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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Have any of you guys figured out how to earn a living making walking sticks and canes? I have been at it for nearly 25 years and it can be a hard road to follow. Some years work out really well, but some years are really lean.

It's hard not knowing if I will sell quite a bit this month or hardly anything.

I guess it keeps life exciting.

Spend the winters searching for sticks and the summers creating walking sticks.

Any tips or suggestions would be appreciated.
 

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Stixman you ask a question that I have also struggled with as long as you have. I have been making sticks and carving just about every thing I thought would be marketable. I have never found a formula that worked for a extended time. But I do not keep a inventory to do shows and events with. The people I know who do seem to make a living, live on the road doing shows and art events from spring to the fall. build a inventory in the winter and make more on the road. And I only know two of them and they say it is either feast or famine, every year. I am not willing or able to do that. I get a few referrals now and then on canes or a walking stick. But most do not think they want to pay for the hours that goes in the a hand carved cane. I sell a few nice looking sticks I clean, finish and stick a hames on the top. But rarely get a commission for a nicely carved cane or walking stick. I am happy to be able to support my tool habit some times.

Randy
 

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I have not been making sticks near long enough to give you any insight. Stick making for me started out as, and continues to be a hobby. The time in the woods collecting, the carving and the finishing of the pieces is my reward.

I have sold a couple sticks to a few folks that have seen my pieces while we were out traveling and camping. That money is purely a bonus.
I am fortunate to be retired and on a pension after 35 years in the industrial insulation trade. If we had to rely on my stick making to earn our bread we would starve!

I have thought about getting into a craft show here and there but the crowd has to be right to sell sticks and the good craft shows are getting rather salty for what they want for booth space. So for the time being I will continue to make sticks for my enjoyment.

Mark
 

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Stixman,

To start off on a tangent, yesterday when leaving a market, I saw a fellow being helped to load his car. He was walking w. a curly stick like you make. I wondered if in fact it might have been one of yours, but I felt awkward about approaching the fellow and asking him where he got his cane. At any rate, the sort of stick you make has some demand.

To the topic. I started messing w. stick making a few years before the retirement option came up. My wife suggested that perhaps I might want to pursue the craft as a part time job. I did consider it, but I couldn't find any way that I could make even minimum wage.

Here were the things I thought over. See if you have solved them.

Did I havesome tools. Only a few remnants from back when I did sculpture. Unfortunately a fellow I knew had asked to "borrow" about $300 of gouges I had, and those left town w. him soon after. I had a few power tools, but all were for simple home improvement, and were near worn out. So acquiring the tools was possible, and tho' my wife was willing to let me spend the money, I'm sure she didn't understand how much it could have cost.

Then there was work space. I'd long ago realized that my basement was too cramped for wood working. My garage is detached from the house, and has no power or insulation. I make do working on my porch, but it isn't well suited. Many folks I know who do arts and/or crafts rent space because they can write some of the cost off to offset taxes, assuming they make enough money from their practice to need the offset. Had a friend who offered space in his garage, which he used as a painting studio, but he passed away suddenly from a heart attack.

Raw materials. At first I couldn't figure out how to get enough. In the past year or so, I've realized that I could probably get a good supply of sticks by associating w. some of the tree services that the city hires to clear the roads after storms, or the utility companies use to clear right of ways. Most of the trees where I live are varieties of maple, some oak. Not always the best wood for sticks, but passable. You seem to have access to a good supply of sticks, but for a time I couldn't see how I could get enough to work on.

Sales outlets. Almost none. For a few years, there was a place that stocked local craft work, including some of the things made by the local carvers association. Thats gone. There is still a nature center that has a gift shop. There are gift shops and galleries in some of the tourist towns in the vicinity, but their business is quite seasonal, and their commission is usually at least 30% Shops in large towns have enough space for maybe 1 out of 10 producers.

I looked at what it would take to get space at arts and craft fairs, and the cost was daunting. Stalls at the farmers' markets are much the same.

That leaves internet sales. I've known people who have had some success via that route, but they do spend a lot of time watching eBay auctions, and more time packing & shipping stuff off. For awhile, I made a few $s setting up sites for them, or showing them how to code their own. This does seem to be a viable approach.

But the biggest problem is the market. The demand for walking sticks or hiking poles is a minuscule fraction of what it once was. Custom knives, custom firearm embellishment, even custom wine bottle engraving have larger markets, and generally better heeled clients.

The demand for canes for medical assistance is up w. an aging and overweight population. Unfortunately (and I'm sure you know this) the demand in that sector is jammed w. mass produced canes in a wide variety of styles and embelishments. And they are really cheap, even when sold at the few mass market chains that carry them.

To me, the conclusion was one that I had reached some years ago for other items. To be competitive, one must use some sort of reproduction technology. I know there are computer assisted wood carving tools. Altho' I always want real natural materials, it makes a lot more sense to make a very high quality original, and then cast it out of some other material. More than a decade ago, I was involved in a project that made chocolate bars from a cast developed by digital scanning of a historic carving. The original was worth $500000. The scanner and software to run it was another $300000. Then there was the established chocolate shop that could turn out enough bars that 4 oz only cost $8. Both casting and CAM have come a long way in the past decade or so. An individual might be able to make a go of it now.

Eventually, one's work might gain enough esteem that people would consider buying the original for a decent price.

Next up, the cost of ingenuity and skill...
 

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I make canes, not walking sticks, but would like to contribute. The tech at my eye doc ordered one for her dad . . . I charged her $20 . . . prob not enough. Then the doc who did my root canal last summer ordered one for his brother...I charged him $30 but he gave me $40, which I accepted.

Since then I've had two offers - the postmaster has ordered "4 or 5" and the check out clerk at the hardware store has requested one for her father. I've told both of them $40 each and they are ready/wiling to pay.

But here's the deal.

I'd rather give them away to people I know and love.

So that's the current plan.
 

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Gdenby - Great analysis and well penned article. I too, have found that there is little to no "real money" to be made with making sticks, but there is a heck of a lot of pleasure in gifting them. I do sell just enough to keep my hobby funded. But, certainly could not make a living at it.....
 

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"What is making a living?"

"What is your market and what are they willing to pay for your item/service?"

If you can live off of 6000 - 10000 then it could be more feasible than if you needed 30000+

If you are selling sticks for walking, it is different than selling 'art' to collectors. People usually pay more for an item that speaks to their emotions than they do for a utilitarian item. This usually takes a different road than other stick makers that creates a demand from a select market.

For example, when the Twilight movies and books were the hot item, I carved 1/4 inch wolf charms for bracelets that were described in the books. I was pulling 15 to 50 bucks for those little things. I probably made 3k in just a few months. But when that fad passed, it dried up like the sahara.

That said, yes it is possible to make a living, but not probable. You have to become a 'master' of your craft (which will have cost associated with it) and find the niches. It also helps to diversify, have the skills to carve other items, or do restoration work, etc.

Then you have the benefits of making traning books and vids (easier now with all the outlets), hosting classes..etc.
 

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You hit the nail on the head gdendby with what you say.

i do sell a few sticks ang get abot 80 of your dollars for them, but the materail costs for them would come to about 30 of your dollars. for a very detailed stick i would ask about 80 to 100$.

but this wouldnt get you the mimimum wages you need to live.

I only sell by word and mouth now .If a friend wants one i have already made i let them gave it at cost.

I will only carve things now for people that interest me , but sometimes i spend hours researching and drawing things out, once you have a pattern its simple enpough. but no one will pay you for those costs,

The british ch\mpion at the club i attend wouldnt even consider making a crook for un der 225$ of your dollars , but they are very exceptional quality and that would be his simplist stick.

The other guy who make hand carved sticks for a living seems to be up and down with sales but he has a six mnth waiting list now for his work and only supplies hand carved items and dos`nt try to compeat with the ordinary walking stick .He does attend a lot of county shows and has built his reputation up over a number of years.

He has a web site ,if you just ytpe Bill Lowe stickmaker it should get you there

However my work does seem to be attracting some attention and have been getting some enquires and the club members say i do now have some ability to supply hand crafted items , but i wouldnt make a living from it,

For me its about improving my skill level and taking on new challenges , have fun, and if i can cover my costs i would be happy, but people just try to take advantage and expect you to give them one. So there for friends and relations only
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Most of the walking sticks and cane I sell are from my website Kentucky Walking Sticks, however I also sell on Etsy, other business websites, and word of mouth. I have found that offering a variety of walking sticks and canes is productive. Some customer are looking for a very special walking stick or cane (Carved Snake), which I sell for $350 + shipping, however other customers are looking for a basic stick, which sells anywhere from $35 (Tobacco Stick) or $80 (Curled Stick).

This past year I have sold quite few unfinished sticks, both curled and straight.

I also try to offer options for the sticks purchased, such as initials, handles, ferrules,rubber tips,....

On average I tend to set a sales goal of 700-800 sticks.

I am always looking for new ways to promote the website, which can be extremely difficult. The Esty store looks to have a bit of potential.

Shipping is my largest cost, due to the number of sticks shipped.
 

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I think its been mentioned before, but look over this Wikipedia page. Search engine optimization is (or by now maybe was) a basic for web sites.

I think Etsy is a great bundle of shops. My former employer blocked direct transactions with it, so there may be some limitations.

'

My mother was doing art fair sales of watercolors in the late '70s & early '80s. Some of her friends were irritated by how low she priced her smallest paintings. Actually, those paintings were some of her best, little gems as it were. The advantage she had was that she had learned to do her own framing, and could make a one off with little trouble. I think your purchase options are a similar strategy. Initials, dates, inscriptions are really good ideas.

Do you sign your sticks? When I made paintings for a scant living, I signed and dated anything I thought was good. One of my patrons was particularly pleased w. the date addition. Collectors can have some very picky criteria. You may not profit by it, but somewhere down the road, someone who may have a couple of your snake sticks from over the years might have a nice bequest.
 

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Stixman, I am grateful for your Kentucky Walking Sticks web site. You sell good sticks at a fare price. There are those of us who can not get out like we once did to gather inventory and it is nice to be able to have a reliable source.
 

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To harvest good sticks is time consuming and dam cold.

But for most its the purchase of the shank ,paying postage , buying carving wood and either paying carriage on that or fetching it yourself it all adds cost to the stick , thats before you start straightening it , cutting to lentgh fitting a ferule ,carving the topper iether painting it and varnishing it painting it usually means primer undercoat and top coat then varnish. whichever you prepare for. Coating the shank with danish oil a few times, then intial coast of posting , all in all lots of factors to consider when costing something up not forgetting the time it takes. Dont forget the drawings and researching the projects and redrawing

So how long does every one spend on the stick, do you time it, , do you consider the time you need to break of from the job to revive yourself and stand back to asses it and what about those dam mistakes thats made that ruins the thing, who costs those in?

What about equipment costs? replacement tools and heating and all the band aid used ,lol , let alone protective disposable itme , dust masks etc and protective clothing. i always use a leather apron and a dust mask with protective glasses and gloves

wow scaring myself now sound like the dreaded heath and safety guy

One last thing is it good enougth to sell would you get other orders from it? dont fool yourself into beliving it is good get a honest opinion from a unrelated third party and dont tell them you have done it.just because we have done it dosnt mean its good?

be honest with yourself

but how do factor in the pleasure of doing it just chilling out from the rat race and the sense of satisfaction when complete just a thought and its this creative pastime thats keeps us going
 

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I agree cobalt, It is the doing. I love making sticks and carving. It is a wonderful escape from this crazy world.
 
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