How to Carve Cedar Into a Walking Stick or Cane

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Experienced woodcarvers frequently add eye-catching flourishes to their walking sticks.
Experienced woodcarvers frequently add eye-catching flourishes to their walking sticks. (Image: Carved Walking Sticks image by Rob Hill from Fotolia.com)

Carving and finishing a basic, unadorned walking stick from cedar makes for a rewarding project. If you're a regular hiker, carving your own hiking stick can also provide extra comfort and stability when walking on uneven and/or steep terrain. You don't need expensive, electric power tools to complete the project, though you may need to be familiar with more basic tools before you begin.

Things You'll Need

  • Cedar branch (roughly 1 inch in diameter)
  • Small handsaw
  • Small, sharp woodcarving knife
  • "U" gouge
  • Rubber gloves
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Turpentine
  • Gloss spar varnish
  • Small bristle paint brush
  • Clean cloth rags
  • Chain mail gloves (optional, for safety)

Find a young, healthy cedar tree, and saw off a branch that is roughly 1 inch in diameter and a few inches longer than the length you need. Hiking sticks which are designed for actual walking rather than decoration generally come up to just below one's armpit.

Set the stick aside for two to three weeks, so that it can cure and dry out properly. Make sure the stick is laid out straight and flat, so that it doesn't bend or warp while it dries.

Strip all of the bark off of the cedar branch with a knife, cutting in a direction away from your body. Hold the knife at a slight angle in order to prevent excessive gouging of the wood underneath the bark. Think of this step as a skinning process, more than a carving process.

Whittle the end of your cedar branch to a blunt, flat point.

Put on the chain metal safety gloves, if you have them, and begin carving a grip into the wood, towards the top of the walking stick. The grip should be carved where your hand hits the stick, when your arm is bent at the elbow at a right angle. You can can carve any pattern you like, though rounded, finger-sized grooves running around the circumference of the grip area often make for a comfortable grip. Use a small “U” gouge, available at art supply stores and online woodcarving supply stores. Push the "U" gouge firmly into the grip area of the stick in a circular fashion, around the entire circumference of the grip, making a rounded indenture which meets full circle.

One option here is to carve five rounded finger grooves, each of which sits directly atop the other. Another option is to carve four rounded finger grooves directly atop each other, leaving your thumb to rest on the side of the stick.

Sand the stick smooth with a light grit sandpaper. Wipe all sanding dust away with a damp cloth rag.

Put on rubber gloves, then place a dropcloth or piece of cardboard underneath the walking stick. Apply a mixture of 50 percent boiled linseed oil, 25 percent turpentine and 25 percent gloss spar varnish to the stick with a small bristle paintbrush. Wipe drips and excess off with a clean cloth rag, and lean the stick against a wall to dry standing up for one hour.

Repeat Step 7. Let the second coat dry overnight, and repeat the step for a third and final time.

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