My father’s knees are not what they used to be and he also has unstable blood pressure. So he needs a walking stick for support. He has a nice pair of aluminum sticks for nordic walking which he uses when he goes to town, but those are not entirely practical for when he goes into the garden and needs to, for example, carry a tool or a bucket in one free hand. Or hang the stick on the fence when he fills the bird feeder.
Thus I have decided to make him an old-fashioned walking cane to shake at clouds and kids stealing apples etcetera. It was a fun little project for a few days with me gathering walnuts in between its steps.
I have started with approx 25 mm thick and just under 150 cm long hazel branch fully dried offer the last few years in the attic. I have shaved off most of the bark with a drawknife and then I have straightened all those small bends it had using the same method that served me well when making my walnut collectors.
Then came some more work with a drawknife and a plane, until I had a straight-ish and round-ish stick approx 20 mm in thickness.
I have cobbled together a template for the bend and after boiling the end of the stick in water for circa 15 minutes, I have put it in and bend it about half the way.
Old trizact grinding belts are soft and pliable, whilst being very strong. so I have used one as a backing to prevent raising splinters. Unfortunately, I did do a mistake in subsequent bends so I have raised splinters eventually that has led to a loss of circa 2-3 mm of wood on the outer curve, but hey, I have never bent wood this much before, so I was still learning, despite having some prior knowledge and experience.
With a succession of several heats where I have been bending the stick more and more, I have gotten to a stage when it was fully wrapped around the template. Then I have put it aside to dry for a few days.
When the wood was completely dry, I took it off the template, sanded the whole thing to 320 grit (although definitively not as thoroughly as I would a knife handle) and I scorched the wood with a propane torch. Scorching serves several purposes – it makes the surface of the wood a bit harder, it gives the wood nice dark color and it makes the surface more resistant to rot.
I have also added a piece of steel pipe to the bottom of the stick to give it a better purchase on the soft garden ground, to prevent the wood from splitting, mushrooming, and abrasion.
After that, I have spent several weeks applying several layers of linseed oil by wiping it on-off every two to three days until the surface was sealed but not too shiny.
The last step, finished yesterday, was to add paracord wrap around the handle. It bulks the skinny handle a bit, compensating for the loss of material during incompetent bending. It has a lanyard loop so my father does not need to drop it whenever he needs both hands for short time. And the bright color makes it easy to spot when – not whether – he forgest it somewhere in the hedge or near the garden patch.
I have positioned the lanyard near the straight bend to force my father to use the stick with the hook end protruding between the thumb and index finger and the supporting stick being aligned with the ulna. There are many people who use these walking sticks the other way around, but in my opinion that puts more strain on the wrist and is actually less safe. I do not have scientific data on this, so I might be ronk. But this stick is ever so slightly bendy and when I test it, it seems to be more rigid this way than the other way around.
And what I have learned? First that I can do this. Second that I should make the template in such a way that the bend is drop-shaped, not semi-circle-shaped because the wood springs a bit back after taking it off the template. If I ever need to do this again, I shall do better. I can make snazzy walking sticks now is what I am trying to say.