Hickory. For Martial arts Staffs. Hickory.
White Oak for Tonfa (explanation below)
You can stop reading there if you want.
If you would like to know why, then read on!
Lets start with staffs. There is a reason that Hickory is the ONLY wood used for axe handles. It is because hickory has the best impact properties of any wood. It takes shock SO well, and is nigh unbreakable under normal circumstances. It feels like it bounces off objects and transfers force superbly. It has the perfect weight, and is one of the hardest North American woods.
Also keep in mind I'm answering this in an all around way. If you want beauty probably purplehear. If you want extreme weight, go with ipe, but all around, if I had to pick one to go to battle with. I'd reach for the fine hickory staff every time.
So with this said, why aren't ALL martial arts staffs made from hickory? This question is worthy of a good answer. The answer is that a hickory staff can't be mass produced. Because this wood is so hard to work with, every step requires careful precision and care. For one, hickory is not a straight wood. This requires someone going through hundreds of boards (or trees) to find the right one capable of making staffs, with straight grain.
Second, hickory eats machinery. It will dull the sharpest carbide cutters quite quickly. (Ipe is actually much worse in a seriously awesome way at dulling cutters) So Hickory is hard on your shop. This requires a special setup just to work hickory. Hickory chips easily, making it difficult to work with on that end.
That doesn't mean that you can't make one, it just means someone needs to be paying attention. But this has a HUGE pay off. Hickory just doesn't break. I find it difficult to say this, because it seems so absurd. After all when I was training in the dojo, we ordered staffs from a traditional maker all the time, and staffs breaking was common in my dojo. It wasn't until my dad made me a staff from Purpleheart that everyone understood what a handmade real staff could do. But after that digression back to the point. Not one of my hickory staffs has ever broken. I have people training with them in all areas across the world, in every way. I've sold thousands and thousands. And none have ever broken. And in the many years I've been doing this, nobody has come to me with a worn out hickory staff either asking for a replacement. So its sort of a myth that staffs break. Breakable staffs break. Hickory staffs stay.
Also Shoutout to Purpleheart and Ipe. I have other posts about them, and they are worthy of just as much, if not even more in some way, respect then hickory. Which is why I sell them too, and why I no longer sell White oak. The one staff that broke was a jo made from White oak. its not worth it, although it is a respectable wood also often, but its not in the same league as Hickory. Or the others.
I have comparisons for all the woods I use and have used in this page.
*As a side note, everything above applies to the hickory I use, however not all hickory is created equal. There are many different species of Hickory, and not all of them have the same hardness. I've seen some that is quite light, and I have to grade them all to make appropriate weapons. The two best species are shagbark, which is mostly what I use, and Pecan. The others are inferior. So you may see hickory in the lumber yard, or find a tree, and think it just doesn't feel good or heavy at all after reading the above. But thats because its not Shagbark hickory. Its some other lighter species.
As regards to tonfa, white oak is the best wood for these. Hickory, unless it is a lighter hickory, is just too heavy, and due to the size and no bending stresses and shape of the tonfa, white oak is the perfect wood for these, for contact or not.
The lighter hickories mentioned above would also be quite suitable for tonfa. But the heavier woods are just too slow and heavy.