March 31, 2014, 03:09 PM
I have a ton of ironwood in my backyard. A storm took down a good size ironwood sapling and I want to make a walking stick or two out of it. I have heard mixed things about removing the bark, leaving it on, letting the wood dry for a year, etc. What is the best course of action with ironwood to make a walking stick? Thanks.

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March 31, 2014, 03:32 PM
I have an Ironwood staff I made maybe 20 years ago, use it every time I head out for the woods. IIRC I cut and hung it in the basement(floor joists) for about 6 months, then peeled and carved it and coated it with boiled linseed oil.

March 31, 2014, 04:13 PM
Are you going with a curved (crook) handle? If yes, begin bending it now. Make a jig. Using a "T-handle (from a larger branch or root like a Blackthorn cane)? If you carve it right, you can make a derby handle (my personal favorite).

Do a google search on walking cane making or walking stick making. They'll give you the generalities. You'll need to try (since you have a nice selection to work with) different methods for which you like best. Be sure that the length is at least 36" (Easier to shorten than lengthen). Be sure that the bottom (tip) has a minimum diameter of 7/8 inch to 1-1/8 inch. Discard any branches that do not meet these these dimensions, as they will be too narrow or short to offer proper support.

Some people soak the stick in fresh running (stream) water for a year. Some dry it for 6 - 12 months. Both methods can be done with or without the bark. For most canes, you will either need to use a lathe to turn it for perfect roundness, or whittle it with a knife and sand paper it to your desired level of smoothness. If you use the water method, then it needs to be dried again.

Try this site: http://www.instructables.com/id/Whittle-a-Staff--Walking-Stick/

March 31, 2014, 04:30 PM
We have a couple of members who have worked with hornbeam a lot and they'll be along with their experience, but until then you can Search hornbeam or ironwood and you'll read their suggestions.

March 31, 2014, 04:59 PM
Are you talking American Hornbeam (the "muscle tree") or American Hophornbeam ("ironwood")? The Hophornbeam has a pretty conventional bark that would not, IMO, add much. The wood is absolutely extraordinary!!! Really is hard as iron and you cannot split it with even a gasoline-powered hydralic splitter. Really amazing material.

Hornbeam has very smooth bark that looks like it's covering muscles. That wood is very good and the bark stands up well over time. My father made a lot of walking sticks and that bark was stuck fast many years after the tree was uprooted for the purpose.

March 31, 2014, 05:02 PM
It is the muscle tree.

March 31, 2014, 09:20 PM
I made two. These are both musclewood (American Hornbeam) from my state. The one on the left was striped down to the bare wood, while the one on the right had the outer back taken off but not the under-bark. Appearance is a matter of taste I suppose. I like them both.

The left one had part of a trunk when I cut it, so the "derby" handle is carved. Be warned this stuff is tough! It will fight you every step of the way and most conventional wood-carving knives will not really take much wood off, often requiring both hands just to make a dent. I used a jigsaw, several thick-bladed knives and a lot of sanding.

The right one was originally more straight, but I bent it into shape using a steam chamber made from PVC pipe and a wallpaper steamer. It was a brand new green sapling when I did this, and it still split a little, but that's ok because this wood often "checks" as it dries and the fibers are just as strong. I kept it bent for 24 hours then moved it to my basement where I left it wedged under a beam for 6-8 months (I forget).

Both have the "checks" filled with a little wood glue and then were coated in clear poly. Years later they are still good, though my hand never got used to the "derby" handle, so I prefer the half-crook.

You probably noticed neither is particularly straight. This is a reality of this wood and I think it adds to the charm.


Carl Levitian
April 1, 2014, 08:13 AM
Always leave the bark on with a hornbeam. Like the English blackthorn, the under bark on a hornbeam is very thick and tough to remove, and you'll be removing too much material in the course of trying to get it all, even down in the valleys between the ridges of "muscle" in the wood. I polish the bark with 0000 steel wool, and then just use the stain and varnish of choice.

If you're lucky enough to get a hornbeam sapling with root, the root polished up like fine pipe brier, and makes for a great looking and feeling handle. I seal off mine with Helmsman Spar Urethane after staining.


These two have the bark on, and you can see what Glistam said is very true: it's impossible to get a strait stick with hornbeam, but that's part of the character of the wood. I like the rustic crooked stick, and I don't mind a little crooked character as I know the wood is tough as nails. Both of these sticks are about an inch and a three eighths up near the handle, tapering down to just about 7/8ths at the end. I like a bit of taper for the nice balance and quick handling it gives me for spear thrusts to the stomach and throat. Still has more than enough to snap across a wrist and back of a hand and break bones.


Close up of polished hornbeam handle. Both these sticks were young saplings that I dug up after digging around with a small garden trowel to see if they had a root that would make a good handle. Aged down the basement for several months before sanding and polishing and finishing.

April 1, 2014, 10:49 AM
Thanks everyone, definitely some good advice. I never thought of digging up the root for the handle. I have a ton of saplings in my backyard so I will give it try.

April 1, 2014, 11:13 AM
some years ago, while hunting in Arkansas, I found a number of Hornbeam saplings which beavers had cut down and gnawed the bark off of - turning them round and round like corn-on-the cob, leaving them clean of bark but with an interesting surface. I selected three of suitable size and made walking sticks for myself and my sons. All I had to do was trim the ends to square-up the irregular beaver-cuts and leave them of suitable overall length.

PRD1 - mhb - Mike

April 1, 2014, 11:47 AM

Left is Ironwood(hophornbeam)

Right is red maple and the 2nd stick I ever made (1st was Blue beech, it broke).

I peel everything keep as much natural as possible with no caps to avoid trapped water, both of those sticks are 20 + years old and I use the ironwood but the other is more of an ornamental and a mouse killer.

April 1, 2014, 09:48 PM
I want one .

Yo Mama
April 2, 2014, 12:16 PM
me to, nice work everyone

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