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!
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Step 1: Tools Needed

Picture of Tools Needed

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

Picture of Obtain a Stick
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

Picture of Learn About Bark

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.
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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


jaubin1 month ago
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.
EricB121 month ago

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 |

AlexL44 months ago

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

oli.tom800 AlexL43 months ago

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

I picked up a dead piece of Cypress wood and want to use it. It looks to not be rotten or be infested with insects. Is it possible to preserve it and use for a walking stick?

If you have the time, allowing the wood blank to dry in the sun for several weeks with the bark still on it will prevent much of the checking/cracking/splitting that occurs when working with green or wet wood. It allows the wood to dry more evenly. Of course that means a little more work to strip the bark and/or do your carving, but for me it's worth the effort. And yes, it's best to gather your blanks in the fall when the moisture content is lower. Nice Instructable.
turtle1262 years ago

I have cut my stick, but wasn't sure how to round the end.
Your instructions are very easy to follow.
Thank you for sharing!
Could you mut a sword or knife in there or not?
Cyclone17642 years ago
about a year ago i made a staff like that while camping, I cut of some bark to make a pattern and I used rowan because legend says it burns evil (+ it is springy and good for rough terrain)
HOMEPIE646 years ago
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?
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 thepelton6 years ago
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 zzoe6 years ago
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 thepelton6 years ago
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 zzoe3 years ago
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 thepelton3 years ago
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 zzoe3 years ago
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
thepelton zzoe6 years ago
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!
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 roldroyd3 years ago
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 l8nite3 years ago
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
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 roldroyd3 years ago
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...
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.
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.
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?
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 
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 zzoe5 years ago
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 gilleseg5 years ago
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 zzoe5 years ago
"Ironwood" is a generic term applied to any very hard wood from Persimmon to Hornbeam to Manzanita to Lignum Vitae.
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that could be it but the other one i made came out perfect, but it was a fresh cut tree trunk
So one was fine, and the other cracked massively? Welcome to the world of wood, my friend. Wood cracks as it shrinks, and it shrinks as it dries. If you don't let it dry too fast, you will reduce the chances of it cracking. So don't try and speed up the process by leaving it someplace hot, and if it is consistently low humidity where you live, age it inside. Or outside if it's usually dryer in your house than outside. You can never eliminate the chance of it cracking, though, and you can't pick by eye which ones will crack and which won't. You just have to let them age, then use the uncracked ones (or cut around cracks and work them into your design--I've done that a few times).
zzoe Rishnai6 years ago
You can improve your odds, however... Pick dead-standing saplings, if you can, in a dry spell in early spring, after Winter's dried out the wood. If not, try to harvest in the Winter, when the sap is down. After cutting, paint the ends of the lengths you've cut with wax, tree paint, or some other not-too-penetrating sealant. (this allows the wood to lose it's moisture gradually through the bark, which will help prevent checking (splitting that runs from the ends). LET IT DRY A LONG WHILE... a year or more, if you can. Be patient. Finally, remember (unrelatedly, sort-of) hardwoods are not always hard & softwoods are not always soft. Learn the traditional uses of your local woods - a staff should be hard, but also have a certain 'spring' to it, so look for woods that indicate those traits, along with the density ( 'weight-feel') you want.
Rishnai zzoe6 years ago
Good advice. I've made several walking sticks out of dead-standing aspens from my yard, and have had no trouble with any of them. It's the ones I make from trimmed maple that sometimes crack like mad. As for painting the ends, I never thought of that. 'Tis the season to cut wood, though, so I suppose I'll get the chance.
The only problem with dead wood found outside is the chance of woodworm. They could be killed with treatment but the holes will make the wood very brittle. I have discovered to my discomfort!
There are a host of creepy crawlies that can infest dieing and dead wood, such as termites, longhorn beetles, and a tiny pine beetle that has devastated a lot of the lodgepoles recently in Colorado and Wyoming. If the piece will fit, you can microwave it.
If you know that the wood was elm or paulownia, that can work in your favor. Elm has football shaped leaves with sawtooth edges, about 2 inches (5cm) long. Paulownia has immense leaves, and showy flowers like foxglove. Google it for a good picture if you live near the Potomac, where it was accidentally introduced.
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