Money Can Grow on Trees: How to Sell Handmade Walking Sticks

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Image: Walking Sticks
LadyDragonflyCC under Creative Commons

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 dress it up with some leather.

Boom — you’ll have invested less than $1 into making something you can sell for around $40!

That’s how you make money hand carving walking sticks at home. Interested in trying this business for yourself? Here’s how to get started.

How to Make Walking Sticks

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.

Here’s how I turned them into walking sticks:

  1. I returned with a small saw and cut about 20 of them in 4- to 5-foot lengths.
  1. A few days later in my backyard, I used my pocket knife to remove the bark and carve the trees into walking sticks.
  1. I cut an old leather coat from a thrift store into strips and wrapped each stick at the bottom to prevent splitting.
  1. Near the top, for a classy handgrip. I nailed the leather into place, hiding the nail heads in the folds.
  1. 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? No more than $1.

Tips for Making Walking Sticks

I used cedar, but many other trees could work. 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 of hours after 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.

For 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’ve never made the tops into animal heads like some artistic carvers do, but I’ve sometimes used a wood burner to add designs.

I’ve also embedded little mirrors in some, so the user can see what’s behind them while hiking. I’ve added spiraling copper wire to others. Get creative!

How to Sell Walking Sticks

Market your creations in many places to make the most of your business. Here are some popular options:

Online

You might fetch the highest prices online, especially if you do custom jobs. This wood artist sells handmade walking sticks for $100 or more.

To go this route, you’d have to build a website. You can do it inexpensively through tools like Squarespace or WordPress, but it could take some time.

eBay

I’ve found tons of walking sticks on eBay at prices ranging from about $20 for simple ones to thousands for those with intricate designs.

But it’s easy to get lost in the listings on eBay, and if you have more basic designs you’ll have to compete with some pretty low-priced items.

Craft Shows

My wife and I occasionally sell 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. Vendor fees can be steep, so you may need to make quite a few sales before you turn a profit.

Flea Markets

At flea markets, my prices started at $8 for the simplest walking sticks, which took less than 30 minutes to make, and up to $16 for more complex designs.

On my best day at a flea market, I made over $200 selling 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.

Wholesale Buyers

Basic sticks took me less than 30 minutes to make, and I sold them by the dozen for $6 apiece to a friend. He added feathers and beads and sold them for five times as much at pow wows in Michigan.

I also sold two dozen walking sticks 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.

Park Gift Stores

If you live near a popular state or national park, you might find a gift shop that can sell your walking sticks to the public.

Show the owner your sticks and ask how much they might sell for. Figure that you’ll get around 30% to 50% of that as the wholesale price.

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).

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