Wood Carving Walking Sticks – Harvesting

wood carving walking sticksAutumn is my favorite time to harvest the year’s crop of walking stick wood.  The leaves are changing and beginning to fall, which makes finding and identifying the different tree species easier.  The sap in the trunks has begun to drop so the drying time is less than it would be for a spring-cut sapling.  But you can harvest at any time during the year, especially if you have downed trees because of storm damage or are doing yard work and pruning.

Let’s look at a few ideas on how to harvest, store, and dry your walking stick wood.


Harvesting from your landscaped yard:

1.  If you have a landscaped yard you may have several tree and shrub species that will work wonderfully for walking sticks and canes.  Maple, oak, and elm are common landscaping trees which can provide long, straight branches.  Winged Euonymus (Burning Bush), Rhododendron, Crepe Myrtle, and Bamboo are common yard cultivars that provide great stick material.

2.  If you are taking prunings, learn how to properly cut the branch and seal the wound to prevent damage and disease to your trees.

3.  Storm damage can provide a vast amount of walking stick material but please be careful of downed electric wires before cutting any branches.

4.  Your local county may have an area set aside for dumping landscaping trimmings at your local landfill.  Often you can find great branches that have been discarded by other homeowners that are free for the taking.


Harvesting in the wild:

1.  Before you begin harvesting along any roadside, open field, or wooded lot get the permission of the land owner before you enter their property.  Even though the tree saplings that you want to harvest are on the roadside of a fence line, the land owner’s property rights go to the center line of the road in most jurisdictions.  You can avoid a lot of problems by simply asking permission before you cut.

2.  When you speak with the land owner tell them what you intend to do with the sticks, how many you hope to harvest, and what particular types of trees you want to harvest.  I ask the owner for suggestions as to where I might cut on his land and which areas they want me to avoid.  Some property owners will allow you to cut specific species but want to protect others from harvest – they may allow you to cut oak, maple, and black locust but not want you to cut any sassafras or dogwood.

3.  If it is someone’s lot where you have not cut before you might want to take along a finished stick as a gift to the owner. A stick in hand is worth 25 or more small saplings and a happy, satisfied land owner will let you harvest year after year.

4.  Always let someone know where you will be harvesting.   Map out the territory and give a time estimate of when you will be returning home.  Take your cell phone with you.  Accidents can happen, so be prepared!

5.  Take a small camp shovel with you to dig out the root systems for briar roses, sassafras, and dogwoods.  The bulbous root nodes make wonderful stick handles.  Remember to back fill in any hole that you dig!

6.  Take along a folding camp saw for branch harvesting. They are lighter weight to carry than large pruners.  Small hand clippers and a good pocket knife are excellent for cleaning the side branches from the main walking stick.  Light weight nylon cord can be used to bundle your sticks and to make a carrying handle to get your harvest back to your car.

7.  Know the sport hunting laws and time tables for your region.  I never stick cutting after Nov. 1st.  In my area that is deer hunting season, which includes bow, black powder, and shot-gun. So late Sept. through Oct 30th for my stick harvests.

Storage and drying:

1. Storage and drying tends to be an area where every walking stick carver has their own personal techniques.  If you belong to a carving club or have access to online message boards for your region, take time to ask your local carvers what works best for them.  They know your climate and your tree species, so their advice is well worth discovering.

2. As a general rule of thumb, fresh-cut wood is dried for one year for each inch of thickness.  This means that a four-inch slab of new cut wood will take about four years to properly dry for wood working.  But since we are working with cut branches that are usually 2″ or less in diameter, most cut sticks only need about six weeks before they are ready for use.  Walking stick saplings cut in the early fall are well ready to work by the beginning of the new year.

3.  I bundle my sticks in groups of ten to twelve using 1/4″ nylon rope.   The rope is looped around the wide end – root end – of the stick, with the rope ends tied into a hanging loop.  The group is then hung from the rafters of an unheated shed or under the outside roof overhang of the shed.  I allow about 6 to 8 inches of space between groups for air circulation.  This keeps the sticks out of direct sunlight and rain.


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