Best wood for fighting stick / walking cane?


Owen Sparks
August 3, 2011, 02:52 PM
What in your opinion is the most durable wood for a fighting stick?

By durable I mean the ability to hold up to repeated impact of training. I know about rattans flexible strength but it tends to be far too light to carry much momentum. Irish Blackthorn is similar to rattan in resilience but has to be imported and is very expensive.

I am looking for a natural material that is indigenous to North America that can be easily obtained and used to make quality sticks and canes for a small home based Martial Arts business.

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August 3, 2011, 03:02 PM
Maybe ash or hickory, like baseball bats. That's just a wild guess though, I really don't know enough about wood types to be commenting.:cool:

August 3, 2011, 03:18 PM
ive heard good things about White wax wood, decent flexibility and density......

....not sure if its native to North America, but im sure it cant be too difficult to source.

August 3, 2011, 03:30 PM
Rock hard maple - cutting boards are made from it. Having done some work with it the past few weeks I will attest to its hardness.

Keep an eye out for discarded shipping pallets. You might get lucky and find one made out of cast-off maple. Sometimes the color is wrong or has an internal blemish that is unsuitable for furniture or other uses. I've found several pieces of nice oak and maple that way.


Loyalist Dave
August 3, 2011, 03:49 PM
White Wax Wood is Asian, so the requirement for it to be from North America rules that out. The aboriginal people of North America used various hardwoods, maple, white oak, hickory, to fashion war clubs. Hornbeam (ironwood) would work, but it's like its name and hard to work. The secret seems to be they used roots from those trees instead of branches to make the best and most durable clubs, the angled, ball headed clubs. The procedure was to find a large hardwood tree that had been blown down in a storm, and harvest a corrisponding root section. Remove the outer layer, and allow it to dry, then carve. If you are running a business making these, you can't depend on the weather, to blow down trees when you need them eh?

The problem I see is that while you may find a way to make a good fighting stick or club, does it look as such? I carry a hawthorne walking stick, as it looks like a cane, and I have even added a rubber tip. Canes are common place, and ruffians will probably judge something that looks like a cane to be a mark of infirmity in the person carrying it. When they suddenly get cudgeled or Escrima'd upside the head after making an agressive move is when they should discover the "cripple" is able bodied and armed quite well; not before.

So I should think you might concentrate on making something that looks common place, and making it out of durable materials, and learning how to use that in an SD situation, rather than carrying something like an Escrima stick or two, made of North American materials. A walking stick continues to be a good idea, as it has been for a couple of centuries.


Carl Levitian
August 3, 2011, 04:00 PM

Grows in low places near water, and has a dense twisted grain pattern that makes a very very rugged stick. It may not be strait, most will be crooked with interesting twists in it, but I've never had one break. I've tired during workouts on a heavy bag. It also has a spiky type shaft that you can leave the little nubs on for a ripping effect. The root nobs can be either 90 degree to about 40 degree that makes for a nice pistol grip if you sand it right. Has very thick heavy bark and under layer, so it's better to leave the bark on and just smooth with 000 steel wool and stain the color of choice. You can get iron or brass bottom ferruls from lots of places, ( Lee Valley tools for one) then put a rubber end on that can be pulled off quick.

August 3, 2011, 04:04 PM
I found a long straight piece of tree root (species unknown) in a log jam in a river after the spring snow-melt floods. I made a hiking staff out of it, and that's some of the toughest wood I've ever found. It’s flexible enough to absorb some shock, lightweight, but is unbelievably tough.

August 3, 2011, 04:19 PM
ive heard good things about White wax wood, decent flexibility and density......
....not sure if its native to North America, but im sure it cant be too difficult to source.

It's actually Chinese, species ligustrum lucidum. It can grow here in the states but many areas classify it as invasive or noxious. Though, nearly every martial arts supplier I have walked into carries big bins of them in various lengths on the cheap.

On the plus side, the wood is excellent in my opinion. My first "fighter" walking stick was wax wood, a Jō that I later cut down to a cane size. Stuff is in-frickin-destructable and mine has seen it's share of broken metacarpals and concussions. As to the weight, I am not certain. I can weigh my stick later this evening and report back.

For other woods, other members of this forum sold me on the merits of American Hornbeam aka Ironwood, possible one of the strongest I have ever encountered. My two canes I have made weigh about 0.9-0.95 pounds without any metal fittings. It is a native species to North America though it is more common in the northeast. I will state the downsides though: It is so strong and stubborn that it makes it a serious pain in the --- to work with. Just sawing a limb off a downed tree takes longer than you would expect, and trying to carve one with a knife takes both hands pushing on the blade. Also, most limbs are not particularly straight; your not going to end up with a "pretty" stick in the end. If you can tame it though, it's a formidable companion.

August 3, 2011, 04:29 PM
ash--lighter than maple or hickory; very tough (meaning ability to resist breakage)

August 3, 2011, 04:53 PM
I have used oak, maple, and various fruit woods with good results for canes.

August 3, 2011, 06:43 PM
Hickory is used for most of these if you're looking at American hardwood. Hornbeam is an alternative, but would be harder to get than hickory.

There are numerous commercial sources for hickory staves/canes.

August 3, 2011, 07:16 PM
^^^^^^^^^^Agree that hickory is going to be the wood most available to you in the lower 48.

We are fortunate to have a good supply of Eastern Hop Hornbeam (ironwood) here in Deep East Texas. I prefer it over the several species of hickory that grow here.

August 3, 2011, 07:26 PM
I swing a sledge hammer for a living. A hickory sledge hammer handle is tough, light and cheap. Every time a handle gets broken at work I get a new whacking stick.

August 3, 2011, 07:29 PM
On the way to Camp Perry I stopped off at the Louisville Bat Company.

They claimed ash bats were heavier and lasted longer than maple bats.

Maple is used as you get a lighter bat for the same contour, increasing bat speed.

They also charged more for a maple bat, $85.00 versus $55.00 for the ash. Apparently maple broke more often.

August 3, 2011, 07:40 PM
I've been using a piece of bois d'arc as a cane for years. I can pretty much take on a tank with it, and win no less. Just peel off the bark, no easy task by the way, and seal it. Done. One fighting stick, staff or cane that will last pretty much forever.

Or you can try to get a piece of black walnut. Last I heard it was the hardest natural wood on the planet.

Shanghai Dan
August 4, 2011, 09:14 AM
I like purpleheart. Hard, tough, decent weight, and beautiful wood as well - no one would think a figured chunk of purple colored wood would be anything but a decorative cane/walking stick!

August 4, 2011, 09:28 AM
Had a TON of this on my folks' property, made a couple of walking sticks out of it. Very tough, very springy! Just a question of finding a branch of the right diameter and curvature!

August 4, 2011, 09:41 AM
My first choice would be hickory. Second would be ironwood (hornbeam). I suspect that dogwood would make a great staff as well; very tough wood if you have ever tried to cut a large one down.

Another that could be interesting is Crepe Myrtle which I have growning in my yard and seems to be fairly hard, slightly flexible, and certainly can have an interesting look to it depending on species... say Nachez as an example.

August 4, 2011, 10:19 AM
Not wood, and not cheap: canvas micarta is the best fighting stick material.

I've seen several 1 1/4" purple heart staves broken, btw.

August 4, 2011, 10:24 AM
Another "none wood" option... I carry a cheap left-over 4 foot piece of 1 inch PVC pipe. It's lightweight and tough as nails.

August 4, 2011, 11:14 AM
Black Locust grows straight and is very hard and very durable, also easy to find. or Osage Orange aka hedge/bois d'arc if you can find it- it dries to a beautiful honey amber color when finished. I have some that was planked and dried and I'm going to try making up a laminate of 1/8" layers for longbows and walking sticks. Black walnut is not one of the harder hardwoods and would not be my choice for a walking stick or staff. Hickory is also good. Ash is lighter and resists shattering.

Owen Sparks
August 4, 2011, 11:17 AM
Unfortunatly "lightweight" cancels out the "tough as nails" part. Anything under a pound just does not carry enough inertia to penitrate (deep transfer of energy) in a walking cane length stick.

Canvas micarta is a fantastic material but it cost like rip and is a little too non-traditional to sell to the age group who buys walking sticks.

August 4, 2011, 11:47 AM
If anybody wants to make a go at a hornbeam stick, I can provide the material.

August 4, 2011, 12:02 PM
Natural canvas micarta looks like wood.

Owen Sparks
August 4, 2011, 01:07 PM
JShirley said: "Natural canvas micarta looks like wood."

Got a source? Im curious now.

August 4, 2011, 01:11 PM
Bois d'arc or locust. Maybe persimmon, but it might break too easily.

Sweetgum is another possibility.

August 4, 2011, 01:39 PM

Canvas micarta comes in various colors including black, brown and natural/tan. It can have a wood grain appearance. It is commonly used on custom knife handles because of the appearance and stability/strength. Rod stock is available from the above sources. As John pointed out the prices are much higher than hickory, but the material is much tougher and heavier.

Below is a brown canvas micarta scaled Al Mar and a lighter colored Spyderco so you can see what it can look like.

August 4, 2011, 01:44 PM
You want 1"-1 1/8". I like 3-4' lengths.

Steel Talon
August 4, 2011, 01:52 PM
When cured properly Crepe Myrtle is an excellent wood to make canes, fighting sticks, and yawara with, and I've made several. It's a fairly dense hard wood that has a tight grain.

The draw back is that it's not really a commercially available wood, so to get it you have to find a source for you to go get it. Most use Crepe Myrtle in their landscaping. Because of its beautiful flowers.

For your business what is your focus? For the dojo,or for personal defense? Hickory is your best bet . But everybody uses hickory

August 4, 2011, 04:52 PM
Or you can try to get a piece of black walnut. Last I heard it was the hardest natural wood on the planet. You must be thinking of what some people call Brazilian Walnut/Ironwood (not the Hornbeam kind) which is actually Ipe. I use Ipe quite a lot and it is the toughest wood I've ever encountered.


August 5, 2011, 10:42 PM
Lignum vitae is the densest of trade woods; it will easily sink in water. On the Janka Scale of Hardness, lignum vitae ranks highest, with a Janka hardness of 4500 lbf, compared with African Blackwood at 2940 lbf and Hickory at 1820 lbf.

They used to make airplane props out of it.

Steel Talon
August 6, 2011, 01:21 AM
Mulberry might be another option..Its the primary wood for field hockey sticks.

August 7, 2011, 09:38 AM

This place is fairly local to me and I have used several different diameters for cane/walking sticks, after reading about them here. Most folks think they are wood.

August 7, 2011, 10:45 AM
Not sure about its ability to whack stuff with but I have a walking stick made from Catawba Rhododendron that belonged to my great grandfather, I was told that he got it from the Cherokee Indians. You can tell that is has been soaked in some kind oil or wax but I am not sure. When I was a kid we used to hit rocks with it swingging it like a baseball bat and it has very few dents or cracks in it.

August 7, 2011, 11:26 AM
I'm surprised at all the recommendations for ash. Think about how many baseball bats you have seen shatter from hitting a small ball of thread wrapped in horse hide. Sure, it's being thrown pretty quickly, but it's still just a ball, and a cane/stick will have less cross section than a bat, even if you're talking about the skinny end of the bat. A broken bat is not a big deal in baseball, just toss it and grab another from the dugout at your next at bat. Ash is light, and usually tough enough for the task of swatting a ball, so it gets used, but for SD, you don't want something that will crack. And since the cross section is small, weight is not an issue like it is for a bat. I'd go for something tougher and denser than ash if it were me. At least for such a small cross section. Hickory and oak sound like better options to me. Another option would be Dymondwood, or something similar, where epoxy has been impregnated into the wood in an autoclave. That stuff is nice and dense, and almost indestructable. It can also be worked pretty easily and polished up real nice to make an attractive piece.


Owen Sparks
August 7, 2011, 12:49 PM
Extreme hardness is not as important as flexibility in a fighting stick. Very hard wood tends to be brittle and breaks when clacked together in blocking drills. Really flexible materials like rattan (actually a vine) are usually too light and lack density to carry much momentum. The best wood that I have found so far is Osage orange AKA Bois d'arc. It is dense, heavy and flexible. The problem is that long straight lengths are usually not commercially available and it is prohibitively expensive if you can find it because the longer pieces are highly coveted by bowyers. (people who make bows) It is also difficult to dry properly to avoid cracking and must be cut in the dead of winter when the sap is low and the ends must be shellacked in the field.

August 7, 2011, 02:34 PM
I'm just repeating but... my 3 foot piece of PVC pipe is cheap, tough as nails, and a good compromise on weight. I have no doubt it could crack a skull if it had to and I can wield it pretty darned quick.

August 7, 2011, 03:09 PM
The best wood that I have found so far is Osage orange AKA Bois d'arc.

I imagine Osage is a pretty good wood for that.

As a geographical aside, for the longest time I wondered what in the hell an Osage orange tree was. I never found out until I got into traditional bows. No one around here calls them "Osage orange", so for other folks in the South like me, it's a horse apple tree. Seeing the words "Bois d'Arc" as an alternative name didn't help me any either, because those in the South that do call them that have pretty much mutilated the name into "bowdart", which doesn't even resemble the spelling.

Anyone that has ever cut any can attest that it is a tough-as-nails wood.


August 7, 2011, 05:44 PM
Canvas micarta is flexible enough, and rough enough for quick grip changes. Extremely smooth wood will stick to your hand and burn you. A former training partner of mine broke a dymondwood stick. I found ramin to be surprisingly resilient, but I don't know if you can still buy it in good conscience.

August 7, 2011, 08:48 PM
A former training partner of mine broke a dymondwood stick. I found ramin to be surprisingly resilient, but I don't know if you can still buy it in good conscience.

Surprised to hear that about the dymondwood. I use it fairly regularly for knife scales, and it's usually pretty stout stuff. Guess maybe not when you have a piece that long. The only experience I have with ramin is cheap foreign cue sticks, and they usually warp pretty easily and are easy to break with a really loose grain. That could just be in the selection of wood used for those cheap import cue shafts though, so maybe I should rethink my opinion of it?


August 7, 2011, 09:18 PM
Hickory heart.

August 7, 2011, 09:21 PM
Whatever you decide to use be sure you research for possible hazards. You may need to work outside and wear a mask and goggles. One example caustic wood is Purple Heart.

August 7, 2011, 09:34 PM
Hickory heartWouldn't the sapwood be better? (less likely to split or break)

August 8, 2011, 09:53 AM

Red Hickory as Strong as White Hickory

Usually only a small outer portion of a mature hickory tree contains white wood; the inner part, or heartwood is red. Many people think that this red wood is not so strong or tough as the white wood. This belief however, is discredited by actual strength tests made at the Forest Products Laboratory upon many specimens of red and white hickory. The tests show conclusively that, weight for weight, sound hickory has the same strength, toughness, and resistance to shock, regardless of whether it is red, white, or mixed red and white.

The belief that white hickory is superior to red probably arose from the observation that young, rapid growing hickory trees, which are nearly all sapwood, or white wood, generally have excellent strength properties. As the tree matures, however, this same sapwood is transformed into reddish heartwood; and a half million tests made at the Forest Products Laboratory have failed to show any change in the strength of wood of any species, due to this natural change from sapwood to heartwood.

A reliable indication of the strength of hickory is its density. That is to say, of two pieces of the same size and dryness, the heavier will be found to have the better strength properties. This fact makes it possible for large manufacturers or purchases of hickory handles or wheel spokes to inspect the pieces by weight and very rapidly and at small expense with automatic machinery.

The man who is buying only one handle will usually find a visual method of judging hickory more convenient and practical than weighing. A fairly reliable visual guide to strength is found in the proportion of summerwood appearing on the end of the piece. The summerwood is the solid looking or less porous portion of each yearly growth ring. It is quite easy to distinguish from the springwood portion of the ring, which is full of pores or small holes.

The summerwood has much greater strength than the springwood, because it contains more wood substance per unit volume. Wide bands of summerwood and relatively narrow bands of springwood, therefore, indicate a stronger piece of hickory than bands of summerwood and springwood of nearly the same width. The greater the proportion of summerwood in a tool handle or other piece of hickory, the greater will be its strength.

The number of growth rings per inch also affords some means of grading hickory. Few growth rings per inch, as shown on the end of the handle, indicate a stronger and tougher piece than many rings, provided of course, that it is straight-grained and free from defects at important points. Acceptable handles commonly show not more than 20 rings per
inch, although much good hickory will be found with as many as 40 rings per inch. More careful inspection, however, by weight, is recommended for this very slow growth material.

As a further guide in choosing a good tool handle, it is worthy of note that the best hickory shows an oily or glossy side grain surface when smoothly finished; also, when it is dropped on end on a hard surface, such as a concrete floor, it emits a clear, ringing tone, in comparison with the dull sound produced by hickory of inferior quality.

The adoption by the general public of these methods of grading hickory, in place of the worthless prejudice with respect to colour, would put an end to the wasteful practice of culling red hickory stock. When hickory was plentiful, this was a matter of seemingly little importance; but now every means should be taken to conserve the waning supply of an important wood, for which no satisfactory substitute has been found.

August 8, 2011, 09:57 AM
Whatever you decide to use be sure you research for possible hazards. You may need to work outside and wear a mask and goggles. One example caustic wood is Purple Heart.

Yeah, some folks can't even handle certain woods, much less inhale any dust from it. Cocobolo tears some folks up.


August 8, 2011, 10:16 AM
That's an excellent point about allergic and skin reactions to certain woods. Even American Hornbeam wood is known to be an mild skin irritant according to the US Forestry Service. I noticed my hands got a little itchy and red after during sanding and handling bare wood, though it went away in a day with regular washing.

August 8, 2011, 10:32 AM
Some wood dust is downright poisonous. Keep that type out of your eyes and lungs.

August 11, 2011, 08:25 PM
Bo Dark or Osage orange is tough heavy and a preety yellow before it turns a honey color. Also Ash or last but not least hickory. All traditional bow woods.

August 12, 2011, 11:27 AM
to be the oddball.... Osage. Strong enought to handle the shock of being a bow limb whilt flexable ans springy enough to do the same ;)

August 12, 2011, 11:48 AM
Don't forget locust and honeylocust (btw, they are not related.)

August 12, 2011, 11:55 AM
Try a full roll of saran wrap solid light and makes a decent impact weapon.

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