Photo by Liam Mogan

How to whittle yourself the perfect walking stick

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This article was originally published in the Early Summer 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Whittling a walking stick is almost a rite of passage at the cottage. All you’ll need is a sapling, a handsaw, and a sturdy pocket knife. Poplar (also called aspen) makes a great staff. It’s resin-free, it’s hard (once it’s dry)‚ and it’s lightweight—everything a good walking stick should be. Maple and oak make good options too, but are heavier. Birch will do, but avoid pine. These saplings have too much sticky resin.

Find a tree that measures 1 1⁄2″ to 2″ at its base, and saw it off close to the ground. Choose a sapling with multiple trunks growing in a clump rather than a single trunk. These will have a better chance of recovering after you cut. You need a piece that’s 60″ to 70″ long. Aim for a finished walking stick that’s somewhere between your head and shoulders in height.

Next, grab your pocket knife, and start whittling off the bark. Freshly cut bark is always easier to remove, so de-bark now. Have a seat; hold the sapling with one hand, angling the end towards the ground. Take long, even strokes away from you to remove ribbons of bark with the knife. You can work down knots until they’re level with the surrounding wood or leave them to add character to your stick.

Your walking stick will be light-coloured and bright-looking, but heavy. That’s because it’s still full of sap. Leave it standing up to dry for three or four weeks in a covered location. Dark brown streaks will probably appear. Those are sections of inner bark that you didn’t remove earlier because they were white. Whittle those down to reveal light-coloured wood all around. Chamfer the edge around the top and bottom ends of your stick to help prevent it from splintering. It will take a couple of months for your walking stick to dry fully and shrink to its final size.

The more time you spend with your walking stick, the more you’ll come to like it. Carve or burn your initials somewhere, protect the wood with a coat of linseed oil or wipe-on polyurethane, then grab your trusty walking companion whenever you get the urge to enjoy cottage country on foot.

Bonus: Add a handgrip

A handgrip will make your stick easier to hold. Cotton sash cord is perfect for this, but rawhide and butcher’s twine work too. Soak the cord in water, tuck one end under the first wrap, continue to wrap 6″ down, then tuck the loose end under the final wrap. Pull the cord tight and trim the ends. When it dries, it’ll get even tighter.

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