Carving walking sticks or staffs is hugely popular and, I must say, a lot of fun. Walking sticks are one of the best souvenirs ever taken from a camping trip. Even those that do not carve, love removing the bark from a stick or carving their initials in wood. And, after all, Gandalf carried a staff complete with an enhancement of magic… and who wouldn’t want one of those?
So, what is different about carving a staff or walking stick than any other woodcarving other than its allure? Clearly, the greatest difference is the fact that it is carved on a 5-6 foot stick. Certainly, part of the fun of carving a staff is finding the perfect blank. Everyone’s likes are different and certain sticks lend themselves to different types of subjects and carvings. There are times I will want a fine straight stick and other times I will want something unusual… something that will add to my particular carving idea. Now having said that, it is generally easier to apply an appropriate carving to your found stick than it is the other way around. I often find that the stick will speak to me and indicate what the best subject might be.
Often on walks in the woods, while others are looking at scenery, I am looking for suitable sticks. Those that know me have learned to expect such. If your found stick is green, I suggest cutting it at least 6 inches longer on both ends that what you intend to use. This will allow for mild checking. I also suggest applying a sealer to the ends. If you can’t find a sealer, try using some old latex paint. I use a log sealer offered by Bailey’s logging suppliers. Sticks take varying lengths of time to cure depending upon the wood, its diameter and where you have it stored. If at all possible, I suggest storing a curing stick in a dry cool place, protected from direct sun light. Again, depending upon the wood species and the diameter, you may want to rotate the stick as it cures. Green sticks will often warp and twist as they dry.
As really good sticks are fairly hard to come by, you may want to consider a two-piece staff. By “two-piece,” I mean carving a head piece and adding it to a stick. A head piece can easily be added using threaded rod or a hanger bolt. This method is clearly easier but far less attractive in my opinion. An added head piece can be carved out of any wood.
One possibility for selecting a good stick is to find a nice straight sapling or young tree that is 2″ plus or minus and up root it. The root often provides good material for a carving. Turned upside down, the staff will taper downward. Curing a root mass is a little more difficult than the shaft and I suggest coating the entire mass with a sealer. Now since we don’t want to up-root a bunch of saplings to hopefully find one good one, I suggest reaching down into the soil and feeling around to see what its general shape is. Or, you can actually dig down on one side only and check it that way. None of us want to destroy a tree for no good reason. What you are looking for in a root mass is something twisted and gnarly. Using a straight root provides no benefit. Ideally, you can find something already dead and up-rooted.
Another thing to watch for is a crook or a branching out area that will lend itself to something creative. The Eagle, above, is carved in a branch from a larger shaft of wood.
Woods to Use
Now the question, what kind of wood to look for or use. In my opinion, it really does not matter as long as it is carve-able. Since walking staffs are generally thicker (+ or – 2″), you are not restricted to hard woods such as Hickory. Of course, this is not the case for canes which are generally thinner, requiring a hard wood. Diamond Willow is popular but unless you live in Alaska, it is also fairly expensive to buy. But there are lots of varieties of willow that grow everywhere and most are suitable. Cherry, Holly and Hawthorne are good woods to use. Each of these are extremely hard but the detail you can get is unmatched. Aspen, Alder, and willow are two good examples of softer woods. With these, however, you will want a thicker shaft than if it was a harder wood.
Another option is to buy a 3X3 or 2X2 of a quality wood like Alaska Cedar and carve it round. I carved a walking staff that I use specifically for use with my camera or with shooting from Alaska Cedar. I carved the staff and then added a MagMount Camera Mount. It also accommodates a Versa Rest that can be used for my spotting scope or pellet rifle. These things are available at Treeline in Provo, UT or at Amazon. In fact, treeline carries a large supply of cane and walking stick carving supplies. I have had real good service from them over the years. Treeline can be found at www.treelineusa.com . By the by, I am not being compensated in any way for mentioning their name or referring anyone to their site… I just like them.
Finishing a Walking Stick
I don’t know, there is just something that does not resonate with painting a walking staff. I prefer to simply oil mine with Howard Feed N Wax Wood Preserver. This product and others like it bring out the natural colors in the stick and add to its all-ready beauty. Paint just does not cut it.
It is a good idea to put something on the bottom of you newly carved stick as pounding it through the woods or across a stream will eventually take its tole. You really have a choice of rubber tips, metal tips, or even a spike. I use a rubber tip mostly as they are cheap and easily replace and can be used on any surface. Other tips have their specific uses and placing a spike on a staff that you might be displaying in your living room may not be a good idea.
Of course, you can add lanyards, feathers, beads, or just about anything else to walking sticks that you would like.
Clearly, one of the benefits to being a wood carver is that you have a ready source for gifts for just about any occasion. People love to receive hand carved pieces and at the top of the list are walking sticks – hands down. Its easy to add someone’s initials or otherwise personalize it to the delight of the recipient. My daughter has one of my sticks and she told me that literally everyone that enters her living room heads straight for the walking stick.
So, get ye into the woods, find a wonderful stick and get to carving.
Keep sharp, and always be carveful
Please visit my web site at www.WhiteEagleStudios.com .