A Walking Stick can be the perfect companion in numerous situations. Not just an aid for walking, a stick is a great accessory for hiking, walking in the hills, shooting, fishing, dog trialling, country shows, livestock auctions, the list is endless.
A Walking Stick for support does not need to be a boring traditional bent chestnut item that the hospitals issue. A vast range of manufactured ones can be so sourced from an equally vast range of outlets. The alternative is a unique handcrafted stick to be flaunted and admired. Stick handles can be fashioned from wood, horn, antler, resin and a variety of other materials. Shanks are cut from the hedgerows from a variety of different timbers and straightened using steam. They can be embellished with carvings, collars, spacers and decorative inserts to create a really unique item.
It is important to have a Walking Stick of the correct length, too long and it will be uncomfortable in use, too short and over time the user may develop a stoop. To measure correctly, the user should be wearing their normal shoes and measure the stick so the handle is level where the hip joint projects ( not to the top of the hip bone ). Check the angle of the elbow, it must not be too bent. Equally it must not be too straight or it will not give the required support.
A Knob Stick falls into the same category for measurement. These can have a natural handle fashioned from the branch or root that the shank has grown from, or perhaps made from an attractive section of polished Cow Horn, with the addition of a clear resin cap, often enclosing a fishing fly, coin, charm or the like. These can be a very comfortable handle. A limitless variety of ornamental tops are available but if they are to be considered as a walking aid and not just a conversation piece in your stick stand, comfort in the hand must be considered. A handle featuring 'ears' for example might aggravate the palm of the hand over time. Handcrafted sticks are usually left a little on the long side so they can easily be shortened and ferruled to the correct length.
The minimum height for Thumb Sticks, Market Sticks and Shepherds Crooks is, when held, the forearm is at least horizontal. This measurement can be adjusted upwards. A Thumb Stick, as the name implies, enables the user to just locate their thumb in the 'V' and gently grip the shank with the rest of their hand. This is a very comfortable stick and can be a variety of lengths, depending on use. For walking, the length can vary from the forearm horizontal position up to the whole arm straight out in front. It is sometimes beneficial to have extra length when walking in the hills or on sloping ground. A tall version with an appropriate handle can be used to lean on by locating under the armpit. Some users have an even taller version to support the barrel of a gun when taking aim. Archers use Thumb Sticks fitted with a spike or alpine ferrule to stick in the ground to hang their bow on when it's not in use. Once again handles come in a variety of materials, natural wood, grown in the hedgerow, ram's horn, shiny black buffalo horn or the very popular, attractive, stag horn which often features decorative caps on the cut ends.
A Market Stick is a midway option between a walking and working stick. Imagine standing viewing sheep at the livestock auction with your hands comfortably cupped over your stick handle for support. This is the ideal height to aim for. A Market Stick typically has a Crook type handle albeit with the 'nose' turned inwards and can be considered a bit of a fashion statement for 'showing'. Market Sticks can easily be shortened to 'walking' length.
A Shepherds Crook can make a really attractive feature in your stick stand or just standing inside your front door or porch. A 'one piece' Crook can be steam bent from a single shank or with the handle carved from the branch that the shank had grown from. The handle of a two piece Crook can be crafted from any of the materials previously mentioned except stag antler. Traditionally, Ram's Horn is the most desirable, but arguably the most difficult to create. The shape of the handle can have the nose curved inwards but, most commonly, have a nose featuring a slight outward curve through to a full curl. The desired 'gape' (distance between the inside of the nose and the heel) is the width of four fingers, but this can vary. If a Crook is to be used for 'working' it is questionable that a two piece would stop a sheep travelling at speed. The handle and the shank can be very strong but the inherent weak spot would be the joint. Having said that there are various ways to strengthen it. A Crook, however, makes a terrific accessory for walking in the hills or attending country and agricultural shows.
Simple Walking Poles are a good choice for hiking. They can feature simple Stag Horn Grips, sometimes with a decorative cap and safety strap. The height can be anything that feels comfortable.
Decorative Sticks can be used for walking if the handle is comfortable. Alternatively they will make a good conversation piece in the stick stand.
It is worth pointing out that almost 100% of the components of a Handcrafted Stick are recycled materials. They feature the following qualities:-
Ram's Horn usually has a concave side and an internal cavity. The concave side needs to be reversed and the cavity reduced to the absolute minimum. All horn can best be compared to fingernail and responds to heat to make it malleable. It can then be formed into the desired shape. If the Ram had been a 'fighter' the finished handle may well feature an attractive rosy blush.
Buffalo Horn is a very dense solid, usually black material. Consequently considerably more heat is needed to bend it. All horn is very strong and durable. It is said it would take over 100 years for a horn to break down if buried in the soil. A very glossy finished can be achieved with Buffalo Horn.
Stag Horn is best compared to Bone. The shape cannot be altered but an antler can be cut into thumb stick pieces, coronet walker handles and rolls for Walking Poles. The crown of the coronet piece can be carved into a multitude of designs by an accomplished stick maker.
Cow Horn has only got a short solid section and is most commonly used for creating Knob Sticks. These often have clear resin tops featuring various embedded trinkets.
Wooden handles can be made from most timbers, some displaying an intricate attractive grain. Almost any shape can be attempted along with a variety of shapes for Knob Sticks. For durability it is a good idea to treat wooden handles with linseed oil or wax to protect them for the elements.
Almost any wood can be used for Shanks, but some are too heavy or light. They are often used with their bark on or sometimes it is stripped off and and the stick stained or decorated with pyrography. The most common woods used are:-
Hazel which tends to grow straight and offers a very attractive variation in colour, from a light golden collar through to the darkest of shades.
Chestnut which has a consistent rich dark colour and a very attractive finish can be achieved with oil or varnish.
Blackthorn is very desirable. Once the spikes have been removed it leaves a knobbly surface. With the use of oil the shank will polish up to a beautiful rich finish.
With Fruit Woods a more rustic look can be created. This can make a really individual stick to enjoy. Ash has a fairly ordinary plain bark, but makes a really strong stick.
The joint of a two piece stick can be embellished with spacers made from various materials and collars of silver, brass, or nickel. The end of the stick that does all the work is protected by a brass or antler ferrule, or a stout rubber one if much of the use will be on hard surfaces.
I will point out that unless otherwise requested I fit the metal ferrules slightly 'stepped in' from the diameter at the bottom of the shank. This prevents moisture running down the shank and into the ferrule, where there is no escape, and over time, it would rot the end of the stick. I also do not use glue to secure the ferrule, as this can make it difficult to remove and replace when it eventually wears out. I secure them with brass pins which prevents them being pulled off in thick mud.
If you select a stick which is the correct one for your needs, is comfortable in your hand, the correct height and you 'like the look of it', you will get really attached to it and have a Friend for Life!