Picking up a dead stick is the simplest way to make a walking stick, but if you want a quality staff that won't snap in half when you need it most, you'll need to use specific techniques to make one. The tools required are common, and depending on the style of stick will include ones for digging, sawing, cutting, shaping and finishing. Most of all you'll need patience.
For a straight walking stick you'll need a saw, hatchet or axe. Look for a straight sapling with a flawless section 1 foot longer than the length you need. When you remove the bark and shape the wood you'll lose about 1/2 inch in diameter. Good staff woods include oak, hickory, ash, dogwood and persimmon. Hickory and ash are lighter.
For quick shaping, a drawknife is the most efficient tool, and a straight spokeshave gives a controlled finishing cut. With either you'll need a shaving horse or a vice. Use the horse or vice to hold the stock and the drawknife or spokeshave to remove the bark and shape the wood. Rough spots can be quickly cleaned up with a wood rasp. A good pocketknife will work but takes a lot longer.
Let the stock dry for a couple of months before sawing it to the final length. Cut waste from both ends to get rid of wood that split as it dried. A wood rasp efficiently rounds off the head of the walking stick and chamfers the foot. Ignore minor knots and small cracks, and smooth the stick with sandpaper. A light coating of linseed oil will protect the wood from moisture. Avoid high-gloss finishes--they'll rub blisters on your hands.
If you want a special style known as a shillelagh, you'll need a mattock and a hatchet when you harvest stock. For a lightweight walking stick with a horizontal handle, find a stand of sassafras and dig around to find a sapling that sprouts from a large feeder root. Chop it free with the hatchet, including several extra inches of root as waste length. For a stronger stick, look for Osage orange, a common fencerow tree once preferred for fine archer's bows. Beware of the thorns that cover it.
For a flawlessly peeled walking stick, cut a hickory sapling in the spring when the sap is rising. Immediately (this will work only in the first hour) use a knife to slice down to the sapwood the entire length of the stick, and pry the bark loose at one end. You may need to pound the bark with a mallet to slip it off, but it should come free in one piece. If you want to keep the bark on your walking stick, cut the stock in the fall. To limit checking (splitting), sink the wood underwater, held down with rocks, for a week or two after harvesting. The sap will leach out, and the wood will dry without much distortion.
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