How to Restore a Cane Walking Stick and Make a New Handle
What are the chances of finding an old bamboo walking stick without a handle?
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 supporting 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, handle-less 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?
It'd be my wedding anniversary gift to my wife.
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 carving rather than buying 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Having found an old stick in my workshop and on close inspection realised 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: 2 hours
- Sandpaper, fine grain
- Dremel polishing pad
- Teak oil
- Yellow duster
- Car body filler (P38)
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 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.
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.
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 natural rich look.
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.
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 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 hardwearing, 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 wood filler you add a spot of hardener to a small amount of compound and quickly mix 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 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.
Using the Lathe to Make the Handle From Purpleheart Wood with Insert for Maine Coon Cat Motif Coin
For this project we purchased a 600mm (2 foot) piece of Purpleheart wood 3 inches square spindle blank from Yandles; a local timber merchant in Martock, Somerset. Purpleheart is 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: 4 hours
- Purpleheart wood
- Lathe chisels
- 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
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 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.
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.
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 a 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.
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 carpenters knife scored a line; turned the blank 90 degrees repeated the process; then marked the blank on the other end in the same manner.
5. Having found the centres on both ends Fr. Adrian then used a drawing compass to score a perfect circle at both ends; making the circles the same diameter as the thickness of the wood i.e. 3 inches. Although the final handle would be less than this it gives a guide as a starting point for readying wood blank in preparation for turning on the lathe.
6. Scrap wood is always useful; both Fr. Adrian and I keep as much scrap wood as we can in our workshops. On this occasion Fr. Adrian wanted to use a couple of small sections of Arris Rail offcuts and a piece of scrap timber to make a jig for preparing the wood blank for the lathe. He quickly cut the pieces he wanted on his mitre saw.
7. Fr. Adrian temporarily fixed the two Arris rail offcuts by screwing down directly into his workbench (Fr. A seems not to hallow his workbench as much as his chapel altar), butted together along their length to create a natural groove into which the wood blank would sit ready for rounding off the edges. The scrap piece of wood being screwed to the bench at the end of the Arris rails to act as an end stop for the Turning Blank. Although as we were soon to discover, the end stop could have done with being a little thicker so that when we started shaving the edges down there would have been more contact with it and the end stop.
8. Using his electric planer Fr. Adrian skilfully planed the edges off the wood blank taking them down to the pre-marked circle lines at each end; the purpose being to make the turning blank roundish to make it easier when he starts to turn the wood on the lathe e.g. to make it easier for the chisels to cut into the wood with less risk of them catching, snagging.
9. A proud moment; with an electric planer (even on hard wood) it shaves the wood so quickly and easily that it is easy to get carried away and (before you know it) shaving off too much wood. You could use a hand plane but it would be hard going (especially on hard wood) and take a while to do.
10. Having planed one edge down to the mark Fr. Adrian proceeded to plane the other three edges; and within a matter of minutes (using the electric planer) had the wood blank ready to turn on the lathe. It was at this stage we discovered that the end stop could have been a bit higher to better hold the wood blank in place; albeit we did manage with it as it was.
11. To fix the wood blanks in the lathe, Fr. Adrian had a two prong centre to go into the headstock, which he ceremoniously drove into one end with a hammer; or at least tried to drive it home, but being such a hard wood the headstock centre only went in, albeit enough to hold the wood firmly.
12. This assembly, with the two prong centre tightened into the lathe chuck, we later discovered, for this type of project, whether the two prong centre is tightened in the lathe chuck or whether the lathe chuck is completely removed and the two prong centre is fitted directly into the headstock end of the lathe is optional.
13. The Purpleheart wood blank is then centred onto point of the tailstock centre and that end of the tailstock tightened slightly, thus holding the whole assembly in place ready for turning. The tailstock centre we used was the one that came with the lathe; and although this is the first time in years since Fr. Adrian has used a lathe it was all coming back and everything was looking good.
14. Before turning on the lathe for its first real test and use, Fr. Adrian checked everything over and adjusted the tool rest to a comfortable position. He selected the chisels he wanted to start with putting them to one side, where they would be easy to hand and ready for use.
15. It took little time for Fr. Adrian to get a feel for the lathe, resting the chisel on the tool rest and gently feeding it into the wood at a suitable angle (about 90 degrees to the wood). The objective at this point is to just round off the working area of the wood to make it a perfect cylinder; a point from which you can then start shaping it to your desired design.
16. Having made the central part of the wood a perfect cylinder (the two ends being less important at this point), and before shaping the wood to the desired design, Fr. Adrian remarked the lines two inches from both ends to make them visible as the wood turns in the lathe. He marked two lines, first with a pencil, and then to make them more prominent, with a parting chisel. This then clearly defines the section (between the two marked lines) on which to work with the chisels to shape and size the walking stick handle being created on the lathe, also making sure that Fr. Adrian had a clear guide as to the required knob size.
17. Then things go horribly wrong. After only a few minutes the wood starts to loosen at the tailstock end, causing uncontrollable shuddering of the work piece in the lathe. Retightening the tailstock to grip the wood firmer only brings a moments relief before Fr. Adrian notices a slender wisp of aromatic smoke (Holy Smoke, surely not!!!), rising from the tailstock end, and the wood blank loosening and starting to shudder again.
18. We stop the lathe to isolate the cause of the problem. On close inspection we discover that the fixed tailstock centre, rather than just gripping the wood blank firmly and keeping it central was, due to the heat generated from the friction, burning the wood, and on even closer examination, allowing the wood to wander off of centre, no doubt due to the centrifugal force, the deep indentation being burnt into the wood is widening, not only making the wood blank loose in the lathe but also causing it to wobble.
19. At this point Fr. Adrian gave Yandle and Sons Ltd (a local timber merchants), a quick phone call for some free advice. Having explained the situation to them they recommended he buys a revolving centre (Record Power 1MT) to replace the existing fixed one; specifically to prevent the friction and subsequent burning of the wood. They also offer to give him further free advice on his wood turning chisels and other accessory bits he had with the lathe if he visited them. Therefore we decide to make a trip to Yandles in Martock, Somerset from where he buys the required revolving centre.
20. While at Yandles (having already been told by Fr. Adrian that this is his idea of a toy shop, I am soon to realise that this is also my idea of the perfect toy shop) he also buys a new 4 prong centre (Record Power 7/8 diameter), which will grip the hardwood better than his existing two prong version. The very helpful staff have a good look at his existing woodturning chisels, and rather than advising that he should buy some new ones, they simply tell him that he has a good set of chisels. They give him tips on how to use them and even take the time to explain to him in detail how he can best sharpen his chisels; Fr. Adrian was a happy bunny as they talked themselves out of a sale and saved him a considerable sum of money, but their free advice is also good PR (Public Relations) which will mean that both I and Fr. Adrian will give them high consideration when looking to buy wood and tools in the future.
21. All set up with the Purpleheart wood fitted back in the lathe, chuck removed, now with the new 4 prong centre, simply slid into the headstock, and the new revolving centre in the tail stock, we got back to turning the wood, and this time everything runs smoothly. On the advice given by Yandles timber merchants he starts with a round nose scraper, which cuts into the wood less aggressively, giving a good surface finish but more importantly eating away at the wood slowly (with a high degree of control) to give more control whilst roughing down. It also gives Fr. Adrian a golden opportunity to practice with this tool for later use when the walking stick handle is close to completion.
22. Again, on the advice of Yandle and Sons Ltd, timber merchants Fr. Adrian shapes the cylinder beyond the two inch markers at both ends to give better access to the central piece for shaping. In the process the original lines marked at two inches are shaved away so he re-measures and using a pencil and then a parting chisel remarks two rings, each two inches in from the ends.
23. Having made the two marker rings, deep this time, Fr. Adrian was now ready to shape the wood into a walking stick handle. Having discussed and planned this in detail we were restricted to keeping the top flat, and wide enough, to fit a 38mm coin in the top with enough rim to reduce the risk of the wood splitting. We decided on a 3mm rim which when rounded at the top would be minuscule but fit for purpose. The bottom would need to be wide enough to take the 19mm thickness of the cane with a thick enough wall at the base for strength; we opted for a 5mm wall as being sufficient. For added strength the top of the cane would need to go some considerable distance into the base of the handle; this we decided should be at least two inches.
24. Beyond the constraints mentioned above we were free to choose any rounded shape we fancied for the body of the walking stick handle. Egg shape was the first concept but in the end we opted for the base of the handle to be more bottle neck. On that basis Fr. Adrian first shaped and sized the base, then the top and finally rounded the whole handle off to its final shape; as shown in the next photo.
25. Having achieved the final shape (of which Fr. Adrian suddenly thinks he is creating a small wooden chalice) we kept the walking stick handle in the lathe for finishing. Firstly using course sandpaper and working down to fine grade sandpaper for a smooth wood finish. Holding the sandpaper in your fingers, pulling it up against the wood as it turns in the lathe is a lot easier and quicker than sanding by hand; and the end result is far superior.
26. Fr. Adrian finishes off the sanding with fine grain wire wool which gives a real nice highly smooth finish. I always use wire wool to apply wax polish to new wood, after wood staining it to give a real smooth finish. The wire wool is excellent at removing any roughness to the wood after staining and provides a key in the wood for the wax to stick to.
27. Now the walking stick handle is shaped we need to cut the waste wood from the top and start drilling the recess for the coin and the hole in the base to fit the top of the walking cane. Fr. Adrian used his Japanese saw to cut the top end off, initially holding the saw in place with the lathe spinning and finishing off by hand; later he learnt that he could have used the parting chisel to achieve the same result but with a smoother finish.
28. However, we smoothed off the top surface with wire wool. Fr. Adrian pressed the wire wool too hard against the end of the wood so the friction burnt a dark ring around the outside top. Interestingly, this dark ring closely matched the ebony colour of the walking cane so we decided to leave it as a feature; just featheredging the edge of ring to blend it in to the rest of the handle.
29. Now came the nerve-racking phase of drilling the coin recess and holes to hold the walking stick itself. For the coin recess I bought a cheap 38mm Forstner bit. It is not a size I would often use so little point in me buying an expensive high quality bit that would last for years (as I would normally do). The Forstner bit I purchased for this project is not suitable for frequent heavy use (it would soon wear out) but for occasional light use it will last for years; so it is still a good investment to add to my collection of DIY tools.
30. We could have used a drill stand to make the coin recess but trying to hold the walking stick handle firmly while trying to precision drill the recess would have been a bit tricky; so we opted to use the lathe. Removing the 4 prong centre and replacing the chuck, the walking stick handle was held firmly in the headstock which does the turning, while the Forstner bit was slotted into the tailstock (which does not turn) and slowly inched into the wood, a fraction of an inch at a time, to gradually etch out the well to hold the decorative coin. We only needed to go in a few millimetres, just beyond the depth of the thickness of the coin, so we just eased the Forstner bit in until we were satisfied the required depth was achieved; confirming this with the depth probe on the end of a Vernier caliper.
31. Having drilled the coin well we needed to drill the hole to fit the cane into. At the top of the walking stick which I was restoring is a 6mm diameter metal rod protruding out by about quarter of an inch; the stick itself is 19mm across at the top. Therefore before removing the newly created walking stick hand from the lathe we drilled a 6mm hole, using a wood auger bit, right through the centre of the handle. Then we cut the waste wood from the other end so that I could hold the handle upside down firmly on the base plate of the drill stand while Fr. Adrian carefully eased a 19mm flat wood drill bit into the base, and slowly drilled down to the required two inch depth.
Fitting the Handle and Coin Insert and Waxing and Polishing
With great thanks to our very close friend Father Adrian who with his input made this project possible. Having turned a walking stick handle on the lathe using purpleheart wood and designing it to hold a motif of a Maine coon cat on the reverse of a coin we bought from eBay, I was now ready to assemble all the bits and give the old walking stick, complete with new handle, a final oil and polish.
Time required: 4 hours
- Walking cane
- Walking stick Handle
- Coin (Maine coon motif)
- No Nails (Wood Glue)
- Wood stain e.g. Sadolin
- Wood oil e.g. teak oll
- Furniture wax e.g. bees wax
- Yellow duster
1. The walking stick handle was now complete with the recess for the decorative coin on top, a two inch deep 19mm hole in the bottom to take the main shaft of the cane and a 6mm hole drilled right through to accommodate metal rod at the top of the cane. It was now time to dry fit everything for a test fit before final assembly.
2. Testing the decorative coin for size it was a good fit but not tight enough to stay in without gluing. This was just perfect as I would not really want the coin to be a tight fit and risk splitting the wood in trying to force it in. No-nails (readily available in Britain) is an ideal glue for this sort of thing. These days most people in Britain tend to use no-nails rather than wood glue because not only is it the same general price but also it does a much better job. No-nails dries quicker and grips harder than wood glue and it sticks just about anything to anything.
3. Therefore I used the no-nails to glue the coin in the predrilled well at the top of the walking stick handle; and it grabbed it into place almost immediately, allowing me to then concentrate on gluing the cane to the bottom of the handle. Although in woodwork joinery you would still use clamps with the no-nails glue, for quickly and permanently fixing something like plasterboard to a wall (or in this case a coin to a walking stick handle) you just apply a few dabs on the back, slide it into position to make good contact, press and hold firmly for just a few minutes and let go. The suction power of the no-nails will grab it and hold it in place until the glue fully sets.
4. As with the coin, I used the no-nails glue to securely fix the cane to the handle; squeezing plenty of glue in the hole and twisting the cane around as I pushed it in firmly to ensure good contact. Again, the no-nails glue did its job and held the cane firmly in place so I was able to handle it almost immediately without any sign of it being loose; allowing me to carry on with the final touches in completing this project.
5. Before giving it all a final oil and wax I just wanted to discolour the car body filler I used as wood filler at the start of the project to fill the cracks in the bamboo. I did not want to disguise them completely and I did not want to wood stain the entire cane to make it all uniform because the original ebony colour was still intact and in good condition; with just a hint of bamboo wood grain showing through. The intention was to slightly darken the car body filler to blend the cracks in with the natural wood grain of the bamboo. For this I chose a Sadolin wood stain, which although not quick drying it is translucent so I could liberally apply it to the whole cane with a rag and rub it deep into the cracks.
6. After rubbing the Sadolin wood stain in I took a short coffee break to let it soak in a little. While the wood stain was still wet I used a rag to wipe the excess wood stain from the cane. Just leaving a hint of colour from the wood stain in the wood grain, and more importantly on the car body filler in the cracks to slightly discolour and tone down the filler.
7. As any wood stain left was minimal in the wood grain and filled cracks the cane was dry to the touch allowing me to give the whole walking stick a generous application of wood oil. I chose teak as my preferred wood oil and liberally applied it with a clean dishcloth. Once again I had a quick coffee break to allow the oil to soak in before wiping off the excess and buffing it up with a clean dry cloth.
8. Again, taking a half hour break to let the wood oil fully dry I finished with a generous coating of wax furniture polish containing bees wax. Applied with a yellow duster, and following the instructions on the tin wiping the excess off and buffing the walking stick to a nice sheen; this completing the project although I shall give it another good wax polish before I finally wrap it up as a surprise gift for our wedding anniversary.
Relevant Links - Two Key Players
This DIY wood crafting project was only possible with the enthusiastic help of Fr. Adrian of TESSAC and the supplies and materials, and the friendly free advice, from Yandle and Sons Ltd.