So many people have asked me, "Just how do you make a staff, cane, etc...?"  This page is for all of you who have expressed an interest in the process. I will do my best to take you step by step through the various methods I use to complete a carving.  

Hand-carved Cat Cane 

  The first project I will show you will be a cane with a cat theme. If you have any questions or comments, you may contact me at

Before I begin, just a reminder to KEEP YOUR TOOLS SHARP! This is necessary to prevent tearing and crushing of the wood. There are many ways to sharpen your tools, (slip stones, strops etc). My preferred method is to use a leather strop with a bit of aluminum oxide paste rubbed on it.

Here is a piece of cherry wood that has been drying for over a year.  The ends were sealed with wax to prevent splitting. My  first step will be to remove the bark, using a carving knife with a fixed blade, pushing the blade away from me.

I'm not using my arms at all; rather I am rotating my right wrist and guiding with my left thumb. (I'm sure I'll get some flack from some of you, but this is how I do it). I use a 1 inch #9 spade gouge to remove any high areas or knotholes. Be very careful when removing these high spots, as the grain can change direction very quickly. If you feel your knife or chisel digging in, turn your cane around and approach it from the opposite direction. As you can see from the photo, there are three "handles" on the cane. I will choose the one that feels most comfortable, and remove the other two with a hand saw. 

Before I forget, I want to mention that I always debark before I size a piece. Normally, I measure a cane from top to bottom, and cut the excess off the bottom; however, if you do this before debarking, you might find some nasty splits at the top that require cutting some of the top off. Result, a very short cane, so PLEASE remember, debark, then cut to size! 

Now I will shape the handle, and remove any high spots.

I cut off any excess length with a hand saw, 

and then shape it 

(here I am using a fairly flat gouge) always going with the grain.   Now the handle is roughed out quite nicely.  

The next step is sanding (and sanding, and sanding and sanding....) I usually start with an 80 grit to remove any lingering pieces of bark, and work up to a 220 grit to finish up. Your carving should now be baby-bottom smooth! (Some people ask why I sand the cane so smooth, when so much of the surface will be carved away. The answer is, it it much easier to draw a design on a smooth surface.)

 Next, I will work on the design. It usually takes a day or two to research the anatomy, sketch a design and transfer it to the cane.  The only parameters I have with this commission is that it have cats carved from top to bottom. The top is quite thick, so I think I might carve the top cat in high relief, and do the rest in low relief. This is the tricky part, trying to explain the next steps, as I don't work from a pattern. Here I have just roughly sketched out a center line, and where the eyes, ears etc. will be.

The sides indicate roughly the same. The top will be carved in the image of Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess. The other cats will be based on photos of the client's own cats. 

I want something to break up the images, and as I am fond of nature themes, I think I will carve vines around the cats. (with maybe a bird and/or a mouse hiding in the leaves :) 

I have a general all-purpose sketch book that I use to play with and finalize a design. If you are uncertain how to draw the images you want, I recommend searching in Google using the "Images" option. Here you can find a wealth of photos of your subject in a variety of poses and  angles. The library is also a great place to find images of the animals, birds, etc you would like to add to your design. I copy my designs on freehand, but if you would find it easier, you can transfer your design on using carbon paper. Once the design is drawn on, it is time to start carving. First, I want to rough out the image of Bast. I use a carving knife to shape it, with a 2mm gouge for around the eyes and other details. 

Next, I begin by "setting in " (making deep vertical stop cuts) along the lines I have drawn for the leaves and cats. Make sure your cuts are straight down, and not angling inwards or outwards. 

Then cut from the side, in towards the base of the stop cut.  

If the piece of wood does not release, cut again from the top until it does. Do not pry it out with your blade, as this can break the sharp edge of the blade. Continue this process until you get to the depth you want.

 Use a flat gouge to remove the waste wood. This is called bosting or grounding.

Here is a photo of a cat with the waste removed. You can see I am already starting to add some detail. 

Now it is time for the undercutting. Undercutting is important for giving the illusion that the object is round, and not connected to the surface. I start by cutting a flat line (some prefer a concave line) at approximately an 80 degree angle from the mid point of the side. 

I then cut from the bottom to remove the wood. 

Here is a photo of the leaf after it has been undercut.  You can see more of a shadow around the leaf, and it looks "lifted" from the surface. I actually wasn't happy with the depth of this piece, and went back to remove more wood from the base to give a more raised look.

Now I round all my edges  

and add detail. Here I make a shallow cut down the center of the leaf 

and cut in from either side to meet the center stop cut. 

I use a dremel drill to add texture to the background (A small gouge or stamp will work as well) 

Once I removed the background, completed the undercutting, and added details, I then sanded all surfaces smooth (except for the textured background, of course). A woodburner is then used to add the veins in the leaves and fur on the cats. 

Here is a photo of the piece once the details, sanding and burning have been done. As you can see, I've added more detail to the faces. 

Now it is time for finishing. Here, I am applying a Minwax stain to the background, using a soft brush.  Make sure you get the stain all the way under the undercut parts.

 Once the piece is stained (and allowed to dry) it is ready for painting. I use artist quality acrylic paint, which can be thinned down to give a more transparent look, and allow the grain of the wood to show through. Again, I use soft brushes, and layer colours to add more depth.

The last step is the varnish. I use several coats of satin spar urethane which is weatherproof, and also protects and highlights the parts that are painted.  Well, it's done! I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. If you have any questions, you can e-mail me at .

Copyright © 2005 by Terran Ambrosone.

Not to be reproduced without written consent by Terran.


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