CANES  &  WALKING  STICKS

by  BETTY  RAHBAR

 

WOOD:

There are a lot of woods that work well for making walking sticks or canes. Here are just a few:  maple, alder, cherry, diamond willow, aspen, sassafras, and even ocatillo cactus or walking stick cabbage.  They all can be peeled, carved or burned.

            If you are not into searching the timbers for a stick or branch, you can purchase them from different wood dealers.  The Northwest Wood Carvers Associations Resource List or vendors at the Northwest Wood Carvers Show are a good starting point.  To find out about other area shows, go to our web page "Events and Clubs".  From our "links" page, find a supply store and some of them will sell sticks for canes.   Youíll also find books, tools and other materials needed for this subject.

Tip:  It is a good idea to pay attention to the balance of your stick or cane, especially when it is curved or twisted.  When creating a cane for someone else, be sure that it is not too tall or short.  I was told that when the hand is on top of the cane, the arm should be slightly bent, approximately 10%.  Check the thickness of the wood for sufficient strength.  A diameter of 1-11/2 inches is good.

Editor's Tips:  Measuring for the cane:  To get the correct length, stand up straight with your normal walking shoes on. Let your arm hang naturally at the side. You will probably notice that it has a slight bend to it rather than being perfectly straight down. (thus the 10% bend which is higher than straight down). Have someone else measure from the floor to the second crease in the wrist. That is the proper length of the cane.

Measuring for the walking staff:   Hold a broom handle where it is comfortable for your arm.  Take a few steps to make sure.  Then measure from the floor to the top of your hand and add 2 inches to this measurement for the length of your staff.  The hand location is where you would put your hand covering if you are going to use one.  For a more decorative staff topper you may add inches to the top but your hand still goes where it was measured.  For most people it will feel comfortable when your elbow is at a 90 degree angle or slightly higher (that is with the forearm parallel to the ground).

TOOLS:

 Hand saw, gloves (carvers glove is best), eye protection, draw knife or large knife for removing bark, gouges, v-tools, and a drill may be needed to complete your project.  Other tools that may be helpful are a Dremel, vice and power sander.  Or if you keep it simple you may only need your carver's knife.

GETTING STARTED:

Tip:  Iíve made myself a large cardboard flat that folds for storage under my workbench.  It does a pretty good job at containing my mess when I work indoors.  When I am finished, I simply pick it up and dump the chips into a bucket for later use as a fire starter.

         Green Wood:  

  1.      It is best to harvest in the winter months when the sap has stopped flowing.   There will be less shrinkage, and therefore less checking. (Cracking at the cut ends).

  2.      Lay sticks flat to keep them straight.

  3.      Itís been said that itís best to dry green wood in a garage or shed (at a natural temperature), not in the house.   

  4.     To prevent checking, dry the wood slowly. One way to do this is to wrap the wood in plastic.  Unwrap for a few hours a day, gradually lengthening the time until dry.

  5.      There are substances that can be purchased at your local woodworker store to coat the ends of your stick to prevent checking.

  6.      If you choose to de-bark the stick itís easiest to remove from green wood.  

 

Dried Wood:  (cut and dried 6 months or longer)

  1.      If the bark is hard to remove, try heating it over fire or steam.

  2.      Check for areas of rot that might weaken the stick.

  3.      Bugs can be killed by placing the stick in one or two large plastic bags spraying insecticide inside.  Seal the opening and let set for a few days.   Use caution; read directions, spray in a well ventilated area and wash hands after touching the stick.

 

Design Ideas:

  1.      This is a tip I like to mention to new carvers:  carve what you love to look at--then you are less likely to get bored with the subject.

  2.      Placing the design onto the stick can be done with a pencil or a black marker (which is easier to see).

  3.      On a walking stick/staff you should make a place for a handle.

  4.      The amount of carving on the piece depends on your preference.  Some say that the majority of the carving should be limited to the top third of the stick so that it does not become overwhelming.  Iíve seen sticks carved to ranging degrees and found them all appealing.

  5.      Decorative tops can be carved separately, and added later.

Carving Tip:  If the wood is very hard and difficult to carve,  make a solution thatís part water and part denatured alcohol and spray onto the wood to soften it.  The alcohol helps the water to penetrate the wood faster.  This method can be used in all areas of carving.  This is also a good way to repair minor dents in the wood.

Walking stick grips, tops and cane handles:

 Grip:

  1. Suggested materials for grips are:  Leather, jute (twine), nylon, or decorative braids.

  2. Grips can also be carved grooves encircling a stick.  A ďVĒ tool or ďUĒ gouge works well to carve these grooves.

Tip:  Place the grip where the hand meets the walking stick while the arm is bent 90 degrees at the elbow.

 Cane Handle:

  1. Whether itís a natural bend in the stick or separately attached piece, make sure the handle is strong enough to bear the weight of the user.

  2. Take into account the curve in the palm for the most comfortable grip.  If you are making the cane for someone else, have them make an impression on a cylinder of modeling clay to get an idea of the size and shape of their grip.

  3. Other materials such as antlers or horns can also be used as handles.

Tip:  Keep any trimmed pieces from your cane for possible use as a handle and to test your finishes on.

Attaching Handles:

It is good to experiment with some of the different ways to attach handles since there varying characteristics to woods.  The load they have to bear is a factor.  The most common method is to use a hardwood dowel, dowel screw or double headed screw.  

  1.      Drill a hole into both the handle and staff to fit the dowel or screw.  It has been suggested to drill as deep as 2 inches into the staff.  

  2.      Mark your drill bit with a piece of tape at the desired depth for your hole.

  3.      Dry assemble your pieces for proper fitting before finishing with glue or epoxy.

  4.      The top 11/4 inch of the staff can be carved down to a dowel shape and inserted into the handle as above.

  5.      Similarly, both the staff and handle can be turned or carved with a dowel-like end and inserted into a brass or copper pipe fitting approximately 1 inch wide and 2 to 4 inches long.  This adds a bit of shine while covering the seam.

Tip:  Rings of different colored woods, bone or metal can be added between the handle and staff for a nice touch to the cane.

Tip:  Save the sanding dust to mix with glue or putty.  This will create a filling that more readily matches the wood.

 

Protecting The Base:  

  1.      Rubber cane tips can be purchased at pharmacies and medical supply stores.  They are designed for slip resistance indoors and out.

  2.      Rubber stoppers are an inexpensive alternative and can be purchased at most hardware stores.  Attach by drilling a hole in the stopper and the end of the cane, then gluing in a dowel.

  3.      Brass or metal ferrules make an elegant tip for a cane.  To attach, rasp the end of cane or stick into a gentle taper, try the ferrule for fit, then fix with glue and a small veneer pin. 

 Finishing:  

  1.      After carving and sanding is completed, be sure that all dust has been removed from your walking stick or cane.  Use a dusting brush, vacuum or tack cloth.

  2.      Wash any areas with bark and allow to dry completely.

  3.      Be sure that staining is done in a well ventilated area. Read and follow all directions given.

  4.      Use rubber gloves and an apron to protect skin and cloths.

  5.      Use plastic or cardboard beneath the stick or cane, to protect the work surface.

 Finishes: 

There are many finishes available, so choose one that best suits your needs.  Make sure you apply the recommended number of coats.  Make sure any paint used is compatible with the finishing substance, otherwise yellowing may occur.

 

Books that may be helpful:

            Tom Wolfe; Woodspirits and Walking Sticks

            Tom Wolfe; Carving  Canes and Walking Sticks

            Tom Wolfe; Creative Canes and Walking Sticks

            Andrew Jones and Clive George; Stick Making, A Complete Course

            George H. Meyer; American Folk Art Canes

            Adolph Vandertie With Patrick Spielmen; Hobo & Tramp Art Carving

            Maxwell; Old Time Whittling

            Harry Ameredes; The Fantastic Book of Canes Pipes & Walking Sticks

            E.J. Tangerman; has a number of books that might be helpful.


Note --  Here's a link to information about cane making supplies & parts.

Doug's Cane, Staff and Walking Stick Page

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