What do you need to make your own hand carved hiking sticks? A pocket knife and a walk in the woods. Be sure your knife is solidly built. You don't need more than a three-inch blade, but it needs to be strong enough that it won't snap on you when you hit a knot in the wood. A locking blade is a good idea too, if you value your fingers.
What type of wood should you use? Any type you want, but be aware of the differences. Many people like hardwood hiking sticks because they can be very beautiful once polished up. That's fine if you don't mind the extra work it takes to carve hardwoods. Also be aware that they are heavy, better suited for decorating the cabin than for using on long hikes.
One of my favorite trees for carved hiking sticks is poplar. It's light, and one of the easiest woods to work with. Young poplars often grow in over-crowded stands, so cutting a few out won't hurt the forest. If you cut it in the spring or early summer, you can almost peel the bark off by hand.
Northern White Cedar is a much tougher wood to carve, but it is beautiful, straight, and one of the lightest. In a cedar swamp, you can find many dead young cedars that have not begun to rot. Cedar lasts forever, it seems, even when used untreated as fence posts.
Making Your Carved Hiking Stick
What if you don't know your trees? Find a straight young tree in any area that could use thinning, and cut it. A short saw is the easiest way to cut your stick. Otherwise, you can use your knife, by cutting deeper and deeper in a circle around the tree until you can snap it off. Cut the piece a bit longer than you want your finished hiking stick to be.
How long should it be? A general rule is to have the hiking stick come up to just below your armpit. This is a personal thing though. If you want a fancy seven-foot staff, go for it.
Cut away from yourself, removing all the bark. Narrow down the bottom end, but not to a sharp point. You can leave the top flat, round it off, or even carve a spiral design into it. Use you imagination. Almost any piece of sandpaper can be used to smooth it, and you can apply stain or a poly acrylic finish if you want, or just leave it natural.
If you start with green wood, it is best to let it dry for at least a few weeks. Carving it while green can be easier, but it will often twist or bend then as it dries. You might prevent this by tying it to something straight to dry. Each wood is a little different in how it cuts and drys.
I wrap the bottom end with leather (with a small nail to hold it) to keep the stick from splitting. I also usually put a handgrip on it. This can be a piece of cloth or leather. Glue it on or glue and staple it. You can also drill a hole throught the stick near the top, to add a wrist strap.
Get creative. Use a wood burner to add designs to your hiking stick. Drill a hole in the top and glue a glass ball in it. Mark inches on it, so you can measure with it. Some of my best sellers had pewter animals nailed to them. Experimenting is one of the best parts about making your own carved hiking stick.
Steve Gillman is a long-time backpacker, and advocate of lightweight backpacking. He has also made over 200 hiking sticks. His advice and stories can be found at http://www.TheUltralightBackpackingSite.com