. Beauty and asthetic appeal is one of the most important things in loving your staff

White Oak. (NOTE I almost never sell White oak anymore. I don't find it satisfactory for martial arts staffs, when hickory is so superior. I do however use it for tonfa, where it is quite adequate) 

Notice I do not say red oak. Red oak is very light, very cheap and VERY brittle. Not acceptable for any way for martial arts staffs unless you do not hit it or want a light weight staff for speed.

Hardness: B- to B+ White oak can be quite variable but it does not dent too easily.

Weight: B It is still a hardwood, however it is the lightest hardwood I sell.

Flexability: A- White Oak is a pretty good flexable wood. Not nearly as good as hickory. But much better then red oak.  

Impact Properties: B+ I don't recommend white oak for impact because Hickory is so superior in every way. I feel like if you have the option to use the best... you should. I doesn't feel bad and many practitioners do use it however usually because of its lightness I feel like my hands take too much shock and the wood not enough. 

Brittleness: B+ I have seen a huge variety of white oak, some being unusually brittle and some almost unbreakable. In general it is good, but because of the large variety I consider it somewhat not reliable which is why I recommend it for kata or tournaments.

Beauty: A- I consider white oak very beautiful in some cases. There are rift marks that you can see in some pieces that are absolutely exquisite. Not all white oak has this however, and at minimum it is a pleasing medium brown color. 




Hardness: A Hickory is the hardest native North American wood. It does dent (as does all wood to some extent), but it is usually very minor if noticeable at all and it does not tend to splinter or crack making its hardness very satisfactory for all heavy uses. 

Weight: A In general Hickory is a good heavy wood. I have seen some variety. But compared to normal staffs that you would buy from a mass marketer, a hickory staff would feel like you are holding a bag of bricks. I hand pick all of the hickory I use. 

Flexability: A+ This is the MOST flexible wood available. Hickory is like a rubber band and holds is structure amazingly well under force. It is used for archery bows for this reason, making is the safest wood under bending force.

Impact Properties: A+ I did an experiment once where I took a staff of ipe and slammed it against the concrete over and over. My hands hurt. I did it again with hickory, and it felt like it bounced. The force was NOT transferred to my hand in the same way, and my whole body bounced with it. This is the only wood used for axe handles for a reason. No other wood can handle impact as well. 

Brittleness: A+ It is not brittle at all. The grains are held together tighter then any other wood. In the above experiment no matter how many times I slammed (with both hands) the hickory against the concrete, the end would not split. This gave me tremendous confidence with it. 

Beauty: B+ Hickory is in general a plain wood, however this does not diminish anything from it. It may not stand out in a crowd like the others can but this does not mean it does not have its own inherent subtle or sometimes not so subtle beauty. It comes in two varieties. Hearwood and Sapwood (darker brown, and lighter brown) and these do not affect the quality of the wood at all. Sometimes these can both be present in the same staff making for many hickory staffs to be very unique. Hickory to me is a confident wood. Its beauty is in all the aspects of it that make it so great. And this adds to its alure. When you hold a good quality hickory staff you also hold your head up high and your body acts with confidence when you use such a tool.



Ipe wood. 

Hardness: A+ Ipe is the hardest of the woods I sell. Meaning ONLY it will dent the least out of any wood. However, although it is an excellent wood, it is not as high in the  brittleness department, as the world class hickory. Which we will explain later. 

Weight: A+ It is the heaviest wood I sell. 

Flexability: B+ I do consider ipe to be fairly suprisingly flexable. For the most part it is so strong you could not (or would not want to) make it bend, but it is not as good as hickory or white oak. 

Impact Properties: B+ 

Brittleness: B+ In the above experiment I was able to make the tip of an ipe stick shatter when slamming it against the concrete with both hands. Keep in mind that this was about a thousand times more punishment then any staff should undergo in any normal circumstances. But it is more brittle then hickory. Also another downside which although I do trust this wood a lot, when it does break it shatters and produces very sharp jagged edges, unline hickory which when it breaks produces kind of like something that resembles bent pine needles. 

NOTE: I need to explain here that when I say it is more brittle then hickory, this doesn't mean it IS brittle. These are some of the toughest staffs in the world. And I'm serious. These things are a tank. The least brittle wood in the world is hickory. But ipe staffs are right behind. Its like comparing the first and second best. They are both excellent, and under normal human conditions even those in the toughest dojo's both staffs will handle spectacularly against any opponent. It is a matter of taste and feel and preference, and one can have total confidence in either.

Beauty: A- Althought if you like a VERY dark brown staff, then replace A- with A+ :P 



To sum up. Its hardness and weight is comparable to hickory.

However it is not nearly as flexable. I would give it a B- It is the least flexable of any of the woods I sell. And once it bends it is nearly impossible to bend it back. When a staff naturally bends I worry because I know there is a chance of me breaking it when I have to bend it back into place. 

Impact Properties. I have seen a lot of variation in Purpleheart, but I would say B+ On the conservative side. However in this large variety, my main kobudo staff which is the best staff I have ever owned is a purpleheart staff that my father made for me over 20 years ago. It has been through COUNTLESS hits and dings, and has never splintered and hardly dents and is my favorite staff of all time and I still use it today. So purpleheart can be amongst the best at times. But in general, hickory is more consistent. 

Brittleness: I can't really say. It is more brittle then hickory and ipe. B

Beauty: A++ Its purple. 

Flexability. There are some caveats though. This takes a little explaining. Purpleheart bends fine, so it is not typically very fragile. I have seen exceptions, but these are few and far inbetween. I am able to root out brittle light purpleheart so there is some that is just terrible, but this is not typical. The problem with Purpleheart in the bending category, is that is is almost impossible to straighten. You can use heat, force, whatever you want, and more times then not, it returns to its original shape. So a lot of care goes into preventing it from bending in the first place.