How to Carve Diamond Willow Walking Sticks

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Branches from the diamond willow tree feature softer skin and bark than many other trees, making them an ideal choice for many woodworkers and whittlers. The tree gets its name from the distinctive diamond shape that appears when you remove the bark; fungal infections within the branches cause the wood to grow away from the fungus, forming empty diamond shapes. To create a walking stick from a diamond willow branch, you will need to carefully cut and carve the branch with sharp objects, so take extreme caution when performing this task.

Things You'll Need

  • Pencil
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Circular saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Knife
  • Vacuum
  • Wood finish
  • Paintbrush

Stand the stick up next to you and mark with a pencil a position on the stick that is roughly 6 inches above your elbow. This is a rough estimate of the appropriate height of a walking stick; your individual preference may vary.

Put on protective goggles, leather gloves and a dust mask; wear these for the remainder of the project. Cutting, sanding and carving the willow stick will involve a lot of dust and shrapnel from the wood, and you must protect yourself.

Cut off any piece of the branch that extends beyond your pencil mark with a circular table saw. Gently sand the cut edges with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any sharp splinters.

Remove all of the bark from the diamond willow branch with a pocket knife, utility knife or hatchet. The actual tool used varies by personal preference. Cut away all of the bark to reveal the green wood and, possibly, some diamond shapes beneath.

Sand the stick's entire surface with coarse grit sandpaper. This will help you remove any remaining pieces of bark and create a smooth surface. Make sure you sand in the diamond areas as well. Sand the stick outdoors, as this action will produce a large amount of dust.

Sand the entire stick's surface with medium, fine and extra-fine grit sandpaper, in that order, to create a smooth, even finish on the stick. The surface will look and feel completely uniform once you have sanded with one level of sandpaper enough to move onto the next. Wipe the stick down with a tack cloth or vacuum with the soft brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner between each level of sandpaper to remove sanding dust.

Carve any designs or preferred shapes into the stick with your pocket knife or utility knife. Some stickmakers prefer to leave the stick unadorned, while others enjoy carving designs into the wood. This depends on your preference. If you wish to carve the walking stick, once you have done so, sand the carved areas again with fine and extra fine paper to smooth any rough or sharp edges.

Vacuum the stick with the soft-brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner to remove all dust from the diamonds and carved areas. There can be no dust remaining on the stick when you finish it.

Apply a polyurethane wood finish onto the stick with a short-bristle paintbrush that will allow you to get into all of the stick's crevices and diamonds. Don’t forget to apply the finish to the top and bottom areas of your stick. Choose your finish carefully, as some finishes contain dyes while others will simply dry clear. Stand the stick upright and allow it to dry overnight.

Apply a coat of wood finish. If you choose to apply more coats, allow each to dry completely before you apply the next. Follow specific product instructions, and your own color and finish preferences for the number of coats needed. Allow the final coat to dry for at least 24 hours before using the walking stick.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can find diamond willow sticks fresh in the wild or purchase them from specialty suppliers. Use only fresh, green sticks, as older fallen sticks may be decayed or infected with disease.
  • Some carvers allow the sticks to dry for a year after removing the bark. This gives the stick an aged look and makes carving intricate designs an easier task. This is optional and depends completely on your preference.
  • Power tools, such as rotary sanders, can make the carving easier and faster, but are often not worth the investment for a single project. However, if you intend to carve multiple willow walking sticks or are interested in completing other willow projects, consider purchasing these tools.
  • Leaning the stick upright while it dries can rub some of the finish off of the leaning area. If you want to avoid adding an extra coat to that area, consider installing a small eye hook in one end of the stick and hanging it from a coat hanger or similar support. You can later fill in the small hole from the hook if necessary.
  • Take protective precautions when working with sharp knives and tools. Cover your wrists, as well as your lap and any other area near the cutting surface, with thick clothing or leather aprons and bands. Clean any cuts as soon as they happen with antibacterial soap and bandage them to prevent infection.

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