How to Make a Walking Stick or Cane from a Sapling

Make Your Own Cane or Walking Stick from a Sapling Tree

A DIY cane or walking stick is a great thing to have if you need a bit of assistance with balance. A walking stick also comes in very handy for hiking in the woods. There are plenty of ways to make your own cane or walking stick. This post will show you how to make them from a sapling harvested from your woodlot.

My Dad with one of the walking sticks he is working on.

DIY Runs in My Family

My Dad learned to make a lot of handy tools, furniture, and decorative pieces the way that his father made them. I come from a long line of ‘do-it-yourselfers’ who had to make do with what they had on hand. Coming from farm country, we didn’t have a lot of extra money to buy what we needed or wanted. So I grew up with quite a few handmade items in our home. The older I get, the more I appreciate my DIY background.

Here is a short video of my Dad showing me how he does some of the shaping and bark removal on a walking stick. He also shows me the knife he made from a worn-out reciprocating saw blade and a short length of copper water pipe. Keep reading for the step-by-step instructions he uses.

I distinctly remember my Grandfather making canes like this and my Dad has continued the tradition. I do believe he has outdone my Gramps!

For another post about my Dad and one of his projects, check out Dried Beans in a Jar or My Dad is Full of Beans!

My Dad in his workshop with one of his canes.

Getting Started On Your Cane or Walking Stick & A Precaution

Caution – These instructions call for using sharp objects and manual labor. Be sure you know how to use the tools properly and keep them sharp for the best results. I cannot be responsible for improper use of tools or any injury resulting from these activities. At one point in these instructions, my Dad uses a piece of broken plate glass to smooth the wood. Please use gloves and extra care when doing this. He has tough hands and a lot of practice with this!

Dad’s first jackknife

Selecting & Harvesting The Sapling for Your DIY Cane or Walking Stick

First, you need to harvest the raw materials for your project. Choose a hardwood species that is strong but not brittle. Maple, ironwood, locust, and ash are all good choices. Do not harvest more than you need or that your woodlot can sustainably produce.

The saplings used for the walking sticks and canes you’ll see in this article are ironwood. It grows well in my Dad’s woodlot and he has plenty for his projects and to leave enough for the future.

Look for a sapling that is about the right circumference around the base of the trunk. This will depend a lot on how large you want your cane or walking stick to be. You’ll want a fairly straight trunk without any large knobs, knots, or imperfections.

The sapling must be strong enough to support the person using it, without being so heavy as to be cumbersome. After a few tries, you are sure to get the hang of selecting a suitable young tree.

Finished canes

Dig or Cut a Sapling for Your DIY Cane or Walking Stick

To harvest the sapling, you will need a tool such as a mattock ax for digging up the roots if you plan to make a cane. A walking stick may be cut off at the base of the sapling with an ax, hatchet, or saw. The handle of a cane will be one of the roots, but a walking stick doesn’t need a root to form the curved handle.

You may need to harvest several saplings to find one that has the right size and shape of root to make a suitable handle. This is something you cannot plan for because, of course, you can’t see what the roots look like until you dig them up!

Using the mattock ax, carefully chop and dig around the base of the sapling about a foot out from the trunk. This will give you some space to swing the mattock without damaging the trunk. It will also save more of the root for your cane handle. You can cut off the excess later on.

Dig up the roots and knock the soil off. Does the sapling have a root that is about the right size, strength, and shape to make a nice handle? If so, you are done digging! If not, or if you wish to make more than one cane, you may dig more saplings to suit your needs.

Using an ax, hatchet, or saw, carefully remove the top of the tree and all of the branches. Be sure to leave enough of the trunk for your cane or walking stick. Don’t chop into the staff of your future cane or walking stick!

Curing & Rough Shaping of the Sapling

Once you have your raw materials, you can carry them home and cure them. Leave the saplings in a dry, protected spot to cure for 3 months or more. Once the wood has dried and cured, you are ready to begin shaping and smoothing it.

Begin by cutting the handle and staff off at about the right length for the person who will use it.

A drawknife may be used to remove the bark from your sapling.

Use a wood rasp or file to do the rough shaping of the wood. A rasp will leave deeper grooves in the wood, so use it for removing the large stubs left from cutting off side branches. You may also use a flat wood file for this purpose. Smooth off any stubs, knobs, or lumps that you don’t want on your finished product.

Removing the Bark for a More Finished Look

Once the cane or walking stick has been shaped to your liking, you may remove the bark. You could leave the bark if you want a rustic-looking DIY cane or walking stick. If you prefer to have a smooth and more polished look, use a drawknife, knife, or wood file to remove the bark. A file will leave grooves in the wood, so you will have more work to do to smooth those grooves out.

Smoothing the Wood

Once the bark has been removed, use sandpaper or a piece of broken plate glass to remove the sapwood or cambium down to the hardwood underneath, if you desire. You may also remove the sapwood selectively to create a design with the different colors of wood.

Smooth your final product down to remove any burrs, splinters, or cracks.

The design carved in the staff of a walking stick helps prevent your hand from slipping.

Carving a Design in the Wood

At this point, you may carve or file designs in the wood for a more decorative look, or to give a texture that prevents your hands from slipping on the handle when in use. For those who are skilled with whittling, you may carve the handle of the cane, or the top of the walking stick, with a shape. The head of a bird, dragon or other decorative design may be suggested by the natural shape of the wood. This is purely a personal decision and you may prefer to leave your finished product plain.

Finishing Your Cane or Walking Stick

Once your cane or walking stick has been shaped, smoothed, and carved according to your desires, you may treat the wood with varnish, paint, or another finish to your liking.

Walking sticks may have a hole drilled through the top of the staff for threading a piece of paracord or rope for hanging. The cord also allows the user to put their hand through the loop to hold the walking stick and still have the use of their hands.

Don’t Skip the Rubber Tip

Another finishing touch is a rubber tip on the bottom to prevent damaging floors and prevent the cane from slipping while in use. Without the rubber tip, it is much more likely that the cane will slip when pressure is applied, possibly causing a fall. You may need to whittle down the tip of the staff to fit the rubber tip onto the end. Glue the rubber tip in place if it seems loose.

If your walking stick is for hiking in the woods you probably don’t need a rubber tip.

ax handles stored for later use
Dad’s stash of ax handles, ready for him to pick up more ax heads from auctions and flea markets.

Other Projects You Can Make…

My Dad makes canes and walking sticks to give to friends, family, and fundraisers. The American Legion and other organizations have benefitted from his skill and generosity.

He also makes his own handles for tools such as axes, pickaxes, hatchets, mauls, drawknives, and many other tools. You can often find ax heads and other tools at flea markets, auctions, and garage sales for a reasonable price. If you like to salvage these and give them a new life, you can also make your own handles with a bit of practice!

If you’d like to make a fancy cane instead of this more rustic, homemade type…check out this article.

Walking Sticks to Benefit Veterans

I recently received an email from Joe at River Walking Sticks and I checked out his video about making walking sticks to benefit veterans…

I was really impressed with the natural beauty of the walking sticks and canes they create and it looks like a great company that helps veterans. Another cool feature they’ve added is the authentic military buttons that are embedded into the wood… how cool is that?!

Joe wanted to know my advertising rates… but I can’t take money from a company that is doing so much good in our world. So if you would like a walking stick, cane, or a cool shirt, I recommend visiting their website and purchasing some of their great products. Best wishes, Joe! And thanks for making the world a better place!

How to Make a Cane or Walking Stick from a Sapling Tree - DIY with my Dad by The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

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