Friday, 31 August 2007

Making a quarterstaff

A question we often get asked at workshops is the best way to make a staff. The best answer is not to cut a staff at this time of year! The trouble with cutting saplings when they're full of sap is that they're more likely to split. One way of preventing this is to cut your sapling and not to strip off the bark but to stand it upright in a pot of teak oil. You'll find the sapling will absorb a surprising amount of oil and this will stop it splitting. For the top of the sapling, slosh as much oil as you can over it and wrap the end in plastic to reduce evaporation, and add more oil every week. Wait two or three months before stripping off the bark and shaping the staff.
The best time to cut saplings is in winter (December, January) when they contain a lot less sap. You can fashion a staff straight away from a winter-cut sapling.

And it does have to be a sapling. Heartwood is no good because it's too stiff. A quarterstaff needs some spring in it, which is why really stiff woods like sycamore are no use.

Avoid saplings with large knots, heavily decayed branches or fissures in the bark- these often signal weakness in the wood.

The best British woods for staffs are oak, hawthorn and blackthorn. Ash is OK but does tend to split and for the surface to flake off. Hazel is fine for a beginners staff but warps a lot and will break if hit hard. Softwoods (pine, fir, spruce) are too light and will also break. We don't really know about foreign woods but reckon that for North America, hickory would be good because it's used for making axe handles.

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