How to Look After Your Walking Stick
Your walking stick was very well made and looks really smart. How can you protect it from daily wear and tear and keep it looking good for years to come?
This article discusses measures you can take to look after your walking stick.
The most perishable part of any cane is the ferrule or tip at the end, where the cane meets the ground. You can buy rubber, brass or steel ferrules depending on whether you want a firm grip (rubber) on the ground to avoid slips or a metal ferrule for dressier canes.
Rubber ferrules wear out fairly quickly (depending on how much the cane is used indoors and outdoors) so it is wise to buy a few at a time so that you always have a spare.
If you are using a walking stick as a walking aid, then checking the condition of the ferrule and replacing when it is worn is paramount to the reliability and safety of your cane.
Wooden Walking SticksMost walking sticks are made out of wood, a wooden handle fixed onto a wooden shaft and can therefore be looked after like any other piece of wood.
Avoid leaving your stick against a radiator or any other heat output as this can cause warping or cracking.
Your stick should be kept somewhere warm and dry, i.e indoors.
Always dry your stick by wiping it with a tea towel or cloth if you have been using it in wet weather and keep it clean of mud and grime by using a damp cloth to gently wipe it. For sticks that have a varnish, you can use furniture polish or beeswax to protect the wood from time to time.
For natural sticks, that is ones with the bark still on them, apply some danish oil or furniture oil once a year with a dry cloth to keep the polished finish or just dry polish it with a cloth.
Metal Walking Canes
To look after these canes, which are mostly height adjustable, always ensure the tightening collar is re-tightened once the correct height is set. This will prevent wear and tear on the joint and stop any clicks or rattles.
It will also make the cane more secure.
Most folding canes you can buy are made from aluminium so the same care applies to them too.
Dropping your Walking Stick
Most walking sticks will survive the occasional fall now and again quite well but the ones that will be damaged are the collectible type with resin toppers such as our Sherlock Holmes cane with the moulded resin handle.
You can avoid dropping your stick by purchasing a cane holder or a wrist strap. Any of these products are designed to keep the stick in place so that it doesn't fall onto the floor.
Probably the most common mistake is leaning a walking cane against a table edge, only to hear it clatter to the floor! Any of the accessories mentioned above can prevent this and they are all inexpensive and portable.
Sticks with leather handles, shafts and the leather sling seats on the shooting sticks can be cared for in the same way as any other leather products by using leather cleaners and conditioners.
There are many different products out there on the market so if the leather on your shooting stick is a bit dry and stiff then use some leather food.
As leather is a natural product it can become mildewed or mouldy if left in a damp place. If it gets wet when out, it is good practice to dry it off with a dry cloth and keep indoors away
from any radiators of other sources of heat. This will avoid cracks in the leather.
Apart from the collectors' cane handles, the other types that can be easily damaged are the silver, chrome, nickel and brass plate handled canes. Particularly the silver-plated as silver is such a soft metal.
The user must be careful not to scratch the handle with rings on fingers and gloves may need to be worn by some users as the reaction of the skin with the handle to cause the silver-plate layer to wear thin.
The problems with these kind of sticks are many due to the materials used but as they are meant to be used only occasionally, for weddings or other special occasions, the wear and tear can be kept to a minimum.
Repairs and Spare Parts
From time to time you may need to come back and ask us for spare parts, some of which are free and others which will need to be paid for. For example, we supply the spare flasks that hold the tipple in the tippling sticks.
The handmade walking sticks can all be returned for repairs as our stick-makers are absolutely diligent about quality
and they are always very shocked in the event that one of their sticks gets broken.
One stick-maker is an engineer and he always wants to find out "the how and why" any stick gets broken. His sticks are made to last a lifetime at least.
The commonest problem we hear about is leaving a walking stick behind somewhere and never seeing it again!
For this problem we can only suggest a wrist strap to help NOT forgetting your stick!
Five Important Points to Consider when Choosing a Walking Stick
With a bewildering array of walking sticks available to buy on the internet and in the shops, here are five top things to consider before you buy to ensure you purchase the right stick for your requirements.
The most important thing when choosing a walking stick is to get the correct height. The easiest way to discover what height stick you need is to stand up straight with your arms to your side and measure the distance from your wrist to the ground, then this is the height you need.
It is important to find out more about the measurements of a walking stick on a website before you buy because sometimes the measurements shown describe the total height (i.e to the top of the handle) and sometimes it is the height from the ground to the underneath of the handle. This could mean a difference of up to a inch, depending on the handle type. Some sticks are sold as a one piece, fixed length item and others are adjustable.
The second consideration is the TYPE of handle that will best suit your needs. There are generally quite a few different styles to choose from, all with their own special purposes.
Derby walking canes are popular because the Derby style handle is designed to hook over the wrist to free up the hands when required. Crook handles offer the same benefit, hooking over the wrist or arm.
Anatomical shaped handles, i.e handles made of a resin or moulded plastic which fit the shape of the palms are the most comfortable handle type. These types of sticks are usually sold in a right and a left hand model and usually bought as a pair. They are best appreciated by people who rely heavily on a walking stick (or two).
Crutch handles provide a reassuring grip, promoting confidence in the user. Crutch handles are also lighter and generally smaller than other handle types.
The third thing to find out about a stick is the maximum weight it has been tested to support.
Some sticks are stronger than others depending on the materials used to make the shaft. Carbide walking sticks are the strongest (and most lightweight) that money can buy. Other materials used are usually: Aluminium (for hiking poles, collapsible canes and folding sticks), wood ( Chestnut, Hazel, Beech, Ash and Hardwoods) or Bamboo. Aluminium is strong and lightweight, wood used for stick making is carefully selected, dried for a year and treated so is a reliable source for stick making and bamboo is flexible and strong.
Number four. Will the stick be for occasional or frequent use?
This is a very practical question you need to ask yourself to save you money and to get the perfect stick for you. If a stick is for occasional use (for instance, you may need something to lean on when in a queue) a foldable or telescopic stick is probably best. It is best to have a lightweight stick that folds or collapses down to a small size that can be kept in a handbag or rucksack when it is not needed so that you don’t need to unnecessarily carry around a walking stick.
A flip stick or foldaway seat is a good option if you need a seat when out and about when there might not be any available (i.e at an outdoor event such as a fair or in an airport). Flip sticks usually incorporate a seat and a walking stick (with handle)in one, so you have the choice of a quick seat or stick as required.
If a walking stick is going to be used for frequent use, then a lightweight stick with a comfortable handle is the best thing, or perhaps even two sticks to evenly distribute your weight and the pressure on your hands.
The fifth point to consider is where the walking stick will be used. Will it be used around the house, for going to the shops and out and about, for walks in the countryside or to take away on holidays?
For use around the home, you will a stick with a rubber ferrule (tip) which provides a better grip on slippery surfaces than steel or brass ferrules. For general use around town, things to consider are the same as the previous points already mentioned.
For country walkers and hikers; lightweight hiking poles are an excellent choice as they are strong, lightweight and most importantly, adjustable. Usually sold as a pair, hiking poles can be easily and quickly adjusted in height. This is particularly useful for hill walking because you can shorten both sticks to ascend, lengthen to descend or have them at different heights for walking across a hill on a steep slope to help keep your balance.
There is a large choice of walking sticks on the market suitable for holiday makers. Any sticks that are foldable or collapsible compact down to a small size for luggage.
To summarize, the five most important points to consider when choosing a walking stick for yourself or for someone else are; the height needed, the best handle type to buy, strength and weight designed to support, how often the stick will be used and where.
Walking Sticks for People Who Do Not Like Walking Sticks
If you or anybody you know needs to use a walking stick or some kind of walking aid in their daily lives but are reluctant to do so for whatever reason, then here is an update on what is available on the market today that may help to change your or their mind.
First of all you need to identify what a stick would be used for. Would it be useful to have a stick that turns into a seat to be used when waiting in a long queue (at the airport for example) when there is not a readily available seat? Or would it be nice to have a strong, reliable walking stick that looks like a hiking pole instead of a mobility aid?
Many people, particularly young people or people who have had an accident do not want to use a stick for support. I think the main reason for this is that the thought of a walking stick conjures up images of NHS, bulky and unattractive sticks and people are unaware of the sportier, more attractive sticks available.
To take a fresh look at what is available these days, a good place to start looking is on the internet. Sticks today can be bought in funky metallic pink, designer patterns, pretty florals or sporty styles. You can buy sticks that look like umbrellas but have the strength to support a person and have different walking stick style handles, not just crooks. Whatever your taste or favorite colour, you are sure to find something to suit.
Other considerations are whether a stick would be more of a hindrance than a help. If a stick may only be needed for occasional use then you do not want to be carrying it around all of the time unnecessarily. You would not be wanting something too heavy in this case either. Well, the solution is to get a foldable walking stick. One that can be stowed away in a handbag or (for men) in a jacket pocket. These sticks tend to be very lightweight but strong and reliable when it comes to supporting the user..
Carbon fibre walking sticks are also a brilliant solution. Some weigh only 250 grams but are incredibly strong (ten times stronger than aluminium sticks).
Also it is worth keeping up with the ever increasing pace of technology and innovation. For example, if its a stick for the blind that is needed, you know one that is painted all-white for increased visibility, there is now talk of a handheld wireless sensor the size of a television remote control that may soon replace the white canes and other walking sticks that have guided the blind for centuries. The sensor is designed to detect obstacles in the way and a working model of the magic wand has not been built yet but give it time...
Sticks designed for the country walker and for other outdoor pursuits such as shooting or bird watching are another more attractive idea. Thumb sticks and waders are tall staff like sticks than provide a support to lean on. These are traditionally made from Hazel, Ash or Chestnut and can of course be personalised to suit. A deer antler can add a nice touch and a good talking point. Shooting sticks are both a seat and a supportive stick and are usually made from aluminium and steel with a leather seat and strap.
So there you have it, a walking stick does not have to be just a stick, it can be an umbrella, a seat and a great looking accessory as well.
Antique Walking Sticks
Walking sticks have been around for a long time and were not just used for balance. Historically, sticks have been used as status symbols, weapons and used by the clergy, farmers, countrymen, hikers and tippling canes for people to conceal a measure of their favorite tipple inside the shaft. In the 18th century, the walking stick overtook the sword as a gentleman's 'must have' accessory and since then, walking sticks have been produced in a myriad of designs and styles which we will explore in this article.
We do not supply antique walking sticks but it is obviously an area of great interest to us. Antique canes can fetch prices from several hundred pounds to several thousand. Many of them are very rare or indeed one-of-kind and they can be found from all over the world. From Africa and the Middle East to France and Japan with many different cultural, political and scientific influences.
Due to the fantastic variety, individuality and workmanship that is more than evident when looking at walking sticks, many people collect sticks.
So let's look at the weapons first is these are some of the most imaginative I think. The early sword canes were made in the 18th century. The top or handle is pulled away from the shaft to reveal a blade and beneath the handle there is a tapered section of wood that fits easily in and out of the shaft to 'open' and 'close' the cane.
Most sword canes were made using a bamboo shaft as bamboo is naturally hollow with only the divisions between the chambers inside needing to be cut through to allow the sword access to the end. If other wood is used, the process is like that used to make a graphite pencil. The two lengths are first cut and then hollowed out and then bonded together again to make a hollow tube.
Lots of interesting materials were used to make the handles in antique sword canes, such as ivory, ebony and porcelain.
In some countries nowadays it is illegal to possess, carry or trade in sword sticks as they are considered to be weapons. In the United Kingdom, antique sword sticks which are 100 years old or older are exempt from these laws.
Some other weapons concealed in antique walking canes are whips (cat of nine tails), stiletto (like a long ice pick), guns (where the shaft is disguised as a steel barrel and the ferrule and handle are removed to form a gun!) and daggers. Cane guns are very rare and are mostly found in private and museum collections.
Next, to gadgets! A walking stick lends itself perfectly to hold, conceal or turn into a number of useful gadgets. A quick look at some antique walking canes revealed some ingenius gadgets and tools made for all sorts of uses. From equestrian and dog walking to measuring and smoking the creativity, invention and craftsmanship was amazing!
Cigarette holders (a stick with a hollowed out shaft holding up to 20 cigarettes) and an artists easel stick whereby the stick unscrews into several sections and then is put back together to form an easel on tripod legs, with a compartment for paints, a water bottle and the brass fittings used to make the paper holder for drawing or painting on (like a music stand).
This type of cane, known as a system stick, is a cane that either hides something inside or converts into another object. From 1870 to 1915 over 1500 patents were granted for system canes and the variety is incredible. There were telescopes, fans, perfume bottles, opium holders, dressage whips, trumpets, periscopes, a London cab hailer, compass, apple corer, lighter, bottle opener, cutlery set, whistles, saws, umbrellas, ear trumpet (hearing aid), gof clubs, snooker cues, seats and backgammon sets. Other gadgets made were watches inlaid in the tops or in the shaft with beautifully crafted wind-up mechanisms, measures for measuring anything from horses to fabric and complete tool kits concealed within the shaft.
Now to decorative walking sticks. Handles made from ivory and ebony to amethyst and jade. Various jewels, precious stones, bones and metals were used to make carved animal head toppers, characters and ornate designed handles. The variety is endless and with some of these antique canes aged over 200 years old it is evident that they were made extremely well and have been looked after.
Porcelain handles feature a lot on 18th and 19th century walking sticks. Porcelain is an excellent material to use for stick handles for the following reasons; tough and strong, hard, low permeability and high resistance to chemical attack. The last point is particularly relevant as some materials, such as silver or chrome plate, react with the chemicals from the user's hands and can tarnish. These kind of sticks would need to be held using a gloved hand.
Antique walking sticks fetching tens of thousands of pounds are the bejewelled canes. Diamonds, rock crystal, jade and ruby are all examples of jewels used to make these extravagant sticks with gold and silver elements added aswell.
Even the country walking sticks which we would class as the simplest and most natural type of walking stick were made to an amazing level of craftsmanship. Animal horn, antlers and beautifully carved woods were used with gold and silver used for the collars.
If you are interested in antique walking sticks and would like to start a collection or visit an auction house, have a look at some of the websites below to get started or search "antique walking sticks" or "antique fairs" in Google.
What is coppicing?
Coppicing: a sustainable forestry system.The raw materials used for the lovely ash knobsticks we sell are produced by using a centuries-old "coppice-with-standards" forestry system.
Beneath an upper canopy of maturing timber trees, smaller ash trees are grown to around 10 cm in diameter. They are then cut at a height of approximately 120 cm. Each plant produces new shoots, which are just above the nibbling height of the abundant roe deer.
The stump, also known as the coppice stool, is then allowed to regrow and several stems grow out of the one stump.
Over three to four years, these shoots grow to the correct height and diameter to form raw material for walking sticks. A similar procedure is followed for other woods, such as blackthorn and hazel.
Often part of the original tree is cut with the stick; turned the other way up, this becomes the handle for a knobstick. Straight sections of wood become hiking poles, and those with a natural "V" in the wood become thumbsticks.
The cutting stage is always done in the minter when the sap content is low.
How to Make a Ram's Horn Shepherd's Crook Handle for a Walking Stick
The method of transforming a Ram's horn into a beautiful handle on a walking stick has changed considerably over time. The main difference is the horn itself. Back in the days of common land and shepherds, rams were allowed to live much longer and therefore produced much larger horns. Then, only the solid tips of the horns were bent and made into the handle of choice (usually a shepherd's crook or market stick).
Nowadays, as only predominantly smaller horns are available, the solid tip of the horn is not enough to make a handle so the horn needs to be compressed and bent repeatedly until the right shape and a solid handle is achieved. This is a very long and slow process and that is why you won't find any cheap walking sticks with curly ram's horn handles!
But wait we are getting ahead of ourselves. When the ram's horns are cut from the skull of the animal (this is usually as a bi-product of the meat trade) they are then left to dry out for at least a year. Then the best ones are selected, for example ones that don't have splits or blood clots (blood clots or blood blisters can be caused by fighting and produce a red mark on the surface) in them.
For a crook handle, you need at least 40cm of hollow horn for it to be a success. The best way to measure this is by pushing a length of slightly bendy wire down the horn until it reaches the solid tip and then marking the 40 centimetres on the horn and cutting off the surplus. The thickness of the walls needs to be at least 6mm otherwise the walls are in danger of collapsing when heat and pressure processes begin. If the above measurements don't quite make it then all is not lost. If you only have 30 centimetres with a wall thickness of 6mm then you could make a market stick instead.
The first step is to remove the quick (this is the core inside the horn which can extend to about a third of the horn's length). After drying out for a year, the quick should be dislodged quite easily with a sharp tap. If not then the horn can be boiled, dried andd then tapped again.
The next step then is to reduce the size of the cavity that the removal of the quick has left to make the horn suitable as a walking stick handle. This is done by a process of heating and compressing. The horn is boiled for 30 minutes and then placed in a mould and clamped in a vice overnight. A bolt is inserted into the cavity at this early stage to prevent the horn from collapsing.
When the horn has been left to cool overnight, the next step is to take out the natural curl in the horn. This is achieved by reheating the horn with a hot air gun and clamping it to a metal plate. The horn is gradually heated and pressed down onto the metal plate until it is flat against the plate. It is then clamped into place and left to cool overnight again. While cooling down, the hole in the neck that was left by the bolt can be filled with a resin (a liquid that sets hard when left to dry). This will eventually be drilled to make a hole for a dowl that will attach the handle to the walking stick shank.
So now you have the basic shape of the crook, the next step is to apply more heat and pressure to squeeze the crook into the best shape and finish possible. Starting at the neck of the handle heat and pressure is applied working right the way to the nose (i.e in the opposite direction to where the shank will meet the handle base). This stage can be done in one go and the result should be a nice looking crook handle with rounded edges.
The final stage is to create a curl in the nose so that it curls outwards. This is done again be heating, bending and clamping until the right shape is achieved. The heating and pressure process is possible because ram's horn is not bone (which cannot be bent and shaped like this) it is more like hair in it's properties.
For the finish, a good polish is the best thing. Polishing brings out all of the lovely patterns and colours in the horn and the beauty of it can be realised. Shaped ram's horn handles command a high price because of the extensive and careful work that goes into forming one so don't go and ruin it was lashings of varnish!
The only downside to working with ram's horn or indeed with any animal horn is the smell! Horn has a really pungent smell that gets everywhere and is difficult to escape. So if you are interested in a project like this then an outdoor workshop away from your home is recommended!
How to Fit a Brass or Steel Ferrule to a Walking Stick
All walking sticks have something to cover the tip of the shaft where the stick meets the ground, this is called a ferrule. You can get rubber ferrules which provide a grip on the ground to avoid slipping, metal ferrules which are harder wearing but do not grip or bone or antler ferrules for antler handled canes.
Metal ferrules can be plain (flat) or spiked and can be made from steel, brass, copper or nickel. Many stickmakers turn there own ferrules from copper plumbing fittings as these are cheap and there is a ready supply. There are several ways to fit a metal ferrule to a walking stick and this is what we are going to look at in this article.
The first step is to prepare the bottom of the shaft where the ferrules will be fitted. The best way to do this is to twirl the stick around in your fingers with the tip against a belt sander so that you can get a nice tapered tip. The aim is to fit a ferrule so that it is flush against the side of the shaft with no edge sticking out that the user can catch themselves or something on.
Then choose or make your own ferrules with a diameter slightly less than the walking stick shaft due to the tapered tip you have just made.
Then you use some wire wool to rub the inside of the ferrule and then add some epoxy resin glue to the tip and then attach the ferrule. You can also pin the ferrule by hammering two sharp pins through the ferrule or by crimping the rim a couple of times with a sharp nail and hammer. Some stick makers use epoxy glue and then pins.
To finish, polish up the ferrule especially if it is brass so that it looks nice and shiny.
Some other ferrules you can buy are; magnetic ferrules (to pick up spent gun cartridges), steel tipped brass ferrules for extra durability and ice grip ferrules which are covered in spikes (like crampons). Then there's the combi-spike ferrule which is something you would find on wooden hiking sticks or other country walking sticks. It's essentially a steel spiked tip with a robust rubber ferrule that fits over the top so that the stick can be used or soft and/or hard ground.
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