All of my sticks are hand crafted by me in my workshop at home in Bridgetown, Somerset in the South West of England – previously in Sampford Peverell Devon.
The raw materials are plentiful in my part of the world and I have qualifications in chainsaw use and tree felling which comes in very handy. I buy in water-buffalo horn (which is beautifully jet black) from John Marsh in Scotland, but antlers are locally shed red deer on and around rural Devon and Somerset.
Some ‘sticks’ just jump out of the tree or hedge and the best time to cut them is when you see them! – because if I don’t someone else will or I can never find them again if I leave them.
I leave cut sticks for 12 to 18 months to dry out or season before using them. Storing them in bundles taped together to keep them as straight as possible, requires a decent amount of space in the dry to allow them to season naturally. I need to cut shanks each year to make sure I have enough to work with. I love working with hazel for the shaft – it’s hard, rugged and has so many different shades and colours, but I also work ash, holly, sweet chestnut and apple wood for shanks and all sorts for carved or turned tops. I have even salvaged pieces from the wood split for the wood burner because it has shown some fine figuring or grain that is pleasing to the eye.
Some make one piece thumb sticks –
These look simple but take a lot of rasping, filing and sanding to make them comfortable. They need straightening too as drying will alter the shape. As with all craftwork, it’s the time it takes to produce a finished article that I can be proud to say I made: – there are many that don’t make the grade!
Some pieces make one piece knob sticks that don’t need any jointing –
Three different stages of a knob stick – This involves cutting part of the larger branch as well then shaping by removing lots of the excess – excess isn’t a problem, that’s what goes onto the wood burner in winter to heat the cottage. These take more time – the initial bulking can be done by bandsaw but that still leaves plenty of edges to be rasped off then filed to remove the rasp marks then sanded with differing grades of paper from course to fine to get that ‘nice to hold’ feeling. You will notice my sticks are of different lengths: well the purists and show stick makers work to specific lengths, I work to the customer. I can always cut a bit off a finished stick but I can’t stick a bit back on! that’s why I leave them long enough to satisfy the customer.
I am asked what is the right height for a walking stick and the answer is – its entirely up to you! The trick to finding a reasonable height is to turn the piece upside down – handle on the floor – and work out where it’s comfortable to hold then cut it at that point. That is how I do the thumb stick rests for my shooting friends who use the stick to walk with but also to rest the gun barrel onto: its lining the gun up on the ‘v’ and finding the decent angle to the ground to steady the rest, then checking that height against walking height comfort.
If it’s not a one piece stick we can have all sorts of combinations of handle and shaft.
Some handles or tops I turn on a lathe, using oak, ash, cherry, yew – those are my favourites and for some I use horn or antler, some I carve the shaped top out of wood for example shepherds crook, market handle, hiker, crutch top
I sometimes use spacers or collars between shaft and handle; these add colour or contrast to the finished stick, I use buffalo horn, bleached bone, bits of cut antler and even thin slices of wood to make spacers.
I use a threaded rod drilled both up into the handle and down into the shaft to give better integrity and strength to the finished stick. I do make traditional pegged joints – that’s where you carve a peg on the shaft end which fits snuggley into a large hole in the handle. The alignment is all telling for both joints to make sure the joint sits flush to the spacer or handle and the stick is straight.
I use patterns I have made to give me a basic shape to work on then to be honest the wood normally ‘dictates’ the finish. By that I mean the grain is appealing I want to use it or an internal fissure or ‘shake’ means it needs to be carved differently or made into the dominant feature but that’s the crafty bit of me coming out! But one has to be careful that the spalting doesn’t affect the integrity of the piece.
Below are my patterns from left top clockwise : market handle,nose in crook, cardigan, nose out crook, hiker, crutch top and Churchill thumb stick ( this basic V gives rise to most thumb stick shapes)
Below the pictures from left clockwise the start of a one piece crook – a branch coming out of a larger branch that I have cut a flat face onto and marked for the next stage; straightening ‘knees’ to hold the stick whilst I apply dry heat to straighten them; bundles of cut blanks ready for seasoning : a piece of yew on the lathe and the finished turned handles.
Here are just some of the sticks I have made – my stock does change regularly as I craft new pieces and others are sold. The detailed photographs show what type of sticks I can make but because they are individually crafted no two will be the same, but give an overview of what I am capable of producing
Prices vary but start at around £20 – I do have to charge for postage and packaging.
A threesome- – a one piece crook carved from the branch and its trunk, a dark hazel knobstick and an unusual one piece hiker pole.
a red deer antler with Douglas fir caps, the bark has been partially stripped and a whipping applied to the hazel shaft. This took some work to make an antler with large cut surfaces into a useable piece. Sometimes cutting antlers needs to be done at angles to make the handle align well. This is now sold to a builder who came to do some work for us he saw a use for the out-turned piece to hook under his dogs colour and fish her out of the water! I hadn’t seen that coming!
two sticks from one red deer antler- left a crutch top using the coronet as the heel stop and a buffalo cap on the brow tine – now the property of my friend the Brigadier General and right a thumb stick on a white bone spacer
A turned cherry top on a stripped holly shaft – holly is a beautiful white wood when the bark is stripped off. That takes some time with a draw knife and an old fashioned clamp- horse. Ball tops and knobstick are useful for those with poorer grips as there is more of their hand in contact with the top than a crutch top which requires a grip on the lose stride (the one when your stick is coming forward from pushing back to the next push stride)
A spalted beech hiker top on hazel shaft – spalting is fungal infection of the wood. Simplist is where bracket fungus etc has attached to the more parasitic versions. They change the structure, appearance and strength if the wood. Its lovely to use and makes a wonderful coloured handle – but as I found out to my cost with a customer in North Devon, they can crack open if they are dropped.
Hazel thumb sticks
Mahogany crutch top on dark hazel shank – now living in North Devon.
A set of different type of handle using antler.
Carved ash ball top on hazel with a white bone spacer – this stick has a lovely feel to it.
Some crutch top type – the one on the left taught me a great deal because as pretty as it looks with the spalting, the grain stress is low and it broke when the owner accidentally dropped it on the floor! I haven’t made another like it since.
The duck now lives with MT in The South East of England
Some commission pieces
The process again blanks cut from the piece underneath in various stages of finish and the finished item on the right. I made these for James – one is oak and the other cherry
Below a commission – made for Bob’s birthday as a surprise from his wife S : its a hazel with a turned spalted beech turned handle. S asked me to insert a button from his RAF Chaplain uniform into the handle and put a brass collar for engraving.
Another commission thanks to Beth – she chose a tri-point part of an antler which I cut capped with black buffalo tips and mounted through a black spacer on a hazel shaft she chose. The pictures show the progression of the piece
I can offer a repair service too. These are personal commissions and I will give a frank appraisal of the options and likely outcome as not everything is possible. Here’s a couple that came to me for repair – both stag horn, the smaller on the right was broken away from a very sentimental stick which I was able to rejoin and straighten, the second which came just as a handle ( but again sentimental as it had the brass caps of two important cartridges embedded in the ends ) was completely reshanked.
I also do some unusual gifts like gavels, skian dubhs, carved house names etc and a variety of Christmas and seasonal pieces – tea light holders, clocks, key holders etc a few of which are shown in pictures below..
And finally below – just in case they are not obvious – are pie and cake prodders to push through the loose bottom of a pie or cake tin! ! The smaller diameter one was specifically commissioned by Maggie, who has named him Perceval for liberating her individual ‘puyes’ , and now lives in Berkshire, the other – as yet unnamed, lives with us in Mrs Artisansticks baking cupboard.
Thank you so much for visiting and browsing my site. Please feel free to mail, message or call me if there is anything you like or anything you would like to speak about, enquire about, or for me to make for you – others have as you will have seen. . The only consideration is – if you commission me to make something specific I may ask for a deposit.
My contact details are on the contact page. Regards Paul ‘Artisanstickman’ Williams
Thank you also to all of the kind people who have bought sticks from me and clearly been prepared to recommend me to others.