There are several steps involved in making a scout staff which include:
- Selecting the right piece of wood
- Preparing the wood
- Adding things to your Scout staff
Depending on what you want to add to your Scout staff, you may want to only apply the finishing after you have added accessories which require you to mark or carve into the wood.
Selecting the right piece of wood
You can make a walking stick from almost any type of wood however green wood is not suitable and sound conservation practices mean never cutting a living tree. Hardwoods such as ash, oak, and maple are good choices if you can get them. Robin Hood would have preferred yew or sweet chestnut. Bamboo is light and strong and, in some areas, diamond willow and saskatoon are popular. Twisted willow can be very decorative. Poplar, aspen and birch are okay, although they cab be a bit heavy. Conifer saplings are usually straight, light, and strong. In New Zealand, Manuka makes a good stick. Use whatever you can find in your area but which ever piece you choose, it should be fairly straight. If you don’t have access to a forest, take a look at curtain rods. IKEA, for example, sells a curtain rod made from nice wood. Very straight, strong, and can be cut to the desired length.
The piece should also be strong to be able to support the owners weight. A good test is to have the owner apply a fair amount of weight on the stick while carefully pressing your knee into the centre of the stick. If it breaks, you probably just saved yourself from getting hurt in the future when it would eventually break unexpectedly. Don’t give it a second though. Just move on and keep looking. It is well worth the effort to find just the right staff.
A staff can also be of any length, but should be something you are comfortable in carrying. Traditionally Scout staves have been 5’ 6¼” because Sir Robert Baden Powell was 5’ 6” tall. Some believe that a staff should as tall as you are while others find that something about shoulder height is better (especially if you want to use it as a monopod or have a compass at the top). However almost everyone agrees that it shouldn’t be too much shorter than that.
A thumbstaff (or thumbstick) is just like any other staff except that it has small “Y” in the sapling to provide a comfortable place to rest your thumb which can be helpful when hiking. In this case, you should try to select a length that feels comfortable for you.
Preparing the Wood
- Drying the wood is essential. This will ensure that your staff does not warp down the road and help preserve it for many years. Store it in a cool (but not freezing) dry place. While some people say you can do it in as little as 3-4 weeks, I prefer to let the wood dry over the winter.
- Trim to the appropriate length. See above for details.
- Removing the bark. Some people like to strip it from top to bottom but in fact this is not really necessary unless the bark is loose and easily comes off. Some people prefer to just remove the bark and smooth the wood where you will be placing your hand – for the sake of comfort. Others find that leaving the bark on is more comfortable depending on the type of wood.
- Trim knots and smooth. This is very important. I can’t tell you how many hand injuries I have seen which were caused by a hand slipping, someone getting scratched by wood or bark sticking out from a staff and splinters.
- Drill any holes you will want in the staff, add any measurement markings and other custom carvings such as small designs, patterns, personal symbols or even your name. See the next section on “Things to add to your Scout Staff for ideas.
- Treat with oil stain, preservative and/or water-proof varnish
- Cover bottom end with metal or rubber chair glide or crutch tip.
Things to Add to Your Scout Staff
While I could go into this, fellow scouts at the BSA Scouts New England website have done a great job of coming up with suggestions of things to add to your Hiking Staff to turn it into a multipurpose survivial tool.
An alternative to medallions are decals that you buy or create from anything you can draw, colour copy or print with a computer. This can be adhered with water poly or Elmers glue. For example, Scouts can copy their challenge badges and put them on their hiking sticks. Normal finish can be put over decal to protect it.
The wood you choose to create your staff can be decorative as well. Look for pieces of wood with a natural curve or Y split in it where you can comfortably place your thumb (known as a thumbstick). Wood itself can include very interesting patterns. A few examples include Diamond Willow, Twisted Willow and Bamboo.
No matter what the wood, you can smooth the handgrip, or carve spirals or rings. Take care not to cut too deeply though or the staff could break at a crucial time.
Finally, keep in mind that you can have several staves for different occasions. You may want to have one staff which is lighter and more practical for hiking and other activities, and another which is more decorative that you use for ceremonies and to show off.
Treasure your scout staff. You worked hard to make this into a beautiful and unique piece of art. In fact, many staves are never quite done as owners continuously modify and refine them over many years.
You can find additional information on Scout Staves on the following web sites: