Carve a Staff / Walking Stick





Introduction: Carve a Staff / Walking Stick

About: 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 also like gadgets, whether it's taking them apa...

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

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

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

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

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'

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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:



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136 Discussions


Question 4 months ago

I've been excited to do this! Will a branch from a fig tree work well enough?

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.

1 reply

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

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

1 reply

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

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

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?

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!

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.

1 reply

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?

8 replies

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.

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.

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?

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!

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!

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.

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.

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,