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, http://mpounders1.blogspot.com