The Art Of Stick Dressing

Learn about the craftsmanship that transforms ordinary walking canes into works of art.

You are, no doubt, familiar with the walking stick. But did you know that there is a complete art form known as stick dressing? Stick dressing transforms the ordinary walking cane or shepherd's staff into a genuine work of art. For centuries shepherds and farmers have been perfecting their skills in the art of stick dressing. So, just what is involved in stick dressing?

The first thing to do is to select the wood to be used. Anything from blackthorn to apple or pear timber can be used, as long as it is in the proper proportion. A popular choice is holly, due to the attractive knots that it often features. Still many experts prefer to use the wood of the hazel tree. The ideal find would be a tree with a shoot growing out from it at the right angle to be able to shape the entire stick from one piece of wood.

After cutting off his selected piece of timber, the stick dresser will grease or paint the cut ends, to prevent the block from cracking. The piece of wood is then seasoned. This process can actually take up to two years. Only after that time is the stick ready to be formed into a work of art.

When the stick does not have a natural handle, the craftsman will make one out of the horn of a cow, sheep or goat. The horn, however, must be left to season for up to a year. After this time the stick dresser will use a vice to shape the horn to it's intended design. He will use traditional methods to shape the handle. For example, he will use such things as a blacksmith's fire, boiling water or the embers of a peat fire to make the horn pliable. Now he is ready to craft the horn into what ever takes his imagination. Often the handle will be shaped into the form of a bird, fish or animal. If he chooses to make a trout, for example, he will etch the fin and tail bones with a hot iron. A circular punch is used to form each individual scale. The eyes will be made from black buffalo horn. Ink is used to color the body and is applied in two or more coats. Finally the color will be sealed by coating the handle with varnish.

To join the horn to the shank the stick dresser will use a steel bolt, a nail or a wooden piece of dowling. The stick will then be lovingly rubbed down with fine steel wool. He will then polish the stick and varnish the shank. To complete the entire process may take a skilled stick dresser as much as one hundred hours.

Decorative walking canes can be purchased through various gift and ornamental stores. They can also be ordered over the internet, with prices ranging from forty five to several thousand dollars. Such specimens will feature decorative animal heads and have resin handles and brown, hardwood shafts. A person can choose from Airedale frogs, fish, ducks, hare, eagles, and rams head designs on the stick handles. Orthopaedic waling canes and heirloom umbrellas strong enough to double as walking aids can also be purchased.

Stick dressing, then, is a long tedious process. The resulting works of art, however, make the investment well worth while. There are a number of stick dressing contests, in which the best stick dressers can compare their craftsmanship. Stick dressing is an age old art form that is being kept alive by a devoted number of artisans who see their art as a reminder of a more restful time, when a man had all the time in the world to work on his stick. In today's stress filled climate, stick dressing may just be the perfect antidote to combat the strains and stresses of modern living.

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