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I have an old softwood tree in my garden and I want to make a display staff and cane out of some of its branches.

These are display pieces that will not be used outdoors and that I want to make very shiny. My goal is maximum preservation and presentation. Something that will last forever and look amazing.

It seems for each step different materials can be used, and I don't know which is best suited for a display stick, and I'm also wondering if I should harden it. Can someone talk me through the steps and provide the best materials and methods for my stated purpose?

After cutting the wood and I have to seal the ends immediately. What should I use to seal and where do I go from there? How long should I leave it to dry (I have plenty of time - is a year to dry the optimal choice for a display staff and cane?). Should I harden it before or after drying? Where do I go from there? And what maintenance does it need to last forever?

Thanks

Note: I do not want to add any carvings or color to my sticks and want to preserve but round any knobs or protrusions.

the reason I ask here on Stack Exchange is because I've read umpteen websites telling me umpteen different materials and methods on how to make walking (not display) sticks but need an expert opinion to help me choose which of those materials and methods is the best for a display stick

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My goal is maximum preservation and presentation. Something that will last forever and look amazing.

Nothing lasts forever. But if the rest of your lifetime will do you you're in good shape ;-)

Wood by itself can be pretty surprising in how well it lasts indoors, look at the structural pieces in the attic of almost any older house for an example. And that's with nothing at all applied to it and regular baking during the summer months and freezing during the winter. Add some finish, and a certain amount of ongoing care, and something made from wood can last and continue to look good for generations as many heirloom furniture pieces demonstrate.

After cutting the wood and I have to seal the ends immediately.

You don't have to do this with branches and slim saplings, they're commonly dried just as they come from the woods, sometimes even with the bark left on. And contrary to the usual advice for wood converted to boards, they're frequently dried upright and not laid horizontally1.

What should I use to seal and where do I go from there?

If you do want to seal the ends there's no one thing you must use, but the best thing for the job is melted wax. Any wax will do, including that from cheap candles if that's all that is available.

Remember that sealing the end grain is to slow drying, so this automatically means you have to wait longer for the wood to be ready. Much stick material is dried without the ends being sealed partly so it doesn't take as long, and slim stock 'in the round' like this just doesn't crack as much as much thicker stuff.

How long should I leave it to dry (I have plenty of time - is a year to dry the optimal choice for a display staff and cane?).

How long is a piece of string? The wood dries until it's ready to use, and how long that takes depends on all the possible variables.

It's rare that patience isn't rewarded when drying wood, both speeding the process and using wood too early can have negative consequences. So if you can wait more than six months and as much as a year you're unlikely to regret it.

Where do I go from there?

After drying, cutting to length and any shaping or smoothing work you want to do the wood is ready for finish.

For a finish you can use anything you want, literally anything you've heard of used in wood finishing will create a shiny surface. Shellac or oil-based varnish are good choices as they aren't expensive, are commonly available and easy to apply to a high standard, and additionally they're both longer lasting than lacquer so I'd pick them in preference.

And what maintenance does it need to last forever?

Regular dusting is the best thing you can do for wood as ongoing care, and the occasional wipe down using a damp cloth can be beneficial if required. With periodic waxing2 to help protect the surface of the finish you could typically expect any finish to last many years.

Beyond that possibly refinishing every few decades, but the finish used and the environment dictate how well a finish endures. Note that shellac is much easier to top up, or remove and replace, than varnish if ever needed.


1 Don't know why, and I don't know whether it actually makes a difference.

2 NOT oiling. Avoid all oil-based furniture polishes.

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  • liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/collections/antiquities/… Here's a walking stick from about 1550 BC - 1186 BC.
    – Johan88
    May 1 '18 at 13:58
  • If my stick lasts 3000 years I'd be pretty happy. I'm looking to make a heirloom.
    – Johan88
    May 2 '18 at 7:36
  • @Julian, most finishes that cure hard can slightly toughen the surface of softer woods because they sink in and then harden when they dry/cure, and that's the case with shellac and varnish. This is in addition to the harder surface layer they form on top if you add enough for a film to develop. [contd]
    – Graphus
    May 2 '18 at 12:17
  • @Julian, but even softer woods like pine/spruce, can just sit there and stay in good condition for years and years without any finish on them — certain portions of 18th century cabinetry that aren't on show (e.g. backs, drawer bodies, some internal framing) were commonly made from pine and typically there was no finish applied to those areas. And if the item was not neglected those unfinished parts can still be in great shape 200 years later.
    – Graphus
    May 2 '18 at 12:19
  • thanks. When will I know the wood is dry enough and ready for applying a finish?
    – Johan88
    May 2 '18 at 13:25

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