cane design… or how to make a stick look interesting

A cane can be little more than a stick made from rattan. But it can also be so much more. I use rattan as the primary material for all my canes, but add timber inlays, metal chain handle wraps, flat sided blades, coloured rattan, and some other interesting twists in my endless quest to make sticks look interesting. For the true traditionalist I also make a few completely plain canes, which involve less work but a lot more self-restraint on my part!

but how much do they hurt?

The feel of a cane is dependent on many aspects of the cane. Thickness, length, stiffness, and density all play a part. I have made traditional round canes from 5 to 15mm in diameter, with 7-12mm being the popular size range for most people. The thinner the cane the more stingy it will feel, and the more likely it is to cut and draw blood if used heavily. Conversely, a thicker cane will feel more thuddy and cause deeper bruising if used heavily. The stiffer and heavier the cane the more painful it will feel. A longer cane can be swung faster at the tip, which will further add to the pain it imparts.

weighty questions

There is considerable natural variation in the density of rattan cane, but to make heavy canes the most effective permanent method is to soak them in linseed oil and allow it to dry in the cane. This can add more than 50% to the weight of a cane. It is also possible to soak canes in water to increase their weight, but this is a temporary measure and requires the end of the cane to have any varnish removed to allow the water to get in.

cane making

The idea of making canes came along about a year after the first paddle emerged from my workbench, and just like the idea for making paddles, it wasn’t my idea! A friend familiar with my early attempts at paddle making suggested I turn my hand to cane making because she couldn’t find any good canes in Sydney, and thought they’d be much easier to make than paddles, after all, they’re just sticks.

Raw rattan cane basically looks like a stick, and a not very interesting stick at that. Yes it comes in different lengths and thicknesses, but it all looks pretty much the same. Functionally it’s perfect for caning that special someone, but I had to find a way to make these sticks look like something more than just a stick.

The first thing I realised was that I didn’t even really know what cane was. I assumed it was just a type of bamboo, which it isn’t. What I soon discovered was that working with cane was not really like working with timber. It was soft and bendy and it all looked the same. No interesting colours and grain patterns to work with here. So I set about trying to think of ways to make sticks look interesting.

my first ‘interesting’ canes

My first decorative canes had brass or chain wrapped handles. The chain wrapped ones received some positive feedback that they allowed for a firm grip on the cane. I’d done such a good job polishing the brass ones though that they proved a little slippery to hold, so it was back to the drawing board to come up with more ideas.

timber handles

The flash of inspiration for my timber handle inlay canes came from a timber offcut from a paddle handle that just happened to catch my eye in amongst the sawdust and scrap wood one day. It looked just the right shape for a nice handle, if only I could stick it on the end of a piece of rattan. After much experimentation I worked out a method of inserting the wood into the rattan rather than onto the end of it, and created a cane with a functional handle that also looked reasonably good.

The feedback I receive on my wooden inlaid canes confirms that everyone’s perfect handle shape is slightly different. So I have continued to make each handle a slightly different shape, albeit with a few recurring styles. There are no templates, I cut each piece of handle timber freehand using only a sketched pencil line as a guide. This way no two will ever be quite the same and there will hopefully be at least one that fits each hand like a glove.

colours… who said canes have to be cane coloured

I’ve also branched out into coloured canes using a range of timber stains including black, brown, red, green, blue and purple. There is no pretence of trying to look natural in the stained canes, but if you want your toys to match your outfit they might be just the implement for you!

what’s next?

I continue to make canes in a variety of thicknesses, from tiny whip like 5mm diameter canes all the way up to 19mm, although the majority are 7 to 12mm in diameter. More ornate timber handled canes and greater use of brass and other materials will probably be the next frontiers in my quest to keep exploring ways to make sticks look interesting.