The Basic Construction Used In Cane Carving
By L.S. Irish
The type of cane that will be focused on in this article is a basic three part stick.
Handle or Topper: Shown right it is a separately carved part of the cane and attached to the staff. Shown right the handle is the curved part of the cane created with Black Walnut.
Joint: Where the handle and staff are attached. In our sample to the right the joint is noted with a Teakwood joining band or spacer.
Staff: The staff or shaft of the cane is long pole that carries the weight of the cane. Shown right, our sample is an Ash staff.
The Handle or Topper can be carved out of most of your favorite carving woods. Basswood, Butternut, and Black Walnut are wonderful carving woods for this purpose, also try Black Cherry, English Walnut, and Soft Maple. When choosing what to carve your topper from remember that softer woods will allow you more detailed work and harder woods will give your more strength and durability.
The staff needs a strong hard wood. The strength of your cane is totally dependent of the strength of it’s staff. I personally prefer milled lumber for my staffs as Ash, Oak, and Hard Maple. My personal preference comes from my own impatience to complete the project, I find it very difficult to wait several years for a particular cut stick to properly season to use. It is not because milled lumber is in any way better that cutting your own sticks.
Many carvers do cut their own wild sticks for creating canes with spectacular results. Some favorite cut stick woods for staff use are Ash, Apple, Hickory, Black Cherry, Dogwood, Crab Apple and Oak. Woods to avoid for wild stick staffs are Maple, Popular, Sycamore, Black Walnut, and Willow. It may seem odd to list Maple and Black Walnut here, but neither of these branches are strong enough in the second and third year growth for cane use.
Wild sticks are usually cut during the late fall and early winter. The sap has settled by this time and the leaves have fallen to allow the cutter to see the true shape of the branch. Wild hedge rows are wonderful places to find cane sticks and keep a careful eye open for small trees with honeysuckle wraps. Orchards are fantastic sources for cane cutting.
Cut the sticks extra long to allow for checking, splitting, and to accommodate your final decision on the cane length. Trim any side branches to about one half inch. Now bundle the branches into groups of about six to ten sticks each.
These bundles should be hung outdoors in an area that is protected from rain and direct sunshine. Hang them root side up. Now walk away for about six to nine months. By next fall you can move the sticks into an unheated area as a shed or barn to complete the drying process. For drying the rule of thumb is to allow one year for every one inch of thickness. Since your staffs will be approximately 1 1/2″ inches thick to 1 3/4″ your cuttings will need about two years before they are ready for use.
If you want to learn more about cutting and creating your own walking sticks I highly recommend “Walking and Working Sticks” by Theo Fossel, published in Great Britain, 1986, by The Apostle Press.
A very fanciful cane staff can be made out of a specialty garden plant called Walking Stick Cabbage, it’s botanical name is Brassica oleracea longata. This particular plant has extremely large evenly spaced leaves and grows to about six foot high in one season, up to twelve feet high if wintered over to a second growing year. Once the leaves drop in fall you discover a wonderful texture at the leave node along the stem. Walking Stick Cabbage is easy to grow from seed and can be obtained from specialty garden seed catalogs as Territorial Seed Company.
In my personal experience once you begin carving canes everyone you have ever known or ever will know will want you to create one just for them. Unlike other types of carvings we create the cane and walking stick is the one piece of our art that will be treasured and passed down through the family. Fun caricatures and figurines, wall plaques and even carved jewelry boxes will eventually find themselves stored in the attic or closet.
Canes, however, are carefully kept leaning against the front door, readily within reach at any moment for any member of the household. Your cane will hold that honored place forever! It will be used by many generations. And one day someone is going to depend of the strength of your cane to prevent a slip or fall.