Cane and Walking Stick Bark Removal Tips

This spring, I am making wood canes and walking sticks from shrubs, tree branches and found wood (on the ground wood). I am find it quite relaxing. Not a lot of thought needed for the most part. Finding pieces that will make canes with a traditional cane handle are harder to find.

I live in a desert environment. For wood, I am mostly limited to Ash, Elm, Cottonwood, and Tamarisk. The more exotic woods either can not be harvested or do not exist where they can be harvested. There is an abundance of Willow along the Rio Grande River, but it is too small and light, and I doubt it can be cut down. Tamarisk (Salt Cedar) is defined as a noxious weed in New Mexico, so I can cut down all the Tamarisk I want. Not sure how Tamarisk will work for a walking stick or cane, as I remember it being brittle when dried.

As I learn the best way to remove the bark by scraping, I have made some interesting discoveries I will share with you. The best tool for scraping bark depends upon two things:

The first is the strength in your forearms and wrists. The stronger your forearms and wrists, the easier it is to take the bark off with a wider selection of tools.

The second factor is how fresh the cutting is. The greener the wood, the easier to remove the bark. If cut and peeled on the same day, a butterknife will practically be enough. I have seen a vegetable peeler used in one Youtube video. For older and drier the wood, a more serious (heavier) tool which needed.

I looked around the web for recommendations for scraping. As you can see from the photo, my collection ranges from a smaller kitchen knife, to a rasp and finally a paint scraper. They all work in their respective environments. The tool needed being dependent on how fresh and green the branch is.

Removing Bark for Canes and Walking Sticks is simple, and easiest when green.

We’re not talking cabinetry level work here, and I do not own a grinder or sander, so I am limited to hand tools. I have found the following to be generally true.

Very green, a paring knife or something like it works well. –4/26 – I forgot to mention, if you peel just cut wood, it is likely to crack.

Older wood, still somewhat green and a heavy knife seems to work quickly.

Very Old and/or really dry wood, my heavy duty Hori-Hori knife (Japanese hori-hori are better made and heavier)comes in to play.

Both kitchen knives are from second hand stores and cost me less than five dollars together, so I am not expecting a lot out of them. It’s not clear in the picture, but the blade on the chefs knife developed some bends along the bottom. Probably from my using the blade as a pry bar in a few spots today.

The rasp, I have found little use for other than branch knots and handle shaping. That being said, It would be a lot of work not having one. This rasp is part of a cheap set, but does the small amount of shaping I need without any real fuss. One note on the rasp. It builds up (teeth hold the shavings) when the wood is very green.

The final tool no matter what I use initially is, get ready… a paint scraper! Found out about paint scrapers from a 2011 youtube video by a man named, “Don Dailey”, Walking sticks prep 1. Thanks Don!

Most of the under-bark on all but the greenest pieces remains in places no matter how well the wood is scraped initially. The knives may leave some scratches too. The (orange) paint scraper has very sharp blades which scrapes and smooths, both at the same time. The other scraper hasn’t worked as well for me.

That’s all there is as far as I know right now. It’s not rocket science and there may be better and faster ways to remove bark, like an electric grinder which I don’t own. I don’t think there are any cheaper or simpler methods however. When it comes to bark removal, if you want to do it fast, cut and peel the same day. The older the wood, the harder it is to remove the bark.

Let me know how it goes for you, or if you have a better way to get the bark off.