A Money-Making Option for Artists: Carve and Sell Walking Sticks
Cut down a small sapling, trim it to about five feet in length with a saw, and carve off the bark with a pocket knife. Let it dry for a few days, and then dress it up with some leather. Boom -- you'll have invested less than a dollar into making something you can sell for up to $40 or more. That's how you make money by hand carving walking sticks at home.
Interested in trying this business for yourself? Here’s how to get started.
How to Make Walking Sticks
Back when my wife and I were starting our summer as flea market vendors, I noticed a swamp full of white cedar trees about two inches in diameter. The trees were dead but still straight and solid; white cedar is known for its resistance to rotting. I returned with a small saw and cut about 20 of them in four-to five-foot lengths.
A few days later, in my backyard, I used my pocket knife to make the trees into walking sticks. I cut an old leather coat from a thrift store into strips and wrapped each stick at the bottom, to prevent splitting, and near the top, for a classy handgrip. I nailed the leather into place, hiding the nail heads in the folds. I drilled a hole in the top of some sticks and either glued a glass gem or nailed a pewter figurine there for decoration.
My total cost for each walking stick? $1 or less.
Many other trees will work, but perhaps the best are poplars and aspens because their soft wood is so easy to carve. With a hand saw, I've cut as many as 40 young poplars in a couple hours by locating a thicket where they needed to be thinned. Before cutting in national or state forests, check with the appropriate authorities to make sure you won’t face a hefty fine. You can also find landowners who need their property’s trees thinned.
With live trees, you'll want to shave off the bark with your pocketknife shortly after cutting, and let the rough sticks dry for a week or more before finishing them.
The rest of the process is up to you. I never made the tops into animal heads like some artistic carvers do, but I sometimes used a wood burner to add designs. I also embedded little mirrors in some, so the user can see what’s behind him while hiking. I added spiraling copper wire to others. Get creative!
How to Sell Your Walking Sticks
Market your creations in many places to make the most of your business. Popular options include:
The highest prices might be obtained online, especially if you do custom jobs. On some websites you'll find handmade walking sticks for $100 or more. Of course, going this route implies building a website, which can be done inexpensively, but does take some time.
At the moment, there are hundreds of walking sticks on eBay at prices ranging from $12 for simple ones to $150 for those with intricate designs. But it's easy to get lost in the listings here, and if you have more basic designs you'll be competing with some pretty low-priced items.
My wife and I occasionally set up at craft shows. I never sold my walking sticks for more than $24, but we regularly saw other vendors getting $60 or more for theirs. I brought out my best when we did craft shows, but my designs were pretty basic. Craft show vendor fees can be steep, so you may need to make quite a few sales before you start to turn a profit.
At flea markets, my prices started at $8 for the simplest walking sticks (ones that took less than 30 minutes to make), and up to $16 for more complex designs. On my best day, I made over $200 from my walking sticks. If you need to earn more than $20 each to justify your time, you'll probably want to find someplace other than flea markets to sell what you make.
Basic sticks took me 20 minutes to make, and I sold them by the dozen for $6 apiece to a friend, who then added feathers and beads and sold them for five times as much at pow wows in Michigan. I also sold two dozen to a guy who retailed them at a gun and knife show. Wholesaling works well if you create a system for producing nice sticks quickly and spend no more than a dollar or two creating each one.
If you live near a popular state or national park, there might be a gift shop that can sell your walking sticks to the public. Show the owner your sticks and ask what they might sell for, and figure that you'll get no more than a third or half of that as the wholesale price.
Your Turn: Would you consider making and selling walking sticks?