Confessions of a Walking Stick Whittler

A large number of members gathered on the 19th December to find that our booked speaker was unwell and had had to cancel. No matter, an excellent substitute had volunteered to fill the gap and could provide an unusual and informative talk.

Ralph Ray, a member of the Society for over five years, had brought along an astonishing collection of hand made walking sticks. Ralph told us that his obsession began when he picked up a beautiful cherry walking stick in Swanage. This stick was sadly lost in France and the obvious challenge was to make a replacement himself. Over the past twenty years he has produced over 200 new walking sticks.

When walking he always carries a pruning saw, a Swiss army knife, a rasp, teak oil, sheep's wool, various sized ferrules and elastoplast! He simply scans the hedgerows for suitable trees; but the final tip is always to cut the branch longer than you need. It should also be too thick as it will get lighter as the sap dries up. Refinements can be made later by removing some of the bark and smoothing with sandpaper.

It is also necessary to choose a suitable ferrule; first taper the end of the stick and then bang on the ferrule. If the walking stick is being made for a particular person then the height of the thumb hold should be adjusted so that when in use their arm will run horizontally from their elbow to the stick.

Crooked sticks can be left for a few days for the sap to run out when they may straighten naturally; thereafter they should be oiled about every six months. There are no guarantees - not all sticks will last for five years.

Various trees can provide a source of thumb sticks. Usually there should be two 'prongs' for a thumb hold. Even exotic wood can be carved.

Ralph told us that his collection came from all over the world; the Galapagos, the Azores, many from Europe and of course the UK. His preference is for Hazel which usually grows straight; but Holly, Rose Briar, Silver Birch, Willow and even a Fig have been used.

Ralph's off beat style was a delight to hear and rarely has so much laughter accompanied one of Lichfield Civic Society's monthly talks.

Peter Cousins
December 2014