make a hiking stick (Updated August 27, 2011; main home page: http://www.sticksite.com/ )

What I want to cover on this page:

make a hiking stick

(more coming as people teach me new tricks)

To get your UNfinished Diamond Willow sticks, see: http://www.sticksite.com/unfinished_sticks.html.

IF I have any finished sticks left on hand, they will be at this page: http://www.sticksite.com/finished_sticks/.


Why a Walking Stick?

The best explanation I have seen is Peter Salwen's at http://salwen.com/walkstck.html A hiking staff is a great help in saving your energy on a long, rough hike. It helps to reduce the weight on your feet so you get tired less quickly. It seems like a good idea to use the hiking stick in one hand for awhile and then switch to the other hand. Going downhill a staff can be tremendous help. On rough terrain such a staff can be most helpful and you never know when you might need it to discourage a bear, some idiot's dog or the idiot himself. When crossing a stream a staff can be used to feel the creek-bottom for safety.

Another reason is self-defence. May be worth considering; if you think so, get hold of Ted Truscott, at (250)474-5434 or visit his website at http://raisingcanes.net. Ted teaches self-defence and sells a video about it. And hey, tell Ted I sent you, OK? I have a copy of his video; looks like it could be very helpful in teaching you how to defend yourself with a stick.

Did you know the BIBLE mentions hiking sticks too? Check out the book of Numbers, Chapter 17.

make a hiking stick

How long does it take to finish a stick?

That depends on how much work you want to do on it. I like to do a "batch" of 25 - 35 at a time and it takes me about 1 1/4 hours per stick on average, including the time it takes to give them 5 coats of Varathane.

Sanding your sticks:

Remember Victor Kyam who liked that electric razor so much that he bought the company? Well, I like the DRUM SANDER so much that I want EVERY stickmaker to have one. To help out I got my son (in the USA) a dealership on them and he was selling them. But, business responsibilities became too much and he had to quit. So, my Friend Terry Weber took over. Terry is in NJ. You Gotta Have this one!! BUT please note: Terry has two prices: the regular price and the "SUPER-LOW" price for my stick customers. Picture further down.

Carolyn Y. wrote:

"Your son in Buckeye sent the drum sanders priority mail and they came in Friday. Sure speeds up the sanding process!! Can't imagine I'd be so enthusiastic about this new hobby if I had to face hand sanding. Was using a 4"x4" power sander but that's hard to control on a round surface plus my arm & shoulder gave out having to hold onto the sander. Thanks for providing a source for the sander."

For sanding the diamonds, I find the "Contour Sander" to be useful (but noisy) and also use a "Sanding sponge" which is a little piece of sandpaper glued to a foam back. These are 4 1/2" x 5 1/2" and come in Medium grit, Fine and Extra fine. The foam tends to tear and I did find another new product which does a truly great job and lasts a long time: Glit Flexible Abrasives" and these are pads, 6 inches x 9 inches. Sorry, I don't have a URL.

How long should a Hiking Staff be:

Some suggest six inches above your elbow but that is a Personal thing. Everybody has his own ideas about that.

Good Sticks, Poor Sticks:

In Alaska I found a store selling D.W. (poor quality) and picked up a paper describing the formation of the diamonds this way:

"Diamond Willow is Alaska's most famous wood. It is believed the "diamonds" are formed by the freezing of a bud that has opened during a Chinook wind or during the early spring, when the warming trend is broken by a sudden hard freezes. The cold that follows not only kills the bud and branch, but also penetrates deeply into the tree causing the beautifully contrasting "diamonds" you now see." This does NOT agree with more authoritative reports.

From Parry Ellingson:

Parry Ellingson in Calgary, Alberta, who was kind enough to send me his understanding which is very similar to Bob's. Parry wrote:

"My name is Parry Ellingson, and I live and work in Calgary. I have been working with diamond willow for years. I found your website quite interesting, and enjoyed your humor. I have a few things that I would like to share with you though.

The diamond part of diamond willow is not caused by weather or freezing, it is a fungus. This fungus attacks the crotch of the branch, and causes the enlarging and color change. This fungus eventually kills the branch it is on, but does not kill the roots. This is why there are always new shoots coming out from the base of the plant. Eventually the entire bush will die, but if the willow is harvested, this keeps the roots healthy, and allows shoots to come out. This fungus attacks a number of different willows, but the one that you showed on your website is the one that gives the best diamonds, and is the most prolific.

dummies I used to think as others do that the diamonds were caused by the Chinooks that we get in Alberta. When I found diamond willow in Manitoba, Ontario, Minnesota etc., I started to question that. I asked a specialist at the Agriculture Research station in Lethbridge to research it for me, and he found some articles that explained the fungus concept. I have found that this fungus follows the rivers. I have found diamond willow all along the Hudson Bay and Missouri / Mississippi River watersheds. I have read that there is diamond willow in Alaska and Northern Canada, but I have never seen diamond willow in the Fraser River watershed, or across the continental divide in the USA.

I do all of my diamond willow work by hand, so it takes me a lot longer than it would you with your drum sander. That sounds like a great idea. Since I work everything by hand, I don't like to work with dead sticks, as removing the bark by hand is difficult. Since I work with live sticks, I find the best time to harvest is when the sap is down, in winter. I thaw the sticks out, and quickly peel off the outer bark, just leaving the diamonds. I then allow them to dry for 6 weeks to a year before I carve the diamonds. What I have found is that when I harvest in winter, the sticks are still green enough for the bark to come off easily, and since the sap is down, they are not as wet, and therefore, I get a lot less cracking.

I finish my sticks with numerous coats of Watco oil, followed sometimes by satin Varathane. This protects them so that if I can finish them without any cracking, they will stay that way. I have never sold a finished stick, and only do them for friends. This is good, because doing them all by hand would mean that my hourly wage would be pretty low. Because I do not do very many, I only harvest really good ones. I make three sizes. Canes are short, and usually not very big around. Walking sticks are four to five feet, and are usually quite sturdy, with lots and lots of big diamonds. Staves are traditionally five foot six, but sometimes I have made them longer. These are usually very straight, and not overly heavy. I have a friend who weaves the green staves through a ladder to straighten them out. I have also found that willow that is growing along with poplar is usually straighter, as it has had to compete for the sun. If I am looking for canes with a distinctive bend in them, I look along a river bank, where they may have been subject to an ice flow. Anyway, just a few of my thoughts on diamond willow, which I find a very fascinating hobby. Parry"

From Ed Brown in Georgia:

"I am a Plant Pathologist by training and taught Forest Pathology at the University of Georgia for 30 years. I am familiar with the fungus Valsa sordida that causes this disease and the wonder of nature that results from this infection.

I looked at Bob Gander's page some time ago and have just reviewed the page. I have a book, "Fungi on Plants and Plant Products in the United States". It is the bible for plant disease causing fungi on plants in the US. It indicates that there are 7 species of Valsa reported on 19 species of willow. Some are described as causing twig blight, twig blight and canker and dieback and canker. Most of these reports are from the States Plant Disease Clinics that are maintained by the Land Grant College in that state. Some are from descriptions of fungi infecting the specific plant host. I have dealt with the frustration all these years of descriptions of forest disease causing fungi and if the the tree does not have much economic value then the dollars to support that research are little to none. Support to fund commercial conifer timber disease studies is greater in North America than hardwoods. The result is very little funding to support indepth research on non-economic plants. Most of the time someone has an interest in the host or fungus and they do the research using their laboratory that is supported by other funding and once the research is published no one questions the result or has the funding to reproduce the studies. Bob has some good points in his discussion. One other problem is that Valsa is an ascomycete fungus and not that easy to work with. I worked with the ascomycete fungus Botryosphaeria in my PhD research and it took 5 years for me to get mature cankers on apple. This fungus also causes dieback and cankers. Most recently I hosted a group of pistachio growers from California that are addressing this major disease there. Breeding studies are being conducted to produce resistant varieties. No easy answer since it may take 10 to 15 years to get a productive line that is resistant and the fungus may mutate and take 3 to 5 years to over power the resistance. A never ending battle.

THANK you very much, to Bob, Parry and Ed, for this and for allowing me to quote you here. I do not like to harvest sticks after the sap has stopped running; I find they are much harder to peel then. YOu may have noted Ed's reference to the fungus "Valsa Sordida" which causes the diamonds. This should not be confused with the "other" fungus which causes the Migraine Mushroom; that is the "Haploporous odoratus."

The Red Color in the Diamonds:

red interior

The interior of the Diamond Willow stick is normally reddish. The red color in the diamonds is due to the bark and if you remove too much of the red from the diamond, you'll find that all the darker red (actually *brown*) is gone and you are left with only the red from the interior of the stick. This means you should not carve down deep into the diamond; only sand it smooth and then stop. When the stick dies, the white wood gradually turns brown too. In some sticks the red interior takes most of the stick, leaving a thin white outer layer and in other sticks the red interior has a very small diameter compared with the diameter of the stick. Here are 4 pieces to illustrate:
#1 shows how I sanded too much making part of the diamond too light in color
#2 shows how one side/part of the stick was dead and how it turned brown. Once in awhile you find a stick which is very white on one side, from end to end, with the opposite side being brown from end to end
#3 shows a stick which has a small-diameter red interior (varnished to emphasize the colors)
#4 shows a stick which has a very large-diameter red interior (varnished to emphasize the colors)

red interior

Of course when a stick dies, it turns brown also. Sometimes you find a stick which is Live up to a certain point and Dead from there on to the top, OR, one that is Live on one side and Dead on the other side, from bottom to top; here are samples.

The Brown Color in the Sticks

brown stick

Sometimes you might inadvertently "Cook" a stick. This happens when you harvest some and leave them lay in the hot sun before you skin them. This shows an example. The brown, unlike the red mentioned later, does not fade away. But it does not go deep at all and sands off quite nicely.

Sizes and Shapes of the Diamonds:

red interior

They come in all shapes and sizes; I'm working on a detailed list with pictures; for now, this picture shows a One-Carrot-Diamond a Two-Carrot-Diamond and a Three-Carrot-Diamond. ;-)

knives

Tools/supplies you need to finish sticks:

NOTE that you do NOT need any power tools but if you are going to do a "good number" of sticks, they sure help!
- leather gloves
- pocket/jackknife with short, sharp blade
- sanding blocks with 80, 120 and 220-grit sandpaper; finer if you like (BUT you'll prefer the Drum Sander!)

My favorite blade for removing bark is this one I got from "Woodbutcher Jan" a.k.a. Jan Oegema. This pic shows what "used to be" my favorite; just a pocketknife with a lot of foam and tape around the handle; THEN I learned about Jan's knives which is the one at the bottom. The straight edge is the sharp edge and this knife is VERY sharp and keeps its edge for an amazingly long time.

As I have hundreds of sticks to finish, I have accumulated more tools than would a person who is making one or two sticks. I now use these electric tools:
-drum sander and extra sleeves
-Craftsman motor tool
-Mastercraft rotary tool
-Ryobe carving tool
-Dremel Contour sander
-drill

The Fun of Making Your Own Stick:

1. Give you a deeper appreciation of what Nature offers
2. Give you a super-beautiful walking/hiking stick/staff which will really make people take a second look.

These sticks make you want to hold them, stroke them, feel them, fondle them; they just FEEL good. They make you Bond with them. I gave one to a friend and told him that. As we spoke, he replied, that's what I'm doing right NOW. They sell for prices as high as $85 U.S. and sometimes more. My brother and his wife have done a lot of hiking, such as the Chilkoot Trail and they find their sticks indispensable. They use them to struggle up steep grades and someday may have to use one to beat off a hungry bear or an unfriendly dog. I hope not!

Where to find Diamond Willow:

Frequently, I'm asked this question. To answer it best I can, I am inviting you to join me on a photographic virtual Stick-Hunting trip. Click HERE.

When to collect them:

I collect the dead ones when I find them. To carry them in the bush I keep 4 pieces of twine handy; when I get to about 14 sticks, I make two bundles and carry them like two suitcases. As to the live ones, I collect them only between May 15 and July 15 because during that period (up here in the north) the sap is running and they are very easy to peel. Other times of the year, I mark the green ones with ribbons, to collect them later. In November of 2000, I cut some green DW sticks and set them into cans of water. The tops and branches were cut off. In the spring of 2001 these sticks were easier to peel but some had rotted so I don't plan to do that again. I also set some sticks with tops and branches intact, into a wet area near the cabin, leaning up against growing willows. In the harvesting period of May 15 - July 15, 2001 some were easy to peel, others had rotted a little. I won't do that again either. In the summer of 2005 I found that due to very dry conditions, live sticks would not skin easily after July 4 so I had a very short season.

How well Willows Rejuvenate:

On November 15, 2000, I cut 8 pieces of willow, about 2" diameter, and one foot long and another 8 of about 2' long with the bottoms sharpened, and pounded them into the ground (hard to do.........ground frozen!) By June 25, 2001 some were growing branches. Half of them I painted the tops with grafting tar to see if that makes much difference. MONTHS LATER: they all died. I have cut the tops off some growing willow earlier and noted that they sprouted many new shoots near the top. In the fall of 2000 I cut many more willows like that to produce the thin (3/8") shoots that I use to make my willow chairs. Big problem is deer, moose and elk browsing them. To stop them, I cut them very high by standing on the deck of the pickup truck and reaching high with the chainsaw.

I've read that there are 75 species of willows in north America and at my cabin it seems to me that there are at least 4, not counting poplar trees which some consider a willow.

leaves leaves

Here are some typical Willow leaves; all had diamonds: Note that the measuring tape shows centimeters and millimeters, not inches.


leaves leaves

These are from the same willow bush; the leaf on the left was in early September and the other 'item' was early June. The one on the right are from different species of willow.

I carry a small garden type saw. I've been told that if you rip them out with the roots, you might get a stick with a natural handle but have never found that to be true. Back at the cabin I trim them with a saw as needed, leaving them as long as possible. Pictures of my cabin live at http://www.sticksite.com/cabin/.

All my tools are shown on my STICK-ING trip site (to which YOU are invited!)

argo cart

Hauling them out:

SOMEtimes they are close enough that one can carry them out of the bush. Mostly not. If I'm going to carry them out by hand, I make sure I have at least 4 pieces of twine along, about 3 feet long. Then I make 2 bundles of about 7 sticks per bundle, depending on weight, tie 2 strings around each bundle, then carry the two bundles like 2 suitcases, holding them by one of the sticks.

If I have a lot of them and there are trails, I use my ARGO ATV; the most incredible ATV the world has ever known. Honest!! Sometimes the trails are too narrow and even though the ARGO will push down a lot of small trees and drive over them, I hate to do that, so I now have a StikShaw; something like the Chinese Rickshaw, but different. Sometimes I haul the StikShaw on the Argo, then carry on with only the StikShaw when the Argo cannot go further. Here are pics of the Argo with a load of Diamond Willow, as well as the StikShaw and myself pulling the StikShaw.

Removing bark:

Some say that Diamond Willow must be left to dry for 6 months before removing the bark, in order to prevent splitting / cracking. I have not found this to be a problem. My procedure was to skin all live/green sticks immediately and dip the ends 1 cm. or so into melted wax. Then I let them dry for at least a year. Even with the wax, a few do develop splits but the wax does help a great deal. Very thick pieces (Rails etc) do tend to split at the ends of the diamonds much more quickly than hiking sticks do. In the spring of 2006, I tried, instead of wax, "Pentacryl" wood stabilizer. I got a bottle of it from Lee Valley Tools. It cost me C$32.64 and it did 75 sticks, soaking each end in about 3/8" for 1.5 hours or so. It is messy (and expensive!) and I will not use it again. Now, I'll leave my sticks a bit longer and simply trim off any split ends. I can always go back to the wax dip if I want. But that is messy too.

I harvest sticks ONLY when the sap is running and skin them a.s.a.p. but I have found NO problem leaving them in a pile on the garage floor for 10 days before skinning them.

Barbara wrote:

"Just a quick note about walking sticks. You mentioned sticks that get cracks in them when drying. I have had similar difficulties, however, I came upon some info on the net from another sticker. He suggested dipping the cut ends of the sticks in paraffin wax before you set it to dry. This causes the stick to dry more evenly and seems to work well. I am in the process of trying it out. Have you ever tried this?" Barbara wrote again and said "Ken, Glad to hear you liked the idea. It is from Ken and Billie Sanders. Ken said: 'Wax like paraffin, melted and dip both ends in for about 3 to 4 inches. Enough to seal off the ends. This is to allow for drying from the endside out. Usually about 3 to 4 weeks in my garage. Sealing keeps the cracking down. Then start peeling the bark off. I leave the wax on the very end. Allow another week to 2 weeks for drying. Anything that would seal can be used. I prefer paraffin."

I received this very nice note on January 22, 2002:

I corresponded with you last August about preventing the ends of poles from cracking while drying. You were trying out wax at the time. I told you I was going to experiment with wrapping the ends with plain old kitchen plastic wrap held on tightly with a rubber band. The wood I was drying was American elm, which is very prone to cracking. Well, I wanted to pass on that I just unwrapped them, and not a single one (about 40 total) cracked or got moldy. They were stored in an attic without much temperature control (so they were hot for a couple of months and then cold). Removing the plastic only takes a second, and no trimming is necessary, saving wood and time. Hope this info might come in handy some time. Good luck, Robert"

THANKS, Barbara and Robert!

Do YOU have any suggestions re avoiding split ends? Wax can be a nuisance when sanding and varnishing.

mould

My own experience of waxing the sticks:
I *always* peel the green sticks a.s.a.p. after harvesting them. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get the bark off. I started dipping 2 - 4 inches of each end of the freshly-peeled stick into hot, molten wax. (had the whole family digging out their old candles for me!) Then I found that some of them developed mold UNDER the wax; I believe this happened to the sticks which were still very wet when I dipped them. (see comment below*) After that experience, I no longer waxed the ends.

Note the stick on the right; the bottom 4 inches have mold under the wax; the stick on the left was much drier when I waxed it. You can see the wax on it.

DANGER: please be careful; melting wax can be a fire hazard and dipping the ends of the sticks can make a real mess; I've got drops of wax all over the floor!

* Bill E. in Illinois offered this idea:

"I did come across your info on waxing the sticks and the fact that you have found mold under the wax. I make selfbows for archery and when I harvest my wood for bows, I coat the ends of my wood with common shelac and that takes care of any wood checks or cracks. I would imagine that it would work the same on the diamond willow."

Sticks which were found/cut/harvested when already dead/dry are usually very easy to skin. Sometimes I've even managed with nothing more than my fingernails.

Sticks which were live/green when collected and left to dry are more difficult to skin. George Mason told me: "I used a drum rasp on a power drill to remove most of the bark and then used my chisels and knives to clean it up. Oh, and a lot of sanding as well. I'm not sure what the rasp is called but it is a metal drum about 2 inches in diameter that is pock-marked with raised holes that tear at the material. It's the only thing that I could find that would work for me. So, if you'd like to give that a try, search the www for one." I was afraid that it might eat into the wood under the bark but George added: "NOT IF YOU ARE VERY CAREFUL. I'M A LITTLE ANAL RETENTIVE WHEN I CARVE. I REMOVE A LITTLE AT A TIME WHICH FRUSTRATED MY INSTRUCTOR WHO JUST WHACKED AWAY AT THE WOOD UNTIL HE SORT OF ACHIEVED THE RESULT THAT HE WANTED. I GUESS THAT I AM AFRAID OF REMOVING SOMETHING THAT CAN'T BE PUT BACK. I found that I could tell when I was getting close to the wood by the texture and color. The bark tends to be fuzzy looking and red/brown in color. As soon as I saw a little white showing, I backed off from that area and moved further down the stick. This left me with some clean-up to do with some sharp wood gouges and my knife and in some cases a little bit of sanding. A good set of large files were also initially useful (before the chiseling process). I finally finished the whole piece with a lot of sanding using finer and finer grades of paper."

I found also that sticks harvested AFTER the sap stops running (usually around end of July here) then they are much harder to peel as mentioned, but they are FAR less likely to develop split ends.

If you leave your sticks (bark on) to dry for a long time (I leave them a year) so that they are VERY dry, then the carving knife from Jan Oegema (link/pic at top of page) is EXCELLENT for removing the bark. I've been told that there is less danger of the stick splitting as it dries, if you keep it in a DARK place. It seems to be true!

Mold or Mould on Sticks:

"Mold" or "Mould" depending on where you come from! Sometimes I'm a bit careless and when I skin a lot of sticks in a hurry, pile them up (or set them up on end) without proper space for air circulation and that causes mold to grow on them in a very short time. This mold is not fuzzy, furry stuff, but black spots. I would never dare, for health reasons sand one with mold on it. My friend Marie Rose told me how to fix that problem. She told me to put on a disposable glove, soak a rag in pure bleach (household bleach used in laundry) and simply rub the mold off the stick. It works very well. Here is a "before" and "after" picture:

moldy sticks


A fan is a "must-have" tool to dry the sticks immediately after skinning them. I run my fan an hour or two every day during the first week or two after skinning them. And, I pile the sticks with plenty of space for air circulation. At the very bottom of the pile are two 2x4's laying on edge.

drying sticks
red color

Red Sticks:

Somebody asked me if I had ever had a willow stick turn red after removing the bark. I replied that I had not but then found it to happen in a big way. I don't know why it rarely happened before, and only with small bits of the stick, but in May 2001 when the relative humidity was very high due to rains, some of my sticks turned bright red and others did not. I don't know why. The red color faded within 48 hours or so but not on sticks which were left in a dark shed. Here is a picture of the red color. I have not found them to turn red when the sap is not running.

sticks

Four sticks in various stages of (in)completion:

(a) as found in the bush
(b) bark cleaned off and out of diamond
(c) sanded
(d) varnished

Bark hides various sins but can hide excellent diamonds too. So can that lichen.



Weight of Sticks:

One of the advantages of letting them dry for a full year or more as I do, is that the stick loses a great deal of its weight and it becomes cheaper to mail it. Here is an example:

I harvested a green/live stick on June 29. It was 54" long and in the middle its diameter was about 1.5 inches. It weighed 1.89KG. I peeled it and left it indoors to dry. On December 13, I weighed it again and it was only .87KG, that is only 46% of its original weight. No, it had not cracked at all and I had not waxed the ends.

Shipping Sticks:

Be careful if you ship green/fresh sticks. I wrapped 5 which had been live and harvested a week or two earlier. They were skinned. In only 5 days they were moldy. Also, I've had several broken in the mail, including a package of 3 finished sticks; all 3 were smashed.

Sanding them:

This is a MUST HAVE. A FLEX DRUM SANDER. Trust me; this tool makes sanding of sticks a pleasure; not a chore. Actually makes it FUN. Even if you are going to make only one or two sticks, try this and you'll be hooked.

sanding sticks

Note that this is *VERY* dusty work. I do it outdoors but even then, my nose gets filled with that very fine dust. I suggest wearing some kind of filter; I often do. There is some cardboard between the sander and the motor to keep the dust out of the motor. This dust could be harmful. When I'm done, completely covered with fine dust, I throw my shirt and jeans into the clothes dryer to get the dust out. If I could, I'd do the same with my nose and lungs! When it is really cold I'll do this job in the garage with the ShopVac running; no more dust problems. Here I am using my drum sander in the back yard.

You can get your Flex Drum Sander from Mr. Terry Weber in New Jersey; see his site at http://www.yrret.stirsite.com/page/page/4493801.htm. When I ship sticks to you I'll give you a code which will entitle you to the large discount on a sander. I did this so you can get one at lower prices than anywhere else. BUT NOTE that his super low price is ONLY for my stick customers.

tools tools
tools tools

To clean the diamonds, I use a Motor Tool; that is the most work. My favorite is the Mastercraft and I've added a 3-foot extension (I couldn't do it without that extension!) with a chuck holding a metal bit; I use that to clean the bark etc out of the diamonds. Then I use the Craftsman to sand the insides of the diamonds. I hang the Mastercraft. I took a piece of 2x4, drilled a hole in it, stuck in a piece of dowel and at the top of the dowel I hung a hook cut from a coat hanger; the Mastercraft hangs on that. I clamp the 2x4 onto the picnic table in the back yard. The Dremel Contour Sander is also a good tool for the diamonds.

Die Grinder





One fellow uses a "Die Grinder" on an air compressor to clean out the diamonds; here are two he uses:


If you do your sanding indoors, dust might be a problem. One person suggested using a leaf blower/vacuum and another said: I built my own dust collector to it consists of a 16x25 furnace filter, a box built around the filter, six 6 inch computer fans, it is a real air sucker and does a great job.

Someone named stick74 said:

"You might try building a dust collector out of a old blower motor from a dryer. It will suck up what chips and dust you create while carving. Its pretty cheap to make, I just made one my self yesterday. It cost total of something like $28.00."

William Knight suggested a "marsh sander" from http://www.woodcarvers.com. Click on "Our Catalog in PDF Format" and note all the wonderful tools for woodworkers. Or click "Browse our Tools" or go directly to this sander at http://www.woodcarvers.com/sa097.htm.

My friend Ted C. told me about these Bristle Discs from 3M; they work very well on cleaning out the diamonds. Thanks, Ted!

tools

On this picture I show only ONE disc on my rotary tool; you can put "several" on at once, if you prefer, to make a wider disc.


AS TO WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO WITH DIAMOND WILLOW, SEE THIS PAGE


Burying the stick:

I've been asked if one should bury the stick in the ground before sanding it. I have no idea where that idea came from, but cannot see any benefit in it nor use for it. BUT see comment in "Benefit of partly-rotten sticks."

diamonds diamonds

Roots glow in the dark?

Yes, the roots of some diamond willow will glow in the dark; I've seen it many times.

Question: Can I *make* diamonds in willow sticks?

Answer: Not really; they don't look like the real ones; here is what I mean; these are the before and after pix; I used my drum sander to make this fake diamond and darkened it a bit (for the benefit of this pic) with ArmorAll.

diamonds

Safety First:

Please be careful with your sharp instruments. A nurse wrote: I never learned. I keep gloves, disposable band-aides, gauze, and a small spray bottle of bleach. I mix 1 part bleach to 2 parts water. I use this to clean any area I may have contaminated with blood, or if anyone bleeds where I am carving. Aids is everyone's problem and is a blood born pathogen. I'd rather be careful, than sorry. I also glove up to help other bleeding carvers!! Be careful my friends!! Di Brozek

I use a pocketknife and wear leather gloves and use some kind of protection for wrists and lap. Knives tend to slip. I've cut myself many, many times. Sometimes the knife has slipped and nailed me in the belly. Never serious enough to cause bleeding, but it might be wise to use some protection there too.

The other day while trying to get the hard, dry bark off a stick, the knife slipped and I very nearly circumcised myself. You can wrap a piece of heavy leather around your wrist. I lay a piece of carpet over my lap. Eye protection is essential for chips of bark that fly all over. Honest. Trust me.

I also use the tops cut off an old pair of cowboy boots, taped (with Duct Tape, of course!) to my gloves, to protect wrists. (Or use glue) Note that I put tape ONLY on the underside / inside of the glove / boot; not on the top; this makes it easy to grab the top side of the glove and pull it on. Here you see my LEFT hand. And don't forget the dangers of breathing in a lot of fine wood dust, bark and all the other impurities found in the diamonds and bark.

Rotten, cracked and Reject Sticks:

rot in stick

The 'guru of Diamond Willow' Bob Gander, tells me that rotten sticks can be salvaged. He said "I use Behr Super Gloss Build 50. Any clear epoxy that is slow setting should work. The type I use is used to make the epoxy covered wood table tops that you see in some restaurants. You want the epoxy to be slow setting so that it has time to soak into the wood. You can then go back over it a few times before it has set up to get deeper penetration." I've also been told that a "wood hardener" can restore rotten wood.

Some sticks rot from the outside in and some rot from the inside out. Once I found a *super* nice stick but noted all the rot so threw it out. Something made me pick it up again much later for another look. I scraped off some rot and found a particularly nice stick underneath!

BUT, there can be a really big advantage to some rotten sticks. See the next section.

Benefit of partly-rotten sticks:

You may have seen carved Diamond Willow sticks where the diamonds really stand out. Example:

diamond willow

This can be done much easier than it would be to carve a live stick. SOMEtimes you find a stick that has started rotting from the outside in. (Sometimes they rot from the inside out.) When the outside is partly rotten, if you catch it at just the right time, you find that the wood around the diamonds can be carved away easily, leaving the diamonds unharmed. I tested burying a stick. Up here our winters are very cold and long and I suspect that in warmer climates a few months would be enough; I left mine in the ground for a year and it came out ready to carve. You'll need to try various periods of time. Here is a pic of 3 diamonds from that stick:

diamond willow

My "Reject" Sticks supply: (ask about availability)

Sometimes I sell an accumulation of "rejects" in bulk. One of my friends, JH, wrote and told me about one which I sent him:

"The reject stick you sent me was a real beauty. It had the cracks near the top of the stick and I found something that fixes that so perfectly that you cannot even tell its been done unless you tell someone. Its called PC.7 its a two part epoxy "paste" looks like black tar when mixed and sort of like thick - really thick tar. I took a popsicle stick and work that stuff around and deep into the cracks and then wiped off with a rag. I took hose clamps and tightened them very much and that caused some ooze. When dried i took an exacto blade and carved off excess and that stick is now 100%."

Sample sticks:

Here are a couple of sticks which I finished:

sticks

These are the steps I use: (my steps are still evolving as I learn)

Do all the sanding/grinding OUTDOORS! USE a dustmask!

I had set up two 2x4s about 7 feet high, horizontally, with hooks (bent nails) about 7 inches apart, to hang the sticks. Also, I had made 30 very small "S" shaped hooks from coat-hanger wire.

I no longer drill holes in the sticks for a cord; after all, they are not ski-poles.

On my most recent batch (30 sticks) my detailed steps were:

  1. trim the ends as needed on the table saw
  2. clean out the diamonds with the Mastercraft Rotary tool, long, flexible extension and metal, pear-shaped bit
  3. sand with the Flex Drum Sander and a coarse grit sleeve, and, on large, relatively smooth areas of bark, used the Dremel Rotary Tool with the little tiny sanding drum. (NOTE: I had mounted a small fan beside the sander to blow away the dust; this allowed me to stop using a dust-mask)
  4. clean out the diamonds with the Dremel Contour Sander and the Glit Flexible Abrasive pads and also used the Mastercraft with a small stone bit as shown in the pictures near the top of this page
  5. repeat the sanding process with the finest grit you have
  6. drilled tiny hole in the bottom of the stick and screwed in a small screw-eye or hook
  7. vacuum-cleaned the sticks VERY thoroughly, making sure there was NO DUST left in the diamonds
  8. with a short-bristle (rather than long, soft bristle) paintbrush, I applied the first coat of Varathane and hung the stick; the "S" hook made that easier
  9. did the second stick and when hanging it, made sure there were no drips coming out of the diamonds of the first stick; any that there were, I cleaned with the brush
  10. Every time I hung a stick, I'd look at the previously-painted ones to search for drips that needed cleaning up.
  11. I left them to dry until next day; at that time I removed each from the hook, inspected it for drips and hairs from the paint-brush and removed any of either with a razor blade.
  12. After the 5th coat of Varathane, I removed the screw-eyes, inserted a round toothpick and trimmed it smooth with the top of the stick and then put a thick layer of Varathane over that end of the stick; I might repeat this a few times. I might put a thick layer of Varathane over the TOP end as well.
  13. Add a rubber tip on the bottom if you have one that fits.

Carving Diamond Willow:

Many carvers make beautiful carvings in Diamond Willow Sticks. You can see several beautiful carvings on sticks (plus some other things you can do with it) at my page which lives at this page.

Bending the stick:

Personally, I've not given it much effort but some great resources are at these sites:
http://www.primitiveways.com/bending.html
http://www.wcha.org/tidbits/steamfaq.html

On October 30, 2004, Dale wrote: "I am writing in hopes that you can assist me in learning a method of dowel bending into a crook type cane. I have searched the Internet intensely without any luck. I understand there are more than one method and was wondering if you could guide me to an area where I can learn this procedure. It would be a great help for those in need. Any help in bending 1" sticks that are dry would be greatly appreciated. I understand that the hot water and fabric softener used with a hydraulic jig works as well as steaming then jigging then works but have no idea where to start..thanks again for your time and site...Dale"

IF YOU have ideas/suggestions for bending sticks, please let me know and I'll post the ideas HERE. Thank YOU.

In January, 2010, my friend M.L. shared his ideas for bending sticks:

On the subject of a steam box, I'm sure you have a buck to saw logs on, obtain a piece of 6 or 8 inch PVC drain pipe, with caps for each end. Drill and fit a one end with about a 2 inch elbow. Purchase a "new," kerosene can remove the large pour cap and fit with a length of radiator hose to make the transition from the can to elbow. Drill a few vent holes down the top center of the large pipe, and at least one on the lowest point to bleed off condensation on the inside. Use a heavy cooker unit like is used for frying fish, or a turkey to provide enough BTU's to boil the water in the kerosene can. With items the density and thickness of these sticks, active steam time should be at least a couple of hours.

How to FINISH your sticks:

As to Finishing the Stick: (Lots of good people have offered their ideas and I THANK ALL OF THEM!)

Here is one idea; I took some bark, glued one end onto the stick, wrapped the bark around the stick and glued the other end down, then dipped that end of the stick into Varathane several times. ON THIS ONE I did not sand the end of the stick; this was only for "show and tell."

sticks

Mik Strevens said:

"I find the best way to finish a stick after sanding is to use a tack cloth before applying any sort of finish. The tack cloths we get over here come in a length of about 36 inches, that is folded over and over to make a square. I unravel it and use it in a stropping action, i.e. holding it at both ends (one in each hand) lay the cloth on the shank and buff from side to side. This really removes all traces of dust and makes for a better finish. As with most things, it's the preparation that really makes the job. Then I finish the shank with either Gun stock oil (I figured it's designed to be handled, so it should work well on canes), Briwax or yacht varnish. All of my finishes I treat the same, I apply as many coats as recommended on the can and then as many more as I have time or the inclination to apply. Finally before giving the finished cane to the customer I spray a good beeswax furniture polish on the cane and polish it. The smell sells it :)"

How about: after sanding, apply a coat of polyurethane and then wax several times with Arbortech wax.........?

Richard Absher (woodwkn@roanoke.infi.net) had this to say:

"I've been using Watco Danish Oil for a number of years followed by a coat or two of wax (Briwax is my favorite). I've never tried any of the Fornby's products so I don't know how they compare. The Danish Oil does not build up on the surface like polyurethane or a varnish and the wax gives it a dull shine, not a plastic look."

WHITTLER said: (whittler@mei.net)

"I just started using tung oil ..... It does not give it the plastic look...... I also like to use Deft spray on finish in semi-gloss, I like it because it does not yellow like other urethanes, if I use color on a stick it seals the color and it dries in 30 minutes and it does not give it a plastic look."

Phil Owen had this neat idea:

"sometimes I take heavy twine and wrap around top of stick to make a hand hold (grip) also I find for my own use, I prefer to put the thong down below where I hold the stick put my hand UP through the loop so when I let the stick go, the loop (thong) keeps it within reach and does not slip off my wrist as easily as it might when it is above where I hold the stick, and is again easy to re grasp."

Dan Kersey added this suggestion:

"Why not try a light coat of semi-gloss deft and then a light coat of the super wax over it buffed with a soft cloth. You might like that look and feel."

"A" said:

"Try one of the tung oil based finishes or a Danish Oil. I use this for lot of my carvings and find it works really well in attracting folk to touch the work. I sand down to the 400 grit stage and then apply the oil with a soft cloth. Put it on and leave a while (follow the instructions on the can) and then wipe off surplus, repeat a couple of times, then I use 400 grit wet and dry and rub the oil into the wood with this - takes all the minute grit off the piece and leaves it silky to the touch. Polish with a soft cloth - it leaves a magic finish!"

Bill Pisarchuk
likes a water-based Varathane, Elite, Diamond Outdoor Finish, clear, semi-gloss. Some like simply a Satin urethane.

John Dubeck
likes to use Penetrating Stain: Natural from Benjamin Moore. This stain is more like an oil; he uses it straight from the can and wipes lots on with a lint-free cloth.

One fellow
suggested Fornby's tung oil, applied in thin coats, with a waiting period of 12-24 hours between coats. OR a Polyurethane spray finish.

You might also try a mix of half turpentine and half boiled linseed oil.

WARNING: If you use an oil to finish your sticks, do not leave oily rags laying around; they have been known to catch fire.

Steve Edelman offered his suggestion:

"Minwax makes a finish called Antique Oil Finish. I don't follow the directions. It has the consistency of water. After sanding, ( I usually go to 360 or 400, sometimes 600). I brush it on thinly and recoat every 24 hrs., without rubbing as the directions say. I usually put on 5-8 coats. It is very hard and has a finish like glass (very high gloss). A quart is too much to buy at 1 time as it takes so little for each coat, I haven't ran out yet in the last year so haven't checked to see if I can buy it in smaller quanities, but it is relatively cheap in any case. I sand lightly with 600 grit between coats and after the last coat has cured, I then use 600 grit to polish lightly with Old English Lemon oil to eliminate any dust collections. Also, I buy 1" brushes from Harbor Freight with natural bristles. 36 are about 4$ on sale. After each use, I put it in a zip lock baggy, squeeze out the air and put it in the freezer. I've finished 6 sticks on the one I'm using now without cleaning it and it's still soft after 3 mos. I consider them good throwaways, but they do last a long time. I built a stand by attaching a 5 ft. pipe clamp to a piece of ply wood to put the finish on and while I'm finishing the next stick, I put the coats on the top and bottom of the 1st one where I couldn't brush before.."

J.L.
says he uses Polyurethane by Minwax; the clear gloss is his favorite. He also likes Varathane Outdoor Diamond Wood Finish with UV protection and satin finish with water base.

Bryan Phillips suggested this:

"I have used crutch tips on some of my canes but they detract from all the hard work I went to make a pretty stick. What I tried on my last stick worked real well and the material is easy to come by. I had an old pair of cowboy boots that I was about to throw out. I decided to pull the heals off and use that for a tip. I roughly cut a piece of the material a little larger than the end of the stick. I used epoxy to attach it and after it dried ground it to size on my bench grinder. It really looks great and has proven very serviceable. I just thought you might appreciate the tip."

Rubber tips:

I find that an inexpensive tip is available at Wal*mart. They sell 2 tips (Aurora brand) for C$2.17 + gst, 7/8 inch diameter. At a drug store I got the Futuro at C$4.55 + gst for 2 tips, 7/8-1 inch diam. I get mine from http://www.astrotex.com/

UPDATE Dec. 18, 2008: A NEW PAGE with GREAT info on this has now been created by my friend, at http://www.bilagaana.com/rubbertip/rubbertip01.html.

woodburning

Burning a name, number or symbol on sticks:

Deno N Simpson said: "Without going out and buying the whole thing, you could go to any craft store and buy a wood-burning rod. Electric wood burning rod comes with one tip, usually a bevelled sharp tip. Other tips can be bought and screwed on the end for different effects. These are a lot cheaper than buying everything. Just bought a Colwood Cub for $65 plus the tips are about $7.50 and up. Not the most expensive (Detail Master) but does the job. Soldering iron would do the same thing but they get too hot for most lettering and detail, without setting the stick on fire." I bought one at Wal*mart for $38.94 including extra tips (+tax). Here are two samples; a cow burned in an UNfinished stick (for a 4-H group) and a date burned in a finished stick.

Making a Cane:

If you would like to make a cane, please check my page which lives HERE.

Tool Sites:

http://www.taxidermy.com/cat/19/woodcarve.html
http://www.woodworking.com/
http://www.taxidermy.com/cat/19/pointset.html
http://www.treelineusa.com/
http://www.carvertools.com
http://www.yrret.stirsite.com/page/page/4493801.htm (FOR THE LOWEST PRICE ON DRUM SANDERS!)

A warning: Spalting: (this is what they tell me)

Spalting is caused by fungal growth in the timber. It looks like lots of black lines in the timber. It usually follows a fault in the wood. The fungus can do very bad things to your lungs so when carving spalted wood use good protection. To be perfectly honest, I have never been terribly careful in that regard and have not yet had any problems.....ken

I did ask a few people about Spalting and their much appreciated replies live HERE.

Other uses for Willow:

One of my friends, Brian Welzenbach, wrote:

"I do my diamond willow a tad bit different then what people are used to seeing. I like to carve (grind) all the reddish inner bark and scar tissue out of the diamonds down to the golden colored heartwood. Then I polish them by sanding until they really start to glow and the grain becomes apparent. I started doing it this was after I emailed Bob Gander. I was working on some very strange pieces (that's an understatement) and I just couldn't get good results no matter how hard I tried. The main problem was that in some places the "diamonds" (if you want to call them that-- they were pretty distorted) had a nice even reddish color, but in others I had gone too far and lost the color. Also, the pieces looked kind of dingy because the wood was so old. Anyway, he gave me some tips and ever since I've been doing it this way. The unusual pieces especially benefit from this method. It makes them look sleek and very refined. I have been making quite a few canes lately. They are very popular. I have about 5-6 pieces that would fall into your "special sticks" category. It's also nice to use up those really great sticks that are too short for walking staffs.

Here's another thing I like to do: Every once and awhile I find a very strange looking piece of willow. Because of it's size and unusual shape, nothing really functional can be made out of it. However, they are too beautiful to just leave behind, so I collect them. I then grind out all the bark and sand the dickens out of it (up to 400 grit). About three coats of tung oil rubbed in very well will make the wood and grain glow. I then make a simple round stand out of cherry wood--just big enough so the piece stands up without falling over. I like to think of these rare beauties as Mother Nature's version of the modern sculpture.

The results can be spectacular and chances are nobody could ever guess diamond willow could look like that.

My favorite pieces for doing this type of work are those that have a distinct flat twisted look to them. Often times the underlying grain has a subtle ripple look to it that is similar to tiger maple or curly cherry.

As to the peeling and cracking: I always seal the cut ends with old paint or wax and have never had any problems so far. The problems I do have is when I peel the big ones and they start to crack around the points of the diamonds when the fresh sap wood starts to shrink and pull itself away from the heartwood.

That's why most people I've talked to have said to either collect them in the winter (low moisture, but harder to peel) or let the dry with the bark on. I have had limited success peeling them right away and then letting them slowly dry in the cool cellar at my farm. Most don't crack, but it can be unpredictable. I spoke with this one guy and he says he boils them and they peel like bananas and never crack. He uses an old water heater with the top cut off and heats it underneath with a propane torch (crazy guy). Steaming should also work, but it might be slower on the large pieces that have very thick bark. I think the idea is to get moisture underneath the inner bark. I know that the crusty dead pieces peel very easy once soaked in plain old water (no heat needed). Brian"

Adding a Badge or Medallion to your hiking stick:

I have a beautiful stick bought VERY MANY years ago in Switzerland by my Mother when she was hiking there; it has several very nice badges on it, commemorating her hike. This makes the stick a true "collector item." I am still looking for a supplier of badges. In my humble opinion, ONLY ROUND or oval-shaped badges should be used; others tend to snag on everything and quickly get damaged.
stick badges stick badges
I have searched the WWW for a supplier. Most seem to charge about $4.95 per badge but I found one that has nice-looking badges at only $3.75. This would be Hike America and if you go there, please say "Hello" to Roy Klebe there; online, they are at http://www.hikeamerica.com/Catalog/canada.html#CN-1. Here are some of their badges:

stick badges

Each comes in its own tiny ziplock bag and comes with 3 very tiny nails.

AND see Greg Hawes' site. Greg's Aussie Walking Stick Badge is made from high quality gold plated rolled brass. There are 8 acid etched designs featuring unique Australian wild animals. Have a look at http://www.awsb.freeservers.com.


Willow Sap:

willow sap
Spring stick harvest time of 2011, I put the bark from the live/green sticks into a clean plastic garbage can and stomped it down well, until it was packed full. Some weeks later I was going to dump it to burn it, but instead, I pulled "chunks" of the bark up, out of the can. At the bottom I found a cup or more of brown "tea." Clearly the sap had drained out of the bark. I have no idea what it is good for; if you can tell me, please do.

AND that worked; Crystal K. wrote:

Hello, Ken! I was reading about the diamond willow sticks and your finding the willow 'tea' in the bottom of your bark barrel.
I have used various willow barks and poplar saps to make cough syrups and salves for every kind of rash, cut, skin infection you can think of. Over the years I have given salve to elders with leg sores from diabetis, bed sores etc and it has successfully healed things you would not imagine it to be able to. I use beeswax, bear grease or olive oil for the salves and raw sugar, maple syrup and honey for the cough syrups.
If I found the tea you did, I would strain it and use it in making salves - you have a treasure there for first aid supplies far better then polysporin or any of those other ointments to be purchased or prescribed. :)


how to get Diamond Willow

in fact, tell EVERYBODY!

Diamond Willow Sticks

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