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Step 19: To finish out the top of my cane and add some fun interest I have added a small frog clutching to the stick, just out of reach of my snake’s head. The tracing pattern is posted here or create your own cane hugger by marking it to the top of your cane topper with a pencil.
Cane huggers – small animals and birds that wrap around the sides of your cane – are an old carving tradition. These little creatures most often have out-stretched arms or wings that ‘hug’ the shaft of the stick. Beavers, raccoons, squirrels, mice, dragonflies, and, our choice, frogs are all found in folk art styled walking sticks.
Step 20: The frog is first stop cut using the bench knife, along the outer edges of the frog’s body. This separates him from the top area of the stick. I lowered the cane top about 1/8″ at the frog’s face and tapered it down to 1/4″ at the frog’s rump.
Taper the stick twist area of the top to gradually flare.
Step 21: Undercut the stick area into the top twist. This deepens the wood around the frog, making the frog appear to stand higher off the cane.
Shape the frog body, legs, and eyes using your bench knife to round-over each area. With 220-grit sandpaper and rifflers, smooth out the frog.
Step 22: You can harvest fresh honeysuckle vine to use on your Sassafras twist cane. Select second year growth or older – it will have a brownish tone to the paper-like bark. Green tone bark is first year growth and often is not strong enough to dry well.
Roll the vine into a loose circle and hang in a dry, dark space for about 3 weeks. This is long enough for the vine to loose most of its sap and moisture, but still be pliable enough for curling.
Strip the paper bark layer from the vine before you add it to your walking stick Sassafras carving. Honeysuckle looses its bark easily. If you leave the bark on the vine only the bark layer will be attached during the gluing. When the bark is shed you will lose the vine around your cane.
You can also purchase pre-dried, pre-striped honeysuckle vine, seagrass, raffia, and even paper rope from most baste weaving supply stores to use with your canes.
Soak your vine in warm (not hot) water for about 10 minutes. Lightly blot on a dry towel to remove the excess water from the outer surface.
Check the thickness of your vine – the thinner part of the vine should be at the top of your stick, with the thicker, older growth, at the bottom. Using super glue, place several drops into the vine trough on your carving then place the vine into the trough. Hold in place for about 1/2 minute. Work just one or two inches at a time, slowly rolling the vine around the cane.
Step 23: Cleaning and finishing prep steps.
With any cane topper my cleaning steps begin with a hard scrubbing using an old toothbrush which can reach into the deep undercuts. This is followed by a quick wash at the sink to remove any dirt and hand oils, using a small amount of dish washing soap, warm water, and a small glass scrubbie brush. Rinse well, but do not over-saturate or soak in the water. Blot your carving and allow to dry for about an hour.
Next, mix one part linseed oil with one part turpentine. Stir well, but don’t make bubbles. Brush one generous coat to all areas of the cane except the very bottom edge. Allow the oil mix to sit for 10 minutes. Wipe briskly with a dry cloth to remove the excess oil. Repeat one time.
This oil mix replaces the natural oils of your caving wood and soaks deeply into the wood fibers. After the oil finish has set for several days you can return and apply whatever finish you personally prefer, including polyurethane, varnish, or wax. If, as I prefer, I will add several more coats of oil mix over about a one week period as my final finish.
Step 24: My cane stick – a two to three year Black Walnut branch – is still green. So I will be dry setting this stick, and will not do the final glue-up until several months from now.
I have drilled a 3/8″ hole into both the cane topper and the Black Walnut stick. For my dry set I am using a 3/8″ hardwood dowel, which will be replaced with 3/8″ threaded pipe when I do the final gluing. My dowel holes go as deeply as possible into both parts of the cane to give as long a section as possible for the jointing pipe.
To hide the joint line between the cane topper and the stick, I have used my bench knife, and small round gouge to cut a 1/4″ deep well inside of the top of the Black Walnut stick. The outer 3/16″ of the stick is left un-carved to create a lip area.
When the cane topper is put into place on its stick the joint line between the two parts is hidden by the well area in the top of the stick.
In a couple of months, after the Black Walnut is well dried, I will set the cane using two-part epoxy and the 3/8″ threaded pipe.
Step 25: Thank you for letting me share my love of carving with you in this cane carving project!
Step 13: Very small, tight-arced round gouges are called veining tools. This tiny round gouge makes straight-walled, round bottomed troughs, which are perfect for deepening our honeysuckle stem area.
Similar to the veining tool is the checkering tool used in gun stock carving. The checking tool comes with either a small round gouge or v-gouge, plus it has an adjustable l-shaped arm. You make your first cut line in your checkering pattern. Then adjust the l-shaped arm to the distance you want between the rows. Drop the arm into the first cut row, and it controls the distance between the rows as you cut the next.
I note the checkering tool here because while you may not ever try gun stock carving, those checkering tools make wonderful backgrounds for your relief work.
Tear a small square of 220-grit sandpaper from the large sheet and roll it tightly into a tube. Use the tube to sand the honeysuckle trough area along the top of each Sassafras twist.
Step 14: It’s time to shape the snake’s head. To begin this area, I re-marked the outline and eye placement of the snake with permanent marking pen. Since we will carve this area, any pen markers will quickly be worked away.
Cut along the outer edges to reduce any excess wood from the head.
Cut along the edge of the eye area with a stop cut to lower the eye slightly on the head.
Step 15: Round over the eye area, using the bench knife.
Make a small, slice in the head at the outer corners of the eye, to emphasize the eye, and to create the impress of the jaw and cheek.
A Quick Reminder – I am posting this Twistie Stick Snake Cane each day on my favorite carving forums. Stop by, join up, so that you can post your questions and photos!!!! Carving forums are like potato chips … just one is never enough … Grin!
And while you wait to get started, visit Roy’s relief Carving Class thread – See our widgets in the right hand nav bar and on both forums!!!!
Step 16: Texturing the Sassafras bark is done with both the veining tool and your small round gouge. Cut small, shallow tear-shaped gouge strokes in the bark area using the small round gouge first.
Note in the photo that I am making the bark twist by angling my strokes with the curve of that twist area. Do a few veining tools cuts to add smaller texture strokes.
With the bench knife, make a few stop cuts along the top edge of the bark in the twist areas. These stop cuts make the bark appear cracked or split – a natural occurrence for any Sassafras stick.
Step 17: Bark, literally, lies on top of the wood of a stick. To emphasize that the bark and the wood are two different areas or elements, use your v-gouge to cut a small, thin trough where these two areas meet. You can also use your bench knife to make a few, shallow undercuts into the bark to make it appears as if the bark is slightly peeling.
A little more sanding … These cleaning steps are technically called ‘dressing out’ the wood and used to catch those little imperfections while you have them in your sights.
Step 18: There are many, many ways to work the scaling of the body of a snake, lizard, or dragon. What I am using here is the most simple and fool-proof that I know. In working my snake, I lost just two scales – two that ‘popped’ out during the cut and my solution to those two was to simply ignore them. Mistakes happen and sometimes trying to fix a mistake just makes them worse.
Begin by marking parallel lines along the snake body lightly with pencil. Also take a moment a re-fresh the edge of your small round gouge on your honing board or leather strop.
Up-end your round gouge, which means to hold the gouge at a 90 degree angle to the wood so that the cutting edge is go straight into the wood. Gently push the gouge into the wood to cut a half-circle profile cut. Lift the gouge straight out of the wood. This is a simple push and lift stroke.
I worked several up-ended small round gouge profile cuts along the guidelines to set the spacing of the rows. Then I worked off of that center cut to create the other profile cuts in the row.
Some of the profile cuts made with my small round gouge were slightly lifted from the snake’s body. To ‘heal’ them I rubbed the wooden handle of my gouge over the snake, moving from the head towards the tail. This light pressure sets the scales back against the wood.
Healing can be done at anytime in a carving. Example, if you make a stop cut that is slightly too deep, after the second stroke is complete, turn your bench knife upside down and place the blunt side against the deep cut. Use a medium pressure and pull the blunt side down the cut to ‘heal’ it back together. Work carefully! Remember, in this example, that cutting edge is now facing towards your hand!
This style of scale creation will leave a very light, gentle impression of scales along the body. They become more outstanding when you add the linseed oil finish later.
Step 19: At this point the work on the snake is complete, and the Sassafras carving is complete, except for adding the honeysuckle vine into the trough. This is a great stopping point for the weekend.
So, using your roll of sandpaper, rifflers (small, profiled files), and your bench knife take a little more time to dress out your cane. Next Monday we will begin work on carving the frog that holds onto the top of the stick, creating the joints for the cane and stick, and on the finishing oil steps.
But right now … you are ready to go make a bunch of twistie stick key chains for your family and friends as Holiday presents!!!! And, if you have questions, comments, or want to share your twistie stick carving, now’s the time.
A twisted sassafras stick is caused by honeysuckle vine curling around the trunk when the tree is still a year or two-year sapling. As the tree grows, so does the vine, reaching higher into the tree and thickening the width of the vine. Over the years that vine begins to straggle the sassafras trunk, forcing the tree to grow around the imbedded vine.
You will see in the photo that this process affects both plants. The sample is a wild cherry sapling that is already developing a deep, spiral scar. The honeysuckle develops a flattened side where it directly contacts the sapling.
Sassafras, wold cherry, dogwoods, and even young black walnuts are common twistie sticks as they share the same environment as honeysuckle – abandoned road sides and old fence rows.
The second photo shared here is a very old piece of wild grape vine – approximately 1 1/2″ thick. The vine has been dead for several years because of tree trimming by the power company, so it was ready to harvest. You can see the power and strength of the twist in this grapevine as it literally brought down the farm fence on which it grew.
A side note here, and just my personal preferences. I don’t cut twistie sticks in the wild, All of the common twistie stick trees are also the same trees that are so important to our local wildlife. Dogwood and cherry are major food sources for birds, rabbits, and deer. Black walnuts, of course, help feed our grey squirrel population throughout the year. And most importantly, sassafras is the only food source for the swallowtail butterfly during its egg, larva, and caterpillar stages of life.
Because I especially want those butterflies in my perennial flower gardens I am extremely protective of any sassafras that graces our fence lines and forest edge.
Step 7: Using a marking pen or pencil draw a line in the center of the area between the snake’s body twists. This will be the path of the top edge of the twisted stick curls. On my cane I had one area between the snake body curls that allows for two twists. Draw a second guideline 1/4″ below the first. This 1/4″ area, between the two guidelines, will become the honeysuckle vine area on the twist.
Work a stop cut, using your bench knife, along the top twistie guideline, in the background wood area. In the photo, my cane is held upside down.
The second stroke of the stop cut lowers the background area at the top edge of the twist.
Step 8: Everything between the snake’s body twists is sassafras wood. So the stop cuts in step 7 tapers that wood area into a cone shape that points down and into the top edge of the twist below it.
To emphasize the tape of the twist you can also use your large or small round gouge for the second stroke of the stop cut, instead of the bench knife.
Step 9: Using the bench knife, round over the top edge of the twistie curls – rolling the edge over to reach the second guideline mark.
The honeysuckle sits down and into the sassafras wood, so create a half-circle trough using your small round gouge along the rounded-over top edge of the twist.
Cut this trough several times, slowly lowering it into the wood. In the photo you can see the depth of the round gouge cuts in the second, right hand twist.
Step 10: With your bench knife return to tapering the bottom section of each twist. Smooth each area of twist so that the taper moves evenly from thick at the top edge of the twist to thin at the bottom.
As I am working my tapering I have begun undercutting the bottom edge of each twist. This is done by angling the first stroke of the stop cut behind the inside edge of the top of the next twist. When you make the second stroke, it will pop out a small v-shaped chip, leaving a narrow cut behind the twist’s inside edge.
Step 11: Begin shaping the snake’s body, head, and tail, using your bench knife to roll-over the sides.
When the body has been shaped, the rough-out stage of this cane carving is complete. At this point you have established the curve and shape of the snake and the curve, tapering, and shape of the sassafras twisties.
Step 12: After the rough-out stage is done I like to do a general smoothing to any project, whether relief or 3-D. This is done by re-cutting all of the areas you have worked with your bench knife. Drop the angle of the knife blade low to the wood – the blunt or back side of the blade is just 5 or 6 sheets of paper high off the wood. Lightly glide the knife across the wood, taking very small, shallow strokes.
The top right image shows the cane’s surface before the shaving step and the bottom right shows the shaving step completed. You can see that very fine, small cuts that smooth out the shape of the cane.
OK … Tomorrow we will work on texturing the wood bark, working the honeysuckle indent, and carving the little frog that sits on top of this stick. In the mean time if you have any questions, please post them now!
Thank you for reading today and for spending time with me at my carving table !!!!
The first stage of this cane carving, today’s work, is to establish the general round shape of the design, determine the path for our snake, and to drop the background area of the cane around the snake. Then we will work to create the path of the twist in the sassafras branch on which he climbs.
Please remember – you can click on any post image for a large photo.
Step 1: Please double check the sharpness and honing of your bench knife. Remember, the most dangerous knife or tool in your kit is the dullest. Use your bench knife and a push stroke to round-over the edges of your basswood blank. Work the cuts from the sharp corner to the center of each flat face of the stick.
A well rounded stick will have all of the original surface area cut. Note in the photo that no area has been left un-worked.
Of note, whether you are a relief carver or 3-D carver, at some point in any carving you want to insecure that you have actually carved all the wood. The milled surface of your basswood blank has a very different texture than the areas that you have cut. After you have added your finish – oil, varnish, polyurethane – that difference will dramatically stand out, making the un-carved areas an eye sore.
I like to double check my round by comparing the basswood blank to something that I know is a true circle, or close to a true circle. For this project that true circle is the inside of a toilet paper or paper towel roll cardboard tube. By sliding the blank inside the cardboard tube I can check for flat surfaces or planes that need a little more work.
Step 2: To easily create the path of the snake around the basswood blank, I have marked a roll of painter’s tape at 5/8″. For this cane that will be the width of the snake’s body. With your bench knife cut the tape.
Secure one edge of the tape at the bottom of your stick, and roll the tape around the stick until you reach the top. My tape ran at about a 45 degree or less angle. Looking at the stick with the bottom edge of the tape facing me, I have four wraps, with the last wrap right at the top of the stick.
Step 3: Please see the Step 6 for the pattern for the snake head. Using a pencil or marking pen, draw or trace the pattern for the snake head about 1″ from the top of the stick.
Mark two tapered lines for the tip of the tail of the snake onto the tape. Begin the tail about 1″ above the bottom of the stick.
Using a pencil or marking pen, trace along the edges of the tape to mark on the wood the snake’s body lines.
Step 4: Remove the tape. You can re-wrap painter’s tape to the roll and re-use it later for your next snake walking stick or for securing paper patterns and graphite paper to your relief carvings.
Create a stop cut along the outer edge of the snake body lines, cutting on the marking pen guidelines. A stop cut is made with your bench knife in two separate strokes. First, holding the knife at a 90 degree angle to the wood, cut along the line.
Make the second part of the stop cut by slicing into the first cut, moving from the background area towards the snake body.
I prefer to slowly drop the background wood in a stop cut area in thin layers or slivers at a time. As you work you can make the first cut slightly shallow, and then make the second background sliver into that cut. Then return to the snake body line and make a new, slightly deeper first cut. Again, work the second background sliver. This will slowly drop the background level of the wood, giving you more control over your depth of work.
Step 5: Continue working the two strokes of the stop cut along both sides of the snake body. The stop cuts are worked about 3/8″ to 1/2″ away from the body lines of the snake. This leaves the center area of the space between the snake twists high or proud. Those areas will become our sassafras twists soon.
Work the stop cut around the snake’s head. Notice in the third photo for this step, below, that the snake’s body has been ‘freed’ from the background wood by dropping the background areas.
Step 6: Work the stop cuts along the snake body until you are about 1/4″ deep at the marked guidelines.
The wrapped snake is a classic design for walking sticks and canes, one that has a history as old a Genesis in the Bible in the story of the serpent twisted in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge. It is a powerful image and one that is so easy to create in our carvings.
Using the wrapped tape method of creating the snake’s body path, you can quickly change the width of the snake by changing how thick or wide your tape is. The length of your snake also is easily adapted for either larger carving blanks or even short key chain sized blanks.
The snake head pattern is a simple to pencil mark directly to your wood. Begin with an equilateral triangle twice the size of the snake’s neck width.
Make a pencil line at each corner of the triangle to slice off the sharp edges. Now add a small half-circle just in front of the center point on each side of the triangle for your eyes. That’s it! Quick, easy, and fast.
Tomorrow we will establish the wrap of the sassafras twist and stop cut that area to create the second twist or wrap of the cane. Thank you for reading!!!! If you have any questions, now is a good time to sign up for one of the forums where you can chat directly with me.