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Making the Paul Sellers’ Walking Cane

Having just concluded the final woodworkingmasterclasses on building the joiner’s tool chest we are about to start the new walking cane series and I admit that though part of my purpose is to help people perhaps start a business or add additional projects to their existing range of products. I also want to counter some of the cheapo canes coming in as Asian imports. Sometimes it is shocking to me to see the same thing on sale in Galveston, Texas on sale in Newark Liberty Airport, New York and here in a North Wales Tesco Supermarket.

Concluding the online series on Tool Chest build
The tool chest series was a major production with sixteen weekly parts of solid filming. The next cane series will be about three parts and we will be making walking staffs as an added section for you to make sticks and staffs too.

Responsible cane making
I received an email concerning individuals making canes and safety so I thought we should discuss this just for a minute. John’s concerns are valid so I will place them as he presented them and then share some of my thoughts. Let’s start with John’s thoughts here:

I wanted to say:

1) Canes and walking sticks aren’t necessarily just style choices or affectations.  Medically they are considered prosthetic devices, the same class as an artificial limb.

2) Getting the wrong type of cane can cause damage either by use or by not being fit for the required purpose.

3) Using a cane incorrectly or even correctly can cause damage in other joints.

4) Having a well designed, attractive cane or walking stick can make the difference between having it with you when you NEED it and leaving it in the car or at home.

I lived all 4 of those.  My purpose is not to stop anyone from making canes and walking sticks.  But I do think if you’re making one of these devices for someone in particular you need to be aware of these issues.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  I’ve no idea if this blog is the appropriate place to bring up these points so I’ll leave that in your hands.

John

OK. These are very valid and valued insights into walking canes and their uses and usefulness and I think John has brought an added dimension to our move forward.

My thought is this. Having made and sold many thousands of canes to individuals and pharmacies throughout the US, I saw the added aesthetic of a wooden walking cane that had greater substance and weight than those available for general use. Almost all of my canes were made from white oak, but I also made some from red oak and other woods too. Straight-grained oak in the sizes we will be recommending will be almost impossible to break even when a 200-pound man hangs himself from the centre and the ends are supported as shown in my sketch (I’m not saying do this. I tested one just now to make sure, but I am 175lbs.)

Countering the cheap culture of mass-made

In those early days, as I wandered through the places that sold canes in the US, I saw that they were now being made mostly in Asia and made from telescopic alluminium so that they could be a one size fits all adjustable canes. This was convenient and practical, cheap to produce and a solution for most people’s needs. On the other hand they were dead ugly, utilitarian, non-individualistic and made from progressively lower-grade components as Asian competition to meet international demand for low-priced products increased. I envisaged snatching something back. To me then, a hand made cane could become more a personal expression against utilitarianism as a whole and indeed a positive statement by users of their belief in quality, hand made products that included something as functional as a walking cane. From point #1 and 2 above we should see that for many users this is a serious consideration. If we are making a cane for someone specific we can put in effort that will ensure the cane is developed specifically for the individual who will use it it. The cane pattern we are making will in its general proportions given, fit the needs of the average person using it. The cane tapers from a 7/8” diameter at the tip to a 7/8” by 1 3/8” ellipse or oval at the top. This then means that you have the weight and solidity in the hand, yet lightness at the extension of the tip in the forward reach. For long term and permanent users this is critically valuable and essential for reaching forward in-stride, weight transferring to overhand downward pressure and walking on to conclude the stride.

For point #3: I think it would be a good idea to have the cane fitted by a professional health care provider if the user is essentially dependent on cane use as a continued need. The adjustable canes are helpful for this as the cane can be adjusted and the length transferred to the wooden cane you make. In my cane making days I carried an adjustable cane to shows with me and then fitted the cane to the person. Health care providers can best advise the user on using the cane.

Finally, point #4: Someone looked at the canes on my bench recently and said, “I dread the day I need one of those.” It’s sad that canes are so associated with old age and unsteadiness. The fact is that it would be better to use a cane earlier than needed and prevent or reduce the risk of a fall than let pride come before it. I have indeed found that people are more inclined to buy a cane that fits them and indeed suits them. I also think that they will be more inclined to walk out with a well-made, aesthetically pleasing cane that is indeed fit for purpose than one that rattles and clunks with every step.

I think that we are ready to start making, so let’s get going. The first cane making blog should be up tonight.

3 Comments

  1. jmpurser on 23 October 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you Paul for addressing this. I really wasn’t sure a woodworking blog was the place to address these issues. Just because an issue looms large in my life doesn’t mean it’s a large issue! I did want anyone making them to be as aware of the medical issues as they would be say the need to put a food safe finish on the spoons or bowls they make and “Responsible cane making” covers that well.

    And I’ll expand on point 4! Take a walk around any Veterans Administration medical facility and pretty soon you’ll see a cane or staff that is clearly hand made. In fact it’s a good bet you’ll find a lot more hand made ones than the black, telescoping, metal ones that Paul describes so well and which are the ONLY kind the VA dispenses. Walk up to the first Vet you see with one of those custom canes and say “Nice stick! THAT’S not VA issue!” and I predict you will get an instant smile followed by “The story of the stick!”

    The fact is those custom sticks made it out of the closet, into the car, through the parking lot, across the street, over the curb, up the stairs down the hall, waited in line, and was THERE when that Vet needed to get out of the armless chair or when nerve damage turned his leg into a rubber band. That institutional one may never have been picked up from the pharmacy.

    Besides, we all known custom canes are…wait for it…



    • jmpurser on 23 October 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Please delete this post. There was a discus login issue, a youtube issue, and a “John can’t proof read until after he clicks post” issue and somehow I wound up plagiarizing myself.



  2. jmpurser on 23 October 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you Paul for addressing this. I really wasn’t sure a woodworking blog was the place to address this. Just because something looms large in my life doesn’t mean it’s a large issue! I did want anyone making them to be as aware of the medical aspects as they would be say the need to put a food safe finish on the spoons or bowls they make and “Responsible cane making” covers that well.

    And I’ll expand on point 4! Take a walk around any Veterans Administration medical facility and pretty soon you’ll see a cane or staff that is clearly hand made. In fact it’s a good bet you’ll find a lot more hand made ones than the black, telescoping, metal ones that Paul describes so well and which are the ONLY kind the VA dispenses. Walk up to the first Vet you see with one of those custom canes and say “Nice stick! THAT’S not VA issue!” and I predict you will get an instant smile followed by “The story of the stick!”

    The fact is those custom sticks made it out of the closet, into the car, through the parking lot, across the street, over the curb, up the stairs down the hall, waited in line, and was THERE when that Vet needed to get out of the armless chair or when nerve damage turned his leg into a rubber band. That institutional one may never have been picked up from the pharmacy.

    Besides, we all known custom canes are…wait for it…

    http://youtu.be/Xlzb2PRmvSU



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