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How to Restore a Cane Walking Stick and Make a New Handle

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

This illustrated step-by-step guide will teach you how to restore your cane and make a new handle for it.

This illustrated step-by-step guide will teach you how to restore your cane and make a new handle for it.

Restoring Your Walking Stick

I inherited a grubby old stick many years ago, amongst other items. It was too nice to throw away or use as a garden cane to support tomato plants. It was also of no practical use in any of my DIY projects, so I just put it to one side in my shed and forgot about it.

It was not until recently while I was reorganizing scrap wood in my shed that I came across the cane again. I sat down with the grubby old stick in my hand while having a coffee break before continuing to tidy up my workshop. I noticed a metal rod sticking out of the top of the cane. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a tarnished brass tip at the other end. That's when it dawned on me that this was an old, handleless walking cane.

I'm going to walk you through the steps I took to clean and restore the old stick back to a respectable walking cane. With the help of Father Adrian, a very close family friend, we created a new handle for the walking cane on his lathe.

Why Did I Tackle This Project?

Having dawned on me (while sipping my coffee) that the grubby old stick in my hands was, in fact, an old bamboo walking cane with a missing handle, I could see the potential for restoration. I'd need to source and fix a suitable handle. With our wedding anniversary rapidly approaching, I thought it would be a nice romantic gesture to restore the cane with a new handle as a surprise anniversary gift for my wife.

To this end, my first thoughts were to carve rather than buy a handle. However, I have no experience or the right tools for carving wood. I am more technically minded than artistic. So I turned to my good friend Fr. Adrian for suggestions and ideas, asking if he had any experience with carving art from wood.

In my minds-eye I visualized a cat shape handle carved from wood (cats being our favourite pet); although at the back of my mind I knew that neither Fr. Adrian nor I had the skill or tools to do so. However, as usual, Fr. Adrian pulled a rabbit from the hat; and not only that but also he managed to make it a hat-trick:

  1. He reminded me of his recent acquisition of a second-hand lathe (albeit he has not used one since school many years ago—he insists it was electric-powered and not steam-driven) with which we had the potential of making a handle.
  2. He also sourced a coin with a Maine Coon cat as the motif on the reverse. This is very appropriate, as our adorable pet cats are half-breed Maine Coons.
  3. He suggested Purpleheart as an ideal wood for the handle. Not only is purple one of my wife's favourite colours, but its name also has a romantic ring to it— very appropriate for a wedding anniversary gift.

Thanks to Fr. Adrian, we were set to embark on an adventurous DIY project to restore the old walking stick cane and make a new handle for it.

Initial Restoration of the Walking Cane With the Aid of a Dremel

Initial Restoration of the Walking Cane With the Aid of a Dremel

Having found an old stick in my workshop and on close inspection realising it was once a walking stick, but missing its handle, I removed all the dirt and grime and then gave it a good clean and a lavish soaking of wood oil. In this short section of the article, I describe how I did this step by step (with photos) and the materials I used to transform it from a grimy old stick to the makings of a walking stick.

Time required: Two hours

Difficulty: easy

Cost: $0

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Materials:

  • Sandpaper, fine grain
  • Dremel polishing pad
  • Teak oil
  • Brasso
  • Yellow duster
  • Car body filler (P38)

Tools:

  • Dremel
restoration-of-an-old-walking-stick

Instructions:

1. Most people may have washed and scrubbed it down in warm soapy water in the first instance; which would have been a good starting point. But I was still on my journey of discovery; not quite yet realising I was holding an old walking stick in my hand. At the time I was on a coffee break in my workshop whilst in the middle of tidying the shed up after a major restoration of our front porch. So, with an old stick in my hand and noticing some metal poking out at the top I just grabbed some fine grain sandpaper and started to rub the stick gently up and down its length. Within less than a minute the sandpaper removed enough caked dirt from the joints (nodes) to reveal them and show that the stick was bamboo and then shined up the tip to make it visible and show that it was brass.

Therefore I continued sandpapering the cane for a few minutes more; until I was satisfied that I had removed as much dirt and grime as I dare without risk of damaging the cane itself.

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2. I then got out my Dremel and fitted a polishing pad attachment to remove the remaining dirt and grime. Using the Dremel I worked my way down the entire length of the cane with the polishing pad, making sure to work with the grain and not across. On the joints between the segments of the bamboo, it was less effective working with the grain, so I turned the Dremel 90 degrees to get right into the joints, using the edge of the pad, removing all the dirt that had caked into there. And on reaching the brass tip I gave it a good polish with the Dremel to bring it up nice and shiny and new.

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3. By cleaning the cane with fine sandpaper and the Dremel I could see that it was just an ordinary bamboo cane with an ebony colour finish; but at this point, the wood was still dull and did not look anything special. Therefore to bring life back to it and bring it up to a nice shine I got my teak oil out and liberally applied it with a new dishcloth. The wood was very dry so it quickly soaked up much of the teak oil. So I left it for half an hour before I rubbed in a second generous coat with the dishcloth soaked in teak oil.

Teak oil is not the only or necessarily the best wood care oil, but it is a product I like for general purpose use. Whenever nourishing wood around the home I always use teak oil to good effect; not only does it care for the wood and give it a good sheen but it also brings out the colour in the wood to give it a naturally rich look.

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4. For the brass tip I polished it up with a generous application of Brasso. As with any brass, the more you polish it with Brasso the shinier it gets; something you could spend ages doing. But as with any brass, it reacts with the oxygen in the atmosphere and soon starts to tarnish again unless you care for it with regular polishing.

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5. Having given it an initial clean and polish, the cracks along the grain where over the years the wood had dried out were quite apparent; and needed filling. For this, rather than using wood filler I turned to a car body filler (P38) designed specifically for dents and scratches and is easy to sand. From experience I found car body filler a far cheaper alternative to commercial wood filler; and more importantly (with its quality of being hard wearing, durable and waterproof) I find it gives much better results than any wood filler I have used in the past; especially for exterior wood repair.

To use the car body filler as a wood filler you add a spot of hardener to a small amount of compound and quickly mix it together, and then apply it to the cracks just like any other wood filler. You do however have to work fast as the car body filler begins to harden within about 10 to 15 minutes; if it hardens quicker than this then too much hardener has been used.

As soon as I had applied the filler, and before it was fully set, I quickly rubbed down the whole cane with a yellow duster to remove any excess filler from the cane itself; just leaving what was applied in the cracks intact.

I used the lathe to make the handle from Purpleheart wood with insert for Maine Coon Cat motif coin.

I used the lathe to make the handle from Purpleheart wood with insert for Maine Coon Cat motif coin.

For this project we purchased a 600mm (two-foot) piece of Purpleheart wood three inches square spindle blank from Yandles; a local timber merchant in Martock, Somerset. Purpleheart is a very dense hardwood ideal for wood turning and being an expensive wood most suitable for small projects. My good friend, Fr. Adrian suggested Purpleheart and I loved the idea because of its romantic sentiments in the name (and the colour), which I thought would be a nice romantic gesture for the new handle for the old walking stick, which I wished to restore as a surprise wedding anniversary gift for my wife.

Fr. Adrian recently acquired a second-hand lathe and was as keen on this project as I was; albeit he has not used a lathe since his school days, so it was going to be a steep learning curve for us both. This section describes in some detail how we used the lathe to make the walking stick handle, and includes the odd misadventure.

Time required: Four hours

Difficulty: medium

Cost: $30

Materials:

  • Purpleheart wood
  • sandpaper
  • Wirewool

Tools:

  • Lathe
  • Lathe chisels
  • Square
  • Pencil
  • Mitre saw
  • Japanese hand saw
  • 38mm Forstner bit
  • 6mm wood auger bit
  • 19mm flat wood drill bit
  • Electric drill
  • Drawing Compass
  • Carpenters knife
  • Electric planer
  • Woodworking depth gauge
restoration-of-an-old-walking-stick

Instructions:

1. Along with the lathe, Fr. Adrian was given a selection of second-hand wood-turning tools. Most of them looked blunt to us and we did not fully appreciate how to use many of them although Fr. Adrian had an idea of how to use the main ones; but at least it was a starting point, the worst-case scenario being he might have needed to buy some new chisels to complete the project.

restoration-of-an-old-walking-stick

2. With two feet of Purpleheart to play with and only needing a few inches to make the handle we had plenty of wood to experiment with; and if things went wrong we could always start again with a fresh piece. Fr. Adrians game plan was to cut a 7.5-inch segment with the intention that the handle itself would be made from 3.5 inches in the middle leaving two inches at either end as grip pieces while the walking stick handle was being made.

restoration-of-an-old-walking-stick

3. Having measured and marked the required length with a square and pencil Fr. Adrian used his mitre saw to cut it to length. It is hardwood, so although you could cut it with a hand saw, a mitre saw is a lot easier and quicker and will ensure the end is perfectly square; which for later in the project will be important.

restoration-of-an-old-walking-stick

4. Having cut the section of wood we wanted the dead centre marked at both ends to ensure the wood blank is fitted in the lathe perfectly central. To achieve this Fr. Adrian placed a square from corner to corner and using a carpenter's knife scored a line; turned the blank 90 degrees repeated the process; then marked the blank on the other end in the same manner.

restoration-of-an-old-walking-stick