Introduction: How to Make a Custom Fancy Walking Cane

About: I love creating art and functional art is a challenge that I am enjoying by creating one-of-a-kind canes and walking sticks, as these can be stylish along with functional and also comfortable to use. Each can…

Walking canes have been used since early man started to walk about and needed a tool to help him when injured or over trekking over uneven terrain. The cane is not only needed for the aide of assisting one to keep stable, but also has a history of being a fashion statement. A walking stick or cane has been used to assist the aristocratic elite from their high wheeled carriages, as the wheels where some 5 feet tall and were quite shakey when decending or ascending from them, especially when dressed in finery. Gentlemen and ladies would adorn a cane made from exotic woods, metals and gems to show their wealth and status. The technology of the cane has evolved little in the years of mankind, but the materials are varied and the quality of a cane can be judged by not only the fancy woods or ornamentation, but also the quality of craftsmanship.

My goal here is to show you how to create a sturdy, functional and attractive cane that the user can wear with confidence and pride. If all efforts are successful, the ugly, flimsy common store bought cane will be abolished with a more sturdy, attractive and comfortable cane for those who need one, and just maybe a new interest as a fashion trend will return.

The use of hand and power tools will be shown and in the event you do not have one, you can use the other. The techniques are basic and the better results are in the level of effort you choose to endure. You can make a simple, crudely finished cane in a day or take your time in shaping and sanding and have an elegant art object within a week.

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Step 1: Selecting the Wood. a Note on Safety.

Your choice of materials can vary as long as they are strong and durable and easy enough to work with. The harder the wood, the sturdier the cane, but it will also be harder to work with. I suggest a medium-hard wood such as Cherry, Black Walnut or Maple for the beginner. These hardwoods are common and the medium/fine grain is easy to work with. Oak has too coarse of a grain to my liking and may splinter more readily. Do not use soft woods such as Pine, Cedar or Birch as these will not be able to fully support the weight of a person, but for the sake of the project, they would be easy to carve and shape. Just make sure they are never used to support the full weight of a user in need of sturdy support.

When using harder, exotic woods such as Bloodwood, Ebony, Padouk, Purpleheart, etc., these will take more effort in shaping and finishing, but the results are extraordinary.

Eye Protection
Ear Protection
Dust Mask and Vacuum Dust System
A Note on Safety: If you don't want to lose it, then wear something to protect it. Your eyes, lungs, fingers, etc., are irreplacable. Flying particles and dust can damage your eyes and lungs. Wear the geeky equipment and be safe.

[Note: Electric and Hand tools are listed as optional for use upon availability.]
Wood for SHAFT: 34-36" Long (with grain) x 1.5 x 1.5"
Wood for HANDLE: 6" Long (with grain) x 2" Wide x 1.5" Thick
Wood for Collar (optional): 1.5" x 1.5" x 1" Thick
Dowels: 4 inches each - 5/8" & 1/4" hardwood
Drill Press
Forstner Bit: 5/8"
Wood Drill Bit: 1/4"
Saws: Table Saw & Band Saw or Hand Saws
Assorted Wood Files & Rasps (coarse & fine)
Electric Sanders (optional): Belt & Disc Sander, Orbital Sander
Assorted Sand Paper (36 - 320 grit)
Shaving Mule (optional)
Spoke Shaves (optional)
50" Wood Clamp
Wood Glue or Epoxy
Rubber Cane Tip
Oil/Polyeurethane Finish
Clean Rags & Paper Towels

Step 2: Cutting the Wood

Adjust the Table Saw guide to 1.5" width and cut the 36" length of wood. Mark the wood from one end to taper approximately 7/8" to the top end 1.5". Proceed to the next step to drill the dowel hole before cutting this off.

(Note: The safety cover has been removed for photography purposes.)

Step 3: Mark and Drill Inner Dowel Hole.

On the top end of the shaft, mark a line from each corner cross-wise to create an "X". The point where the two lines cross is the center of the shaft. Clamp the shaft so the surface is 90 degrees square from the drill shaft. While machine is OFF - Use a 5/8" Forstner Bit and mark the center of the "X" by indenting the bit into the wood. (This will help the bit find the mark and not jump when starting to drill.) Turn on machine and drill 1.5" deep. [Hint: The shavings should be vacuumed while drilling and you may need to bring the bit up to the surface to remove dust/shavings otherwise they may compact and jam. This can also heat up the bit and start to burn.]

Step 4: Remove Excess Wood on Shaft With Hand Tools.

Remove shaft from drill press clamp and return to the Band Saw.

On the Band Saw, follow the line you marked from the top to bottom, tapering to 7/8" wide and trim off the excess wood that will be the bottom of the cane shaft. This step helps eliminate excess wood that would otherwise take longer to remove.

[Note: It is always best to remove LESS wood and go back and remove more. You can not easily add wood if you've taken away too much.]

You can now begin to remove more wood to shape the shaft. You can use hand tools and/or power tools. Which ever are available. I am showing you how to use both.

This is a Shaving Mule. It is an old fashioned system to clamp and work on a piece while sitting. You can make your own or buy one. Your right foot kicks the foot stand to create pressure on the jaw to wedge the piece you are working on in place. This is used mainly to make spindles for chairs.

Using several different styles of spoke shaves and rasps, I taper the shaft down to the desired shape and thickness.

Do not do the final shaping at the joinery end, as you want to assemble the handle and optional collar before your final shaping. Otherwise you may remove too much material and have an unsightly void.

Step 5: Remove Excess Wood on Shaft With Power Tools.

You want to remove and shape the shaft enough to give it form yet leave enough wood to do the final shaping after assembly.

You can also use power tools to remove wood. I like to use both, as the power tools are fast but also very noisy and usually create a lot more dust than hand tools. Hand tools are slower but the serenity one can create is something you just have to experience first hand. It's a Zen thing. Either you want to go there or not. You can get there fast or enjoy the journey and get there in a more peaceful state of mind.

I use a Belt & Disk Sander and although you can take off a lot of material quickly by using a coarse grit (24-36), it does make a heck of a lot of noise and dust. The dust is very fine and hazardous especially when using finer grit (80-220). You should have a vaccuum hooked up to this and a dust mask is recommended, especially if working on toxic species of wood. Eye and ear protection are also a must.

Step 6: Cutting & Shaping the Handle.

The wood for the handle should be strong enough to hold up under the weight of the average person (150-200 lbs.). The denser the wood you can support a heavier weight. The shaft can be of a fancier wood, such as figured maple, cherry or black walnut. The grain of the wood should extend the length of the handle for strength. If you use a short grain along the length, then you must have a very dense variety of wood otherwise it could snap off under the weight of the user.

The size of wood needed for the handle is 6" L x 2" W x 1.5" Thick. First make sure the top and bottom sides are square so that when you drill the hole to connect to the shaft, the dowel will fit squarely, otherwise it will angle and your joinery connections will be off. Draw your design on the large surface of the wood. Mark where the handle joins the shaft. Mark the area where the hole is to be drilled with the "X" as shown for the shaft. Drill the hole 1.5" deep with the 5/8" Forstner bit, same as done with the shaft.

You can use the Belt & Disk sander to remove the excess wood to start shaping the handle, then use hand tools to get more subtle shaping. Error on the side of removing less than more as you will do your final shaping once the cane is assembled.

Step 7: Adding a Collar to the Handle & Shaft (optional)

For a fancier looking cane, you can add a collar between the handle and shaft. This can be of almost any type of wood. I like to use a contrasting color of wood to accent the rest of the cane.

Select a piece of wood at least 1.5" x 1.5" x .5"-1.0" Thick. Any smaller and you will have difficulty holding it in place while drilling. You may still want to use a hand clamp to hold the wood, as when the drill is in the wood it can spin and you will lose control of your grip. If you drill the hole in a larger piece of wood and then cut with the band saw, this will eliminate this problem.

Step 8: Assembling the Cane.

After your initial shaping of the handle, shaft and adding the optional collar, you can now assemble them. Measure the holes of all of the pieces with a thinner dowel, add them together and cut the length needed to fit the entire length of the cavity. (1.5" handle + 1.5" shaft + 1." collar = 4" of 5/8" dowel). Trim as needed to make sure all of the pieces fit snug and tight. If there are any gaps, you need to sand or cut until it fits.

Using wood glue or epoxy, glue pieces together and secure with a bar clamp. Use a soft rag to protect the handle from being dented by the clamp. Set aside 24 hrs.

You can now do some additional shaping using hand and/or power tools. Remember to not do the final shaping until the side dowels are in place, as you may have some tear out from the drill bit and will need to sand down the wood to remove this.

Step 9: Adding Side Dowels

Remove assembled cane from clamp. Lay the cane flat on it's side and with a pencil, along the length of the cane, mark the center of the cane 1" above and below the joints. Then across the width of the cane, mark 3/4" above and below each joint. This is where you will drill to insert the 1/4" side dowels. These dowels will cut into the inner dowel and hold all of the parts together should the glue fail to keep the different woods in place. This insures no movement will occur should the wood shrink or expand. You will not find this technique in cheaply made canes.

Using a 1/4" drill bit, indent the wood with the bit with machine turned OFF. Turn on machine and slowly drill through the cane. You may have some tear out on the exiting side of the cane, so you will want to have left extra thickness of wood to compensate for the repair of this.

Once the two holes are drilled, measure the 1/4" dowel, adding 1/8" on each side. Glue in place and allow to set 24 hrs.

Sand down the dowels and do your final shaping to remove tool marks and tear out. Start with 80, 100, 180, 220 grit and finish with 320 grit. Your cane should be looking quite nice by now and the next step of applying the finish will confirm all of your hard work.

Step 10: Finishing Your Custom Fancy Walking Cane

Now you're almost done! You've shaped, assembled and sanded your cane until you can't stand it any more! The beauty of the grain will emerge and show your hard work (or lack of if you haven't gotten all of those tool marks out.).

You will need to place your painted cane somewhere that is dust free and can dry for 24 hrs. You may want to clamp the bottom end so it's supported so the sides of the shaft or the handle will not touch anything. You may need to sand and touch up some areas if you have rough spots.

Using either a polyeurethane or oil/polyeurethane product, wipe on a moderately thin coat of the desired finish. Cover thoroughly, but do not leave uncovered areas and do so quickly as air bubbles will appear if you re-coat too many times. Wipe off any excess, as if using an oil/poly mixture, it will not dry thoroughly and will become gummy. Multiple thin coats dry faster. Sand in between coats until the final top coat. Allow to dry completely between coats.

CAUTION: Many of these oil finishes are HIGHLY FLAMABLE! Read the instructions and follow carefully. Dispose of used rags properly. NEVER toss a wet oil soaked rag in the trash. It will combust and ignite. Air dry or put in water and air dry before disposing in trash. Also use proper ventellation. READ the label!

Ouela! You are now the proud owner and creator of a fabulous, custom made fancy walking cane! Post your results for all to see!

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