Introduction: Carve a Staff / Walking Stick

Picture of Carve a Staff / Walking Stick

In this Instructable, you will learn how to whittle a staff / walking stick out of a cut off branch. Just so you know, whittle means to carve, specifically wood carving. There is more than just stripping off the bark in this Instructable! This is the same method that Rick Wiebe, with 50 years of experience, taught me, so you can't say I did a bad job! Remember to rate if you liked this 'ible!

Step 1: Tools Needed

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The only tools needed are:

  • Axe or Machete Knife (used to cut down branch)
  • Knife (specifically a locking one)
  • Dry Wall Spackle or Old Ice Skate (Optional)

Step 2: Obtain a Stick

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Go into a forest near you and get yourself a stick, fairly thick, and long enough for a staff / walking stick, with the axe or machete knife. The stick I'm using is birch. You can also use maple, and many other woods. Then, slide the axe/machete along the bark to remove any twigs and knots. Sorry, I don't have any pictures of me cutting it.

Step 3: Learn About Bark

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In this step you will learn about bark.

In the first and second picture the bark is cut in layers. The brown bark on the outside of the cut part is called outer bark. The green colored bark I call green bark (I wonder why). The part above the green bark is inner bark. It's different from the wood itself because after a day of being open to air, it decays and turns orange, while the actual wood does not. The third picture is of a knot. A knot is where the twig/branch used to be.

Step 4: Learn to Whittle

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In this step you will have to learn how to whittle.

First, make sure your knife is sharp. If it isn't, sharpen it. Slide your knife along the bark, giving it some pressure. The bark should peel off in a strip, like in the picture. Try not to cut unevenly like in the second, third, and fourth picture. It causes you more work and stress. Cut evenly and cleanly, like in the fifth, sixth, and seventh picture. Don't work on making it perfect, all you have to do is remove the outer and green bark. Don't worry about the inner bark because it is removed in a different process. When you get to a knot, cut the bark on the left side from the left, and the bark on the right side by the right, so that it appears smooth.

Step 5: Finish Whittlin'

Picture of Finish Whittlin'

Finish wittling all the rest of the outer and green bark. It is easiest if you finish the middle, then the ends of the stick. Don't try to smooth out the stick with your knife, as you will end up with a dull blade! It will be smoothed in another step.

Step 6: Dry and Decay

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Leave the stick in a dry place indoors overnight.

This step is optional. you can skip to step 7, but it will be harder because you can't see the orange inner bark.The stick needs a chance to dry out, because it still has some water in it. Remember the inner bark? The next day the stick will look like it has orange bark on it, because the inner bark will decay and turn orange. This is helpful, because you will know exactly where the inner bark is when you go to smooth it out.

Step 7: Scrape It Smooth

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If you were wondering what the dry wall spackle or old ice skate was for, you will be using it to scrape the bark so it is smooth and clean. You can also use the back of your knife IF it is a locking one. You don't want to decapitate your fingers... If your doing this indoors, put the stick in a garbage container to catch all the dust. If its out doors it doesn't matter. All you have to do to remove the inner bark, is to slide the edge of the dry wall spackle, old ice skate, or back of a locking knife against the side of the stick. You will also find that there will be orange below or above every knot. Just scrape it with your knife to get it out. Continue scraping the sides back and fourth until there is no orange inner bark left.

Step 8: Round the Edges

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In this step you will round the edges.

To do that, cut the stick at the ends diagonally, like in the picture. Then turn the stick then repeat. Then just follow the pictures to see how to round the ends.

Step 9: Clean Your Knife

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Always make sure you have clean knife.

Follow my other instructable "Clean A Knife" to see how to clean your knife after use.

Step 10: Bare Minimum

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If you want to see some ways of giving your stick "personality", then look at the next few steps.

You can now call your "stick" a walking stick (or staff)! But it is only the bare minimum! You don't need to do the next 3 steps, but your walking stick would look much better with them!

Step 11: Woodburning (Pyrography)

Picture of Woodburning (Pyrography)

If you want to sign your name, or draw symbols, use a wood burner.

If you want your walking stick to have some pyrography on it, use a wood burner, like in this instructable, or follow this instructable, for how to do pyrography with a soldering iron. In the pictures, I used a wood burner.

Step 12: Stain

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If you want, you can stain your walking stick.

All I did was brushed on a coat of Cloverdale Timberlox Interior/Exterior Wiping Stain, waited 10 minutes, wiped it off with paper towel, then repeated that 3 times. If you want it lighter you would repeat it 2 times or only do it once. If you want it darker, just repeat it more times. If your going to do some wood burning and staining, I recommend doing the wood burning first, then staining.

Step 13: Add Finish

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You don't need to add finish to it, but I recommend to.

To add finish to it, I just sprayed on thin coats of Varathane. Be sure not to breathe any of it in. I sprayed it on in my garage, but you can do it outside too. If you do it outside, never do it on the grass, because your grass will die. Do it on a deck or somewhere without plants. After spraying on a few coats, have it dry leaning upright. Then, wash your hands.

Step 14: FAQ

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Feel free to ask questions in the comments section.

Key: Q: Question A: My Answer RW: Rick Wiebe (What Master Whittler/Carver Rick Wiebe Says)

Q: Do you know what kind of wood it is that you're using?

A: The wood I'm using is paper birch.

Q: How do you recommend protecting the end that goes into the ground so that it doesn't split?

A: If you rounded it, I'm pretty sure it shouldn't split. I've also seen some people put a crutch tip on the bottom, like in this instructable.

Q: I'm guessing the color of dried inner bark could be different depending on whether it's a softwood or hardwood. Also, if someone wanted to try their hand at carving some kind of pattern in the wood, should that be done immediately (while still green), or should you wait until the wood has been well-dried?

RW: The color of the inner bark is very Dependant upon the species. If you carve alder, you will notice that the inner bark and the outer bit of the wood will turn very red quite quickly after being cut. What is happening is the same as the discoloration of an apple after it is bitten into.

Some types of maple, (sugar maple for example) are very hard and probably aren't the best choice for sticks that will have faces carved in them. I often carve faces into the sticks while they are quite wet. Most types of wood are asier to carve when they are wet. Stick that are cut in the fall or winter will crack less as they dry because there is less moisture in them and therefore less to come out. As the wood shrinks it will crack. More moisture means more shrinkage and more cracking (usually called "checking"). It is helpful to let the stick dry a bit before doing extensive woodburning on it.

Hardwood and softwood are funny terms. Some hardwoods are softer than some softwoods. Balsa, the softest wood in the world is a hardwood. The trees called softwoods are the ones that are called coniferous, or what we usually call in Canada "evergreens" though some of them do not stay green all year round (larches and tamaracks for example). Hardwoods are what we call deciduous, which mostly lose their leaves in the fall and don't have cones, though some, alders for example, have cones, and others, arbutus leaps to mind, don't lose their leaves in the fall. I do not encourage people to make sticks out of coniferous saplings because they usually have a lot of pitch which will create problems. Also, many of the hardwood saplings that grow in the ditches etc., are considered to be weeds and there is no problems with cutting them down. Douglas maple, birch, alder, saskatoon, willow and aspen all fit in this category. It is fun to experiment with different kinds of wood and see which ones work for you and which ones you like.

Step 15: Conclusion

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This concludes "Whittle a Staff / Walking Stick"

Hopefully my instructable is not confusing, and I wish you luck on making staffs / walking sticks! I might later create an instructable on how to carve heads into your walking stick. Remember I will add questions from the comments section into the "FAQ" section, and I will answer them, and master whittler Rick Wiebe may answer some of them too. Remember to rate and comment!

Step 16: Modifications

Head on over to my blog, and check out a neat way of turning a walking stick into a hefty weapon:


paddymcmac (author)2016-02-27

Has anyone used those thick vines that hang from trees to make a walking stick? I cut a cool looking piece down and it's drying now.

How did the vine staff work out?

Weathered Wizard (author)2017-09-14

Dip the ends in wax or cover with duct tape to prevent cracking.

Drpadge99 (author)2016-11-16

Would you recommend instead of using an old ice skate, using sand paper?

sajakawa (author)Drpadge992017-07-04

I sued sand paper when I made mine start with 100 Grit once its done go over it again with 180+ finisheing sandpaper.

MetalMessenger (author)2017-04-26

Simple and easy! Just what I was looking for! Thanks.

cientoad (author)2016-10-04

I found my branch and set it in the kitchen overnight, for working on the next day. Found a lot of dust all over the floor the next morning,like a bug has been digging inside it. How does one clean the staff-to-be off such bugs?

StevenC192 (author)2016-09-17

I haven't read this before, but tried it myself, and it works Beautifully! After you've saved your "ironwood" for a year or so, stick it in a barrel of water for a couple hours, turn over and dunk the other half in....repeat if necessary. Bark comes off SOOOO easily!

ValerieF15 (author)2016-01-28

Apple wood hasn't cracked on me yet. Sweet Gum did, I learned to apply melted wax to the ends to slow down the drying. Before that I had one that cracked, but it turned out to be a good look. I rounded out the edges along the cracks. I think it looks nice with the crevices, it is a hard would to take stain well.

ValerieF15 (author)ValerieF152016-01-28

Geesh, I meant wood not would :)

HOMEPIE64 (author)2008-04-22

I HAVE A PROBLEM!!!! i whitlleted my staff : yes I curved the bottom: yes pyrography :no staining: no HERE IS MY PROBLEM: on the first day of cutting down my small tree it was fine, i got rid of most of the green bark. Day 2 i got rid of the rest of the green bark and rounded the edge. It was dry and ready for use. TODAY, DAY 3 IT HAS MASSIVE CRACKS IN IT!!! WHY???? WAS IT BAD WOOD? DID I WHITTLE WRONG? WHAT WHENT WRONG?

thepelton (author)HOMEPIE642009-02-16

Some woods are easy to cure, such as elm or Paulonia. Others, such as cherry need to be carefully run through the curing process, and even then much of the wood wil crack and crumble. I am assuming that you used some variety of wood that doesn't dry out easily. Taunton press put out a book on curing your own wood.

zzoe (author)thepelton2009-03-23

I will add that, for example, having made a lot of staves, when i had less experience, i attempted to make a staff out of hornbeam (Carpinus Caroliniana), a wonderful wood - i seasoned it, bark on for four months, then went to work, roughed it out and de-barked it. The next day, it had so many cracks, it looked a bit like rope. Unbelievable, i've never seen anything like it. Later, i made one from a piece that had seasoned for two years. I still have it - it is so durable, that when i accidentally shut it in a car's door, the door sustained a good deal more damage than did the staff. The type and age of the wood make a BIG difference. I usually look for 'dead standing' saplings in overgrown forest - they' already partially seasoned, they often are straight and grew slowly (they were struggling to reach the light), and i can tap them to see if they're solid. After cutting, and indeed after finishing, a good staff should have a ringing tone, if you hold it at the right place,and tap it. Also, i would recommend learning to use a drawknife and a spokeshave.

thepelton (author)zzoe2009-03-24

I live in Colorado Springs, which is over 6000 feet in altitude with winters that get below zero, and less than twenty inches of rainfall on the average. Recently, we have had a decade of drought, so the rainfall average may have to be recalculated down. The most common standing deadwood saplings here are either lodgepole pine or aspen. I have made a staff from aspen. I wish I could get some other varieties, like hornbeam or persimmon. I wonder if it would be possible to trade?

zzoe (author)thepelton2009-03-24

I grew up in Colorado (Boulder, Denver, Evergreen, &c.;) . You' re right about the aspen, not bad wood, a bit soft and it rots easily. Could work if you cut one live and season it. Nice thing about aspen - your not killing the whole organism when you do. You might try spruce. Avoid cottonwood. In sheltered valleys you might get lucky and find chokecherry, maple ( and remember box-elder is a maple - though not a really hard one - and can produce the occasional pretty good staff ), birch, and feral crabapple and plum - from which i have made some of my favorite staves. I am also open to trade. Viva barter!

thepelton (author)zzoe2009-03-25

I have seen plum and feral crabapple around the area. The problem with them is that they, like cherry, are difficult to cure properly from what the Taunton book says. I may just have to read up on them, and try anyway, preparing several at a time just to make sure that I can get at least one workable one out of the deal. As for trade, I love the idea!

amarzian (author)thepelton2015-12-07

I've used Ash, but boy is it hard. I took the bark off immediately, then carved it. No cracking.

I worked with plum, not knowing about it cracking, I left the bark on both ends until sufficiently dry. It has a lot of knots, which to me makes it better. I left some of the green bark which dried a nice brown and gives a mottled appearance to the stick. I clear coated it and it is beautiful. It is topped by a handle fashioned from another piece of thicker plum wood.

Yellow Wood is fairly soft, but boy it is beautiful. It's nearly useless as a walking stick, but it's such a pretty stick.

thepelton (author)zzoe2011-12-05

I recently made a woodturning out of a piece of box-elder with red in it. It smelled a bit musty while I turned it, but it finished beautifully.

zzoe (author)thepelton2011-12-06

Cool! Haven't tried it yet, but being a maple, it can't be all bad, though some think it weedy. Recently found out that box-elder can be tapped for sap (to make syrup) and apparently the taste is good... but i wonder where one would ever find box-elder big enough (or old enough) to tap.
Have you done any staves with turned handles or knobs? I've been toying with the idea.
Keep up the good work,

thepelton (author)zzoe2011-12-07

I have not yet turned a stave, but I have made some out of standing deadwood aspen. I plan to turn a stave very soon, and would like to put a knob on the end. Recently, I was turning a series of magic wands for

roldroyd (author)thepelton2011-09-12

Hi this is an errand of mercy - I have begun collecting wood from the local forest and want to whittle my own staves. The wood is a mixture of Pine and I have let the limbs stand for a number of weeks. My question is when can I begin carving and one I particularly love is really heavy (too heavy for me to comfortably use.) Will I be able to whittle this down and what would be the best technique. Thank you

l8nite (author)roldroyd2011-09-12

Im not sure how or why I got this in email (I look forward to hearing more comments or guidance about making my walking staff. I have collected the wood from a local forest and left it to stand for a few weeks. I guess I have to bite the bullet and just have a go but I am not sure I want the sadness of find that this beautiful is cracking. I there no way I can protect the wood ? ) I only do occasional carving so Im not all that knowledgeable, I do know you need to let the wood season for more than a couple weeks, a year would be better, some pieces crack no matter what you do, as long as it isn't to bad, I try to incorporate it into the carving. One of the best materials for almost instant staves/walking sticks/staffs would be replacement handles for shovels and rakes, they are usually made of ash or other hardwood and are a good height, they can be difficult to carve by hand but a dremel or other rotary tool minimizes that problem

roldroyd (author)l8nite2011-09-14

I do apologize, I am over enthusiastic, being new to this and having read some of your previous comments about making ones stave. I am afraid I thought go to the source and have bombarded people asking for help. My thoughts were really is there no way to keep moisture in the wood after I have removed the bark. I guess not and I need to see what will happen having already found out it hurts when the chisel slips. Thank you for responding

thepelton (author)roldroyd2011-12-05

A good rule of thumb for green wood is to cut it and set it aside for one year for every inch of thickness.

l8nite (author)roldroyd2011-09-14

Stripping the bark before the piece is dry is a common mistake but it IS a lot easier then. I hadn't thought about it before but perhaps if you set up a type of kiln to dry the wood faster like lumber yards do... it wouldn't be overly difficult, a piece of large diameter plastic pipe with a hairdryer at one end might even work. Im sure a commercial dryer gets a LOT hotter but for 1 or 2 pieces... might be a good experiment...

maddog52 (author)roldroyd2011-12-04

depends how good with tools you are,a rasp or file works well,knives need to be really sharp and sharpened often.moisture escapes from the end grain so use wood glue to seal can whittle it down fairly soon after you collected it,but as you work on the wood you set up stresses in the structure so leave it outside so it doesnt dry too quick,or if you arent rushing seal the cuts with glue as well.and the advantage with working green timber is its a lot easier to cut than seasoned wood.or just do what i do and have loads of blanks to work on.

whiteoakart (author)thepelton2010-02-12

email me directly from my Instructables home page.  I often trade wood blanks with others.  I have hornbeam, black cherry (lots of that), many varieties of oak, maples, hickory, sassafras, elm,  some juniper (eastern red cedar, much stronger than true cedar), prickly ash, sumac, and I can maybe get some Osage orange, but that is difficult to find in lengths suitable for a staff around here.

krististanton (author)thepelton2009-04-20

I cut off a piece of maple from the north carolina mountains. Can it be used for carving? It had a vine growing in it and made a nice spiral shape. We also have lots of persimmon trees but the wood is fresh?

philslizzy (author)krististanton2009-12-17

the maple sounds cool. We call it a twistie - very desirable and rare. If it's not too late I suggest drying it out carefully and slowly for months in the shed/barn/outhouse for the first couple then i a fairly cool dry area indoors later- with the bark on!  Taking the bark off when it's fresh will cause it to split. good luck 

zzoe (author)krististanton2009-04-20

Carving would most likely be fine, but if you mean for a walking stick, that depends upon what the diameter of the wood is - minus the bark. As for the persimmon, i've never worked it before, though i've seen things done in it, often beautifully. Given it's hardness and close relation to ebony, i suspect one WOULDN"T want to work it green (that is 'fresh'), but if you have lots to spare, there'd be no harm in a little experimentation. Good luck!

gilleseg (author)zzoe2009-05-19

you sound like you have made your fair share of staves. You wouldn't bt any chance sell them would you. I am in the beginning stages of making my first staff/hiking stick and am a little worried I will mess it up and not have a proper stick in time for a hike I am taking. If you were willing to sell one let me know. Also a quick question can you make a staff out of Iron wood?

zzoe (author)gilleseg2009-05-20

Fear not, it's not a pipe organ you're making. Trust yourself, and if you screw it up, make another. As far as having it ready for a hike, well, most places i've hiked, there's a fair chance of finding a decent stick trailside (don't cut down anything living if you can avoid it) - you don't need anything fancy, just sound wood, appropriate weight, and a knife to trim off twigs and shape the ends. That being so easy, don't rush the one you're making to get it ready in time. I do occasionally sell staves, but its like a good hat - do you really want to by one you haven't tried on? Also, shipping could be an issue. Where, in the world are you (area, not address)? The question of location also affects your question about ironwood. There are several (many?) species worldwide that are locally called 'ironwood', so that depends upon where you are. Where i am ( Catskill mountains, U.S.A.), 'ironwood' can refer to two different species: American Hornbeam - carpinus caroliniana, & Hop hornbeam - ostrya virginiana. They take a while - a LONG while to season, but i have a couple of staves made from these, both unsurprisingly very hard woods, given the name. I bit heavy, but sturdy - i once shut one accidentally in a car door, and the door was dented, the staff was, as far as i can tell, unscratched. For more information on these matters, read thoroughly this list of posts, others and mine, for there's a lot of good information here, from several people who, to borrow your phrase, have made their fair share of staves. Thanks for asking, and let me know which ironwood we're talking about, and perhaps i'll have a useful tip (or then again, perhaps not) Cheers, and good luck.

thepelton (author)zzoe2009-05-21

"Ironwood" is a generic term applied to any very hard wood from Persimmon to Hornbeam to Manzanita to Lignum Vitae.

kudzu63 (author)HOMEPIE642015-06-07

Sounds like the wood dried out too fast. That's about the only thing that will cause "checking".

Oh man! sorry to hear about your project going soooo wrong! I'm new to creatingwalking sticks and have a million questions.

henrywfstone (author)HOMEPIE642008-05-04

the only reason i can think of this happening is if you left it near a radiator or something pretty hot like a fire. this would dry out the outside side of the shaft too quickly making it contract and crack like soil in really hot countries but the inside wouldn't dry out as quickly. the answer to this is don't leave it so near a radiator. theres no way to fix this once its cracked. just start over with another branch unfortunately. hope this answers your question

HOMEPIE64 (author)henrywfstone2008-05-05

idk what happened

Arbitror (author)HOMEPIE642008-04-22

Well, if u told me what wood you used, posted some pictures of how/where it cracked, I could help you.

HOMEPIE64 (author)Arbitror2008-04-23

kk ill get the stuff together also i did do one varient , instead of useing a branch i used a trunk, a thin trunk and left the roots on to give it more of a warlock look t o it

Okisteri made it! (author)2015-07-22

I made mine out of birch wood. Used an old ice skate to clean it up after speeding up the drying of the bark with a hot air blower. I used a soldering iron to write my name and some runes on the staff.

I'm drying it in the sauna right now and hoping it won't crack. If it doesn't then I'm going to stain and treat it.

Thank you for the guide!

Okisteri (author)Okisteri2015-07-23

Birch has a tendency to rot if left to dry with the bark on. So it's necessary to strip birchwood of bark early on. I don't know if Finnish birch is different from American but that's how it works here.

Alfonso16 (author)2015-07-02

Is there a mfr who sells staffs ready for finishing?

kudzu63 (author)2015-06-07

Over the years I've made numerous walking sticks and staffs. I've also used just about everything imaginable to "skin" them with and to provide various finishes. One thing I've picked up from "old timers" is to use a piece of glass to put a finish on it. It works a lot better to wear a leather glove when you are scraping it with the glass, just so you don't draw blood. I learned that with a little practice you can get it smoother with glass than with most any sand paper. You can get off a lot cheaper too with glass, just break and old soda bottle and use the edges. If it gets dull, just break it off again.

mkleinabc (author)2015-04-27

Yes if you do not want your hiking stick with the bark always strip it right after collecting the wood. if you let the wood dry the bark will be 400% more difficult to remove and plus a lot more sanding to make it smooth if you want to remove it.

Walking sticks making is a great hobby <a href="">that extends you outdoors trips</a> in doors.

mkleinabc (author)2015-04-27 (author)2015-03-01

In regards to "what can you do to a stick once you peel the bark for it dries slower" Answer : I have been using this method for over twenty years, and it works well. Carve off all your bark while the stick is green & fresh, so much easier. Then grab some cheap varnish & give it a couple coats, don't worry about sanding, or that the wood is wet, it will still take OK. Let the varnish dry & tape a piece of plastic over each end "helps with slitting at the ends. Now the stick WILL still dry with the varnish on, just slower, if your stick is a bit crooked, now would be a good time to clamp it to a straight rail or some thing, that way when it is done drying, it will have dried straight.. When the stick is done drying, just sand the varnish off, not an extra step sense you would be sanding it anyway. When your stick is shaped & sanded to your liking give it a couple good coats of varnish, or tung oil "finish" And yes patience is a virtue when making a staff - stick - cane, etc.

Have fun


jaubin (author)2015-02-21

I leave near the NH coast and use driftwood to to make walking sticks. look for instructionals on how to prep driftwood if you go this route. the end result is a very light stick that is strong with a unique finish.

EricB12 (author)2015-02-13

Great article, although I feel the need to add, you should be careful what type of stick you use, not all are created the same and will tend to become fragile when they dry out. And also, do not forget to treat the wood with a finish in order to prevent corrosion and termite infestation.

Eric |

AlexL4 (author)2014-11-09

is it possible to burn a design into your stick and if so how?

oli.tom800 (author)AlexL42014-12-31

You can burn a drawing onto wood using a soldering iron. When i studied boat building someone drew a lizard on a bolsa surfboard with one. hope that helps

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Bio: One of my favorite hobbies is dismantling electronics, then either combining them together to create something new, or adding components to make them better. I ... More »
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