Whether you are a whittler or a wood turner, the selection of the proper piece of lumber is critical if you plan to make a walking stick. Since the stick will be long and thin, it should be made of material that is resilient and tough. Because is will be carried by the user, it should also be light enough to carry in the hand comfortably on long walks. Getting both of these properties isn't hard, if you take a little time in your material selection.
Choose the type of wood you wish to use. Hardwoods are usually the best for this purpose and will stand up to rough handling. Some varieties of spruce or cypress also can make serviceable walking sticks.
Inspect wood for moisture content. Most woodworkers don't have a moisture meter handy. A good initial test is to place your hand on the wood. If it feels cooler than room temperature, it's too wet to use. Never use freshly cut or green wood for a walking stick, because the chances are very good it will warp and/or twist as it dries.
Inspect for imperfections. Any voids or knots will create a weak spot. Tight knots smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser might be acceptable and can even lend character to the wood. Too many knots or knots that are too large can mean a weak project. A tight, even grain is best, though it is hard to find at most lumberyards.
Inspect for warping or twisting. Look down the edge of the billet. If it is warped or twisted, it is probably not the piece of wood for you. It is very difficult to flatten a warped board so, unless you get it for free, it's probably not worth your time.
Even seasoned wood will change moisture content with surrounding conditions. For best results, allow your material to adjust to conditions in your shop for a few weeks before shaping. After it has been finished and sealed, it will be less susceptible to changes in humidity. Rock maple, hickory, pecan, cherry or white oak can be good choices. Weights can vary widely between billets though, so be sure to check them individually. Although spalted woods can be attractive, you should stay away from them for walking sticks. Spalting in wood indicates a certain degree of decay, hence a weakening of the lignum that holds the piece together.
Before carving or turning any piece of wood, check your shop reference for wood toxicity. Dust or shavings from some species of wood can be poisonous or cause allergic reactions. These woods still can be used, but proper precautions should always be taken when handling them.