"Methods to My Madness: Designing and Carving a Cane" #1: Choosing the Wood

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 11-09-2010 07:03 PM 5350 reads 5 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of "Methods to My Madness: Designing and Carving a Cane" series Part 2: Handle Designs »

I thought I would start series on how I make my canes, since I have been working on quite a few here lately. I wanted start with the design process, since I usually spend a week or so on that part, and then go into some of the actually carving and the tools and methods I use. It’s not exactly a tutorial with plans and such, but you should be able to construct a cane of your own with a little bit of work.

So, I usually start my design with the shaft of the cane. Since canes are used for many reasons, it is important to consider the person who will be using it and how they will use it. For an active hiker, a staff would be more appropriate, perhaps with a wrapped handle or hidden items that could be used in an emergency? Or dual ski-style trekking poles! A person that just needs a little extra support to steady them or for walking around town could use a much thinner, a more slender cane. These canes are very light and easy to carry, but they usually have a little flex when I bear down on them and would not be appropriate for a larger person who needs a cane as a medical necessity. If the intended customer is larger and needs the cane for assistance in getting up and really will be using it for a lot of support, then I need to make sure the cane is very sturdy and strong.

I usually size the shafts to range from 1”-1 1/2” in diameter at the top and then taper to 1/2” to 1” in diameter at the bottom. I have used 36” dowels, spindles that I have turned myself, stair spindles, bamboo, and a variety of salvaged and harvested trees and limbs. The choice depends on the effect I am trying to achieve or what the customer is wanting. I do some canes with the bark on. The bark can be very interesting with a lot of subtle colors and textures, but you should select sticks with thin bark that seems tightly attached and it is recommended that you harvest them in the winter when the sap is down. You do run a risk of the bark coming off, especially if sent to an entirely different climate. It also limits you in the types of carving that you can do and where you can do them. Usually, with a bark-on shaft, I will limit my carving to the handle area.

I love the bark and the shapes of Bradford Pear and thought it might work for what this customer wanted. But I decided to use a small cut-off to create a sample of the type of carving I would have to do to keep the bark and put a finish on it, so the custome could see exactly what I had in mind. It was not what she had wanted at all!

So I sent a picture of a piece of Crape Myrtle with the bark off. This is a readily available wood for me and the little limbs and bumps add a lot of interest to a cane, whether elaborately carved or not. This was more what she had in mind and it would allow me to do the full-length carvings on it, without the concerns of the bark being loosened. Next up, I’ll talk about handles.

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

6 comments so far

View hairy's profile


2729 posts in 3587 days

#1 posted 11-09-2010 10:20 PM

Thanks for doing this. Is there a rule of thumb on how long to let a stick dry?

-- My reality check bounced...

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4215 days

#2 posted 11-09-2010 10:35 PM

how wonderful!! this is great.

I can see that the designing is the hardest part – especially when dealing with a client who already has a “vision” of the end result.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View mpounders's profile


877 posts in 2950 days

#3 posted 11-10-2010 12:59 AM

I was always told to allow a year for each inch of thickness and I coat the ends with latex paint and leave the bark on. But…..... I don’t always wait a year and some woods carve better (easier) when they are green. I did a hickory cane that would have made me give up carving if I had waited until it was completely dry. I usually try and let my sticks dry at least 3 months and if they still seem pretty damp, I brush on a product called Pentacryl to prevent checking. I also wrap the carving in a plastic bag in between carving. You have to watch doing that, as mold can develop. I removed the bark on a large piece of crape myrtle and it literally split down the middle in a matter of days! Small checks can be filled with CA glue and sawdust or you can even use mixtures of stone and epoxy for some beautiful effects.

I enjoy the challenge of creating something that satisfies me artistically AND pleases the customer! It adds that little extra degree of difficulty that keeps things interesting! But it requires some patience, some persistence, and extra efforts in communication and listening!

I have a large quantity of sticks and although I can usually tell when they are ready to carve, it doesn’t hurt to use a marker to write the date down on the end you just painted.

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

View Bob N's profile

Bob N

131 posts in 3982 days

#4 posted 11-10-2010 03:08 AM

Thank you so much for this wonderful blog. I have long wanted to try making a cane, but never knew where to even start or find a proper stick. I will follow your blog closely in hopes to learh how this process works.

View TJ65's profile


1378 posts in 3104 days

#5 posted 11-10-2010 03:55 AM

This will certainly be interesting to watch and learn from.
Looking forward to it.
I might need one myself in a few years , maybe I should make one in anticipation!! :-)

-- Theresa,

View JudyH's profile


5 posts in 2819 days

#6 posted 11-11-2010 06:52 PM

I am looking forward to your next post.

-- Judy Hirst,

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