Collecting walnuts is a really unpleasant chore each fall. For a week or so we have to pick up several hundred walnuts each day from the ground and put them into a bucket, putting a big strain on back and legs. Two years ago I have improvised a little thingy that makes this work a lot easier, and this year I have perfected the design and made two pieces.
It is nothing complicated, just a ladle with a very, very long handle. The handle should be so long that when you hold it against the ground at a comfortable angle where you can scoop up the walnut, it should be almost balanced at the point where you hold it, just a few cm before your hand. That way it requires almost no strength to manipulate and you can pick up the walnuts from the ground and put them into a bucket with minimal effort. It works so well that even my mother was able to do it even though she cannot walk around without a cane anymore.
The first prototype was made from a tin can and an aluminum pipe for window curtains, the second prototype was an old soup ladle with an old broom handle.
For the final version, I bought two cheap stainless steel ladles with flat handles. Then I took two willow branches, stripped them from bark and let them dry for a few days indoors over the radiator. When they were sufficiently dry, I have scraped and sandpapered them to a smooth surface finish so there are no splinters anywhere.
There are several options on how to fix the ladle to the end of the stick. I have simply cut about 15 cm slit into the thinner end of the sticks it and I also cut a piece of pipe that fits snugly around it. Then I inserted the ladle handle into the pipe, then into the cut in the stick and I hammered the pipe over the stick as a bolster. It does not need to be super strong, just strong enough to hold the ladle in place. Should it ever get loose, it should be possible to fasten it either by hammering the pipe further up the stick or by inserting a wedge.
As a final touch, I have screwed two steel hooks on the end so I can hang it in the shed, and I covered it with linseed oil to protect against moisture.
I have chosen willow, because it is extremely light and porous, dries up quickly and is for me relatively easy to get at appropriate size. But you could also buy shovel handles for this if you decide to make your own. They will be slightly heavier, but they will work. Broom handles would work too, but they are straight, and that is not optimal.
As you can see, these sticks are not straight, they have a slight bend to them, just as a shovel handle does. This helps a bit because the ladle naturally balances to a position where the nut stays in it. So you only need to exert force when picking up something, or tipping it out, not to keep it in. But one of the sticks was not only bent but downright crooked in all kinds of directions. And I did not guess the balance correctly when cutting the groove for the ladle handle on that one. That one tended to twist in the hand, causing it to not function comfortably.
So I had to re-shape it.
In case you ever need to correct a bend in a piece of wood, here is the most minimalist way:
1) Fix the piece of wood to your table or in a vice near the portion where you want to bend it, with one end freely accessible.
2) Hang some weight on the end of the stick and make any adjustments so it bends the stick in the desired direction. Here you can see me using a bucked and two bricks with a rope. That also allows me to regulate the extent to which the wood will bend – when the bucket rests on the ground, bending stops.
3) Wrap the area where you want to bend the stick with a towel – paper or cloth, does not matter – soaked in water. Really soaked, water should drip from it. Then wrap the towel tightly with tinfoil, but do not squeeze the water out of it.
4) Try and build something around the tinfoil that will help to keep hot air to hold in place there for a bit. Here you can see me improvising with fireclay bricks and a piece of aluminum profile.
5) Heat carefully the tinfoil with either heat gun or propane torch at least until hot water starts boiling and dripping out of it around the edges and then some more. With a heat gun at 550°C it took me about two minutes. The wood gets soft and pliable under the foil and as long as it is hot, it can be bent a lot more than it would normally be without cracking.
6) You can either let it cool wrapped or if you are in a hurry, remove the foil and wet towels without burning yourself. The wood cools quickly and when it does, it will retain most of its new shape.
7) Repeat on different parts of the stick as many times as it takes to get it right.