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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi, all,

I've noticed that several some cane vendors stress on their websites that their canes are only for balance maintenance. While I suppose this is an indication that the item is not for medical use, I also suppose that it is an indication canes and walking sticks are, as discussed elsewhere here, a matter of style. A costume element more than a tool.

My biggest area of interest is hiking sticks. For me, the number 1 consideration is function. The stick must be strong, with a comfortable grip area, and waterproof.

But having at least some embellishment is a close second.

My quandary is this. Most figure sculpture is done in woods that are not very hard. A few sculptors whose work I know have sometimes used wood as hard as oak, but much softer woods, walnut & cherry, for example, are much more common. Even softer woods such as basswood/linden are used, but often covered w. paint as the wood itself is rather plain. But if I want to make a really robust hiking stick, walnut and cherry (both of which I have, and am working on some cherry) don't seem strong enough.

I know that many stick makers make the handle or embellished area out of a softer wood, and join it to the harder shaft. This seems a reasonable method to me, altho I wonder about the strength of the joint.

I also wonder if the finer carving will stand up to long out of doors use.

So I'm wondering if anyone has a most preferred wood that is both durable and workable? I don't mind spending months working on something like hickory or osage orange, and would consider using power tools on them. But I produce so little as it is, a species a little less time consuming would be nice.

Or am I being over concerned about durability? I have made a few very light sticks for my wife, and she hasn't broken any of them yet. But then again, she's not going into any back country where the going can be tough.
 

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For me, Hiking sticks are usually single piece sapling around 1.5- 2 inch diameter, 6ft long with the grip around 4.5ft up and carvings/embelishments are shallow and along the top portion avoiding stress points or pivot points lower in the stick.

I have used (literally) all types of wood, dogwood, cherry, oak, walnut, birch, cedar and haven't broken a single one.

Would I trust any of them enough to hang from if I fell in a small sink hole, not many, but that scenario is extreme. I would, do, and have trusted them for tent poles, snake beating, fire poking, creek crossing, and general walking. I could put most of my weight on them (over 200 lbs) to push myself over gaps or up a hill

Canes can be a different animal as you have different pivot points depending on the style, but most of those can be accomodated with proper internal support mechanisms. I use 3/8 or 1/2 inch threaded rods to attach any joints and run them a few inches into the shaft.
 

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I only have 2 hiking sticks or staffs, one is wild cherry, the other is hickory. I have had the hickory one (the first one I ever made) for at least 30 years of hard use and it has never cracked. The cherry seems to be just as durable but I have only used it for a couple of years. For canes I only do root handle canes so far and I have mainly used maple, dogwood, oak, and black haw. All have proved more than strong enough for my 200 pounds.
 

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My son picked an oak stick that is curing in my garage. He picked one that is nearly two inches in diameter. He says that bobcats and other critters have attacked hikers in one of the areas where he likes to hike and camp in California, and that carrying a big stick is recommended by local officials.

On weekdays my walks are in town. Even then, the occasional loose beast (dog) can pose a threat. The big sturdy stick is practical for many reasons.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
For me, Hiking sticks are usually single piece sapling around 1.5- 2 inch diameter, 6ft long with the grip around 4.5ft up and carvings/embelishments are shallow and along the top portion avoiding stress points or pivot points lower in the stick.
Thanks for the specific dimensions. While few of my sticks are 6', I see that most are not any thicker than 1.5" I've been tending to look for thicker pieces in the past few months, which appears to have been a good thing. But I'll have a lot that will end up as what I call "lady sticks."
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
My son picked an oak stick that is curing in my garage. He picked one that is nearly two inches in diameter. He says that bobcats and other critters have attacked hikers in one of the areas where he likes to hike and camp in California, and that carrying a big stick is recommended by local officials.

On weekdays my walks are in town. Even then, the occasional loose beast (dog) can pose a threat. The big sturdy stick is practical for many reasons.
Or even not so sturdy. My wife gave one of my "lady sticks" to a friend who didn't like walking even in the parks because she was afraid of the numerous geese that live around here. Evidently, if you flick a stick sideways, many animals think you are as deep as you are wide. If you want to instill or provoke fear in many animals, geese being one, lift out a stick, or spread a cape. Or in the case of very aggressive animals, such as bulls or rhinos, don't.

But to return to the issue of sticks and strength, heres a site I found: Wood For Weaponry. There is a long list of woods the writer considers as useful, or useless, for Japanese martial arts. There are 8 No. Am. native species and 2 European that are named as excellent or possibly excellent. Hickory, Black Locust and Hornbeam are at the top of his list. One that I had not previously considered, hawthorn, is listed as potentially excellent. The thing that interests me is that hawthorn is evidently very tough, but has a Janka hardness comparable to walnut. Unfortunately, finding a sizable length of hawthorn will probably be difficult.

FWIW, there are a bunch of YouTube vids. under the listing "bokkenreview." He takes bokken sticks, a sort of wooden samurai sword, and tries to beat them to pieces. Among the vids I've watched, only an African wood called wenge, and hickory have proven to be indestructible.
 

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Gdenby,

Who intends on beating their walking sticks to pieces? Not sure what extreme measure you plan on exposing your sticks to, but I have found that most woods, even pine, are plenty strong enough under normal use, provided the thickness is sufficient (anything 1 1/4" and up is good). What can suffer when using softer woods is the aesthetic surface, which can sustain dings and dents, eventually looking beat up. As a woodcarver, I have admittedly used even basswood for the shafts of canes (with a hard wood handle) if the customer required something completely out of the ordinary and highly figured. In this case, I have used blanks as thick as 3" square in order to band saw out the figure. The final shaft ends up being rather thick, yet light, and is plenty strong. Mind you, these are mostly for the elderly or someone of compromised health, so although they require practical strength and comfort, they aren'r going out across hill and dale with it. I usually attach the hardwood handles (walnut, oak, maple) with a deep dowel insert strengthen with 3/8" threaded rod and two-part epoxy.

For walking staffs, I have used both cherry and walnut, and find them both to be quite strong, especially if they are being fashioned from mature lumber, as opposed to an immature sapling. For saplings, I regularly use maples, white birches, oaks, and sassafras. These all carve well with high detail and are very strong. You could beat a seasoned maple sapling against a tree trunk with all your might and still be hard-pressed to crack it. But again, in what circumstance would you do such a thing?

I have even carved staffs and canes from store-bought 3/4" thick poplar. laminated together along the length. These have proven to be very strong as well, holding highly detailed carving. The lamination joint certainly contributes to the strength.

Even some thinner shaft material can be very strong if it has a natural flex to it, such as hickory or bamboo.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Shawn, thanks for the feedback.

I posted the link to the guy whacking the bokkens because I found it surprising that even woods that I consider exceptionally hard and durable failed. I was quite surprised that the fellow snapped one made from osage orange on the first strike. (My mallet is osage orange, and I've bashed apart the handles of many gouges w. it.) That and smashing the oak surprised me.

It appears that hickory is the way to go for greatest strength. Or perhaps black locust. I suspect any embellishment will be minimal in those woods without power tools, or significant amounts of time.

When I was younger, and much more athletic, I put my sticks to fairly hard use. I assumed they would hold my weight while vaulting a stream, or be reliable jammed into a steep slope, and used as a climbing aid. Etc. Etc. Oak was always my preference. If I ever get to the point of offering hiking sticks for sale, I want them to be as reliable as possible.

Now, I want something that will support my weight if I stumble and fall in the woods (put it this way, I don't need to carry a pack full of food, 'cause I've packed it into myself.) I am quite unsure that a number of the sticks I've worked on would be strong enough in those uses. I think they can support weight down the shafts axis, but would fail from sideways force.

I agree that walking sticks generally do not need so much durability. They should be good looking, but offer enough support that climbing a long stretch of stairs is a little easier. Being shorter, side force is less of an issue. Almost all the wood I've gather and used so far has been acceptable. I came across references recently saying that even yucca and mullien flower stalks make decent canes if not subjected to side pressure.

My wife just wants something to steady her steps, and sometimes lean on. At this point, going up and down hills is quite unpleasant for her, and she sticks to pretty flat ground. I did make a staff from basswood for her, because she prefers something that weighs less than a pound.

Currently, I have been having some good results from sassafras, although it does seem that older wood, or perhaps wood that grew more slowly, is more desirable. Likewise, sycamore. As you mention, mature wood is preferable to sapling.

It occurs to me that fluting might be a useful method for both embellishment, and improved performance. That would at least reduce weight somewhat, and give the surface some variety.

While most of my wood working experience required durability, weight was not much of a consideration. The sculptures I did, I assumed would not be subjected to the elements, or much movement. So I'm still experimenting with woods with which I have little prior experience.
 

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Enjoyed your comments.

I have a customer (via the web) who is having knee surgery. Says he is a biker and weighs about 350. He wants a supportive cane that depicts an agressive looking snake. Considering his weight, and his large hands, he is rightly concerned about strength. He has agreed on my design, which shows the snake body looping around with the chin of the snake resting upon its own belly (for strength). The loop itself forms the handle. this will be carved from a huge slap of black walnut that I acquired a while ago. this slab is about 1 3/4 thick, and almost 4 ft wide (!) It obviously came from a huge and old tree. This stuff is hard! Despite the hardness, it does carve with handtools quite well, as opposed to locust, which is also very hard, but is very resistant to cutting edges, very fibrous or something. He wants it beefy because of his bulk. I will leave the general diameter of it between 1 1/4 and 1 3/4. This topper will be attached to a seasoned piece of bark-on Maple, naturally shaped with a slight back and forth wave to match the snake body. This will be a good example of bulk equating to strength; I am confident that this particular sample of walnut will be very strong, despite the crossgrained areas in the loop, because of the thickness, and that fact that it is so well seasoned. In fact, I will probably use rasps and files to shape the coiling body of the snake, and reserve the carving to just the details in the head portion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Enjoyed your comments.

I have a customer (via the web) who is having knee surgery. Says he is a biker and weighs about 350. He wants a supportive cane that depicts an agressive looking snake. Considering his weight, and his large hands, he is rightly concerned about strength. He has agreed on my design, which shows the snake body looping around with the chin of the snake resting upon its own belly (for strength). The loop itself forms the handle. this will be carved from a huge slap of black walnut that I acquired a while ago. this slab is about 1 3/4 thick, and almost 4 ft wide (!) It obviously came from a huge and old tree. This stuff is hard! Despite the hardness, it does carve with handtools quite well, as opposed to locust, which is also very hard, but is very resistant to cutting edges, very fibrous or something. He wants it beefy because of his bulk. I will leave the general diameter of it between 1 1/4 and 1 3/4. This topper will be attached to a seasoned piece of bark-on Maple, naturally shaped with a slight back and forth wave to match the snake body. This will be a good example of bulk equating to strength; I am confident that this particular sample of walnut will be very strong, despite the crossgrained areas in the loop, because of the thickness, and that fact that it is so well seasoned. In fact, I will probably use rasps and files to shape the coiling body of the snake, and reserve the carving to just the details in the head portion.
Sounds like a good commission, in that the client likes your design. Hopefully, he won't want, half way thru, an addition, modification, etc.

And, you get to work w. some great wood. A piece of walnut like that is a treasure. I'm sure you will be delighted doing the carving, no matter how exacting, and ! you get paid for it.
 

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Once upon a time... I was practicing bokken, wooden sword. I was seeking the hardest and heaviest (I'm big) and strongest wood for my bokken. I wanted wood that would crush all opponent's bokken!

Over time, I found that tough wood doesn't compensate for the 'skill' of the wielder!

A skillful swordsman can block the heaviest attack with little effort and no damage to the sword.

And 'lighter' = quicker, all else being equal.

You can get a practically unbreakable Dymondwood pole, in all sorts of colors and combinations. Waterproof, resin impregnated, last forever!

But HEAVY!

And when you are strolling for awhile, you are either a giant like me, or you are so tired that you leave the 'beautiful stick' at home and grab the lightweight, yet strong enough to fend off a bear if needed stick sitting out in the weather, and find it's simple beauty!

The terrain usually offers it's own sticks if you pay attention, and can be left for another when done... Zen.

But pride of possession is a powerful draw!

If it is waterproof, it is either a Dymondwood (layered birch, resin impregnated) or plastic, or covered in 'plastic' (urethane...).

I like to feel the warm velvety goodness of the 'living' wood in my hands. Some boiled linseed oil words wonders for preservation.

There are many options with all sorts of qualities, but light enough to be able to comfortably carry, to move quickly, if necessary (you might need it very quickly, and dragging an albatross is not the solution. Fondle your albatross at home, in front of the fire...).

It needs to be flexible, to an extent, and most hardwoods are less than flexible! There are, of course, exceptions.
As I said, unless you are trekking the Marianas trench under the ocean, for an extended period of time, does it really need to be waterproof? An occasional oiling should keep it in great shape for centuries!
A rubber tip on the bottom gives it extra grip!
 
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