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A long time ago I tore a branch off a tree, barked it and finished it with a few coats of varnish. It was more fun than functional. The stick was not that straight so pressure from using it caused it to bow while walking. I still have it but it made me wonder.

What do I need to consider when selecting wood for a walking stick? I have heard of people using saplings, roots and just branches in general.

I am not interested in answers that are just favoring species e.g. diamond willow etc. but something of a checklist when it comes to selecting wood.

  • The mention of 1.25" diameter by @Ashlar makes me want to check whether you wanted input on hiking sticks/hiking poles rather than the more conventional walking stick I was imagining. – Graphus Jan 1 '17 at 14:41
  • Umm. I will have to look up the difference – Matt Jan 1 '17 at 16:38
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Any hardwood could be used for a walking stick. I would expect that a diameter of 1 1/4" or greater should provide enough strength to resist the bending you mentioned. If you are seeking a natural stick avoid any wood that has been on the ground too long. A few field tests for various candidates should be an adequate test for strength. All of that is pretty standard.

The real test for a Great Walking Stick is character. In my book, the more pronounced its natural form and specific flaws revealing it's story of growth and endurance, the more appealing it is. A good piece with gnarly twists and bulges at the cap gives the staff personality. Of course this majestic head should resolve into a straight strong shaft and solid foot. Once selected the candidate should be broken in by adventurous hikes in unique locations. The combination of its unique character and shared history will result in the bond between man and stick that is critical to success of you both as a team.

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Generally you want tough, resilient wood that isn't prone to splintering. The list of woods that meet all three requirements to a certain degree is looong. That there's a much shorter list of woods that have been and/or are currently favoured for walking sticks might seem to show that if you can pick and choose you select stuff that's particularly strong but actually a great deal of what was chosen historically came down to its looks (colour as well as grain/structure) and not due to its inherent great strength.

A sizeable chunk of walking stick production uses raw material where the stick in its entirety is supplied by the raw material, i.e. bamboo shafts, branches or saplings, which then require minimal processing (rather than forming a dowel/spindle by cutting away material from a board or riven length). While this can be inherently strong material with no weak axis it shouldn't be forgotten that their stock would be essentially free. Any wonder a craft of this sort would grow to favour a raw material that didn't cost them anything! So the species that are chosen for this may not be as superbly well suited as their glowing marketing says they are.

Beyond what certain species can provide you do have to select your stock carefully because all strong woods can have weak individual examples. So just as was said in an Answer from a long time back you should ignore the species, and ask yourself "What's this piece like?" That was in relation to tool handles (for things like axes) where the requirements are much more stringent but it can still apply here to a lesser degree.

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