Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving, Day 3

Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving, Day 3

Day 1 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 2 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 3 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving

Walking Stick Joinery
Walking Stick Wood Species – Harvesting Your Sticks
Walking Stick – Adding Extras
Walking Stick – How to Clamp Your Handle

Good Morning!

Today we will be creating the path and twist in the sassafras branch.

And, Lora Irish has a extra free pattern for you this morning – Free Mountain Man Cane Carving Pattern

sassafras twistie stickA twisted sassafras stick is caused by honeysuckle vine curling around the trunk when the tree is still a year or two-year sapling. As the tree grows, so does the vine, reaching higher into the tree and thickening the width of the vine. Over the years that vine begins to straggle the sassafras trunk, forcing the tree to grow around the imbedded vine.

You will see in the photo that this process affects both plants. The sample is a wild cherry sapling that is already developing a deep, spiral scar. The honeysuckle develops a flattened side where it directly contacts the sapling.

Sassafras, wold cherry, dogwoods, and even young black walnuts are common twistie sticks as they share the same environment as honeysuckle – abandoned road sides and old fence rows.

grapevine twistie stickThe second photo shared here is a very old piece of wild grape vine – approximately 1 1/2″ thick. The vine has been dead for several years because of tree trimming by the power company, so it was ready to harvest. You can see the power and strength of the twist in this grapevine as it literally brought down the farm fence on which it grew.

A side note here, and just my personal preferences. I don’t cut twistie sticks in the wild, All of the common twistie stick trees are also the same trees that are so important to our local wildlife. Dogwood and cherry are major food sources for birds, rabbits, and deer. Black walnuts, of course, help feed our grey squirrel population throughout the year. And most importantly, sassafras is the only food source for the swallowtail butterfly during its egg, larva, and caterpillar stages of life.

Because I especially want those butterflies in my perennial flower gardens I am extremely protective of any sassafras that graces our fence lines and forest edge.

Step 7: Using a marking pen or pencil draw a line in the center of the area between the snake’s body twists. This will be the path of the top edge of the twisted stick curls. On my cane I had one area between the snake body curls that allows for two twists. Draw a second guideline 1/4″ below the first. This 1/4″ area, between the two guidelines, will become the honeysuckle vine area on the twist.

free wood carving pattern by Lora Irish

Work a stop cut, using your bench knife, along the top twistie guideline, in the background wood area. In the photo, my cane is held upside down.

free cane carving project

The second stroke of the stop cut lowers the background area at the top edge of the twist.

stop cut in wood carving

Step 8:
Everything between the snake’s body twists is sassafras wood. So the stop cuts in step 7 tapers that wood area into a cone shape that points down and into the top edge of the twist below it.

walking stick wood carving
To emphasize the tape of the twist you can also use your large or small round gouge for the second stroke of the stop cut, instead of the bench knife.

small round gouge wood carving

round gouge wood carving
wood carving a snake


Step 9: Using the bench knife, round over the top edge of the twistie curls – rolling the edge over to reach the second guideline mark.

learn wood carving

The honeysuckle sits down and into the sassafras wood, so create a half-circle trough using your small round gouge along the rounded-over top edge of the twist.

free wood carving instructions

Cut this trough several times, slowly lowering it into the wood. In the photo you can see the depth of the round gouge cuts in the second, right hand twist.

learn how to wood carve

Step 10: With your bench knife return to tapering the bottom section of each twist. Smooth each area of twist so that the taper moves evenly from thick at the top edge of the twist to thin at the bottom.

beginner wood carving project

As I am working my tapering I have begun undercutting the bottom edge of each twist. This is done by angling the first stroke of the stop cut behind the inside edge of the top of the next twist. When you make the second stroke, it will pop out a small v-shaped chip, leaving a narrow cut behind the twist’s inside edge.

wood carving a walking stick

Canada Goose, Part 2, page 4 has more in-depth instructions of the undercut …. and, better photos! – undercut.jpg

Under cut in wood carving

Step 11: Begin shaping the snake’s body, head, and tail, using your bench knife to roll-over the sides.

rounding over in wood carving

When the body has been shaped, the rough-out stage of this cane carving is complete. At this point you have established the curve and shape of the snake and the curve, tapering, and shape of the sassafras twisties.

under cutting in wood carving

Step 12: After the rough-out stage is done I like to do a general smoothing to any project, whether relief or 3-D. This is done by re-cutting all of the areas you have worked with your bench knife. Drop the angle of the knife blade low to the wood – the blunt or back side of the blade is just 5 or 6 sheets of paper high off the wood. Lightly glide the knife across the wood, taking very small, shallow strokes.

how to smooth your wood carving background

The top right image shows the cane’s surface before the shaving step and the bottom right shows the shaving step completed. You can see that very fine, small cuts that smooth out the shape of the cane.

how to smooth your wood carving

OK … Tomorrow we will work on texturing the wood bark, working the honeysuckle indent, and carving the little frog that sits on top of this stick. In the mean time if you have any questions, please post them now!

Thank you for reading today and for spending time with me at my carving table !!!!

Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving, Day 2

Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving, Day 2

Free Lora Irish cane carving projectDay 1 of the Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving is here.

The first stage of this cane carving, today’s work, is to establish the general round shape of the design, determine the path for our snake, and to drop the background area of the cane around the snake. Then we will work to create the path of the twist in the sassafras branch on which he climbs.

Please remember – you can click on any post image for a large photo.



Step 1: Please double check the sharpness and honing of your bench knife. Remember, the most dangerous knife or tool in your kit is the dullest. Use your bench knife and a push stroke to round-over the edges of your basswood blank. Work the cuts from the sharp corner to the center of each flat face of the stick.

Round over your basswood blank

A well rounded stick will have all of the original surface area cut. Note in the photo that no area has been left un-worked.

Of note, whether you are a relief carver or 3-D carver, at some point in any carving you want to insecure that you have actually carved all the wood. The milled surface of your basswood blank has a very different texture than the areas that you have cut. After you have added your finish – oil, varnish, polyurethane – that difference will dramatically stand out, making the un-carved areas an eye sore.

Round over your basswood blank

I like to double check my round by comparing the basswood blank to something that I know is a true circle, or close to a true circle. For this project that true circle is the inside of a toilet paper or paper towel roll cardboard tube. By sliding the blank inside the cardboard tube I can check for flat surfaces or planes that need a little more work.

checking how round your carving is

Step 2: To easily create the path of the snake around the basswood blank, I have marked a roll of painter’s tape at 5/8″. For this cane that will be the width of the snake’s body. With your bench knife cut the tape.

using tape to make your snake body

Secure one edge of the tape at the bottom of your stick, and roll the tape around the stick until you reach the top. My tape ran at about a 45 degree or less angle. Looking at the stick with the bottom edge of the tape facing me, I have four wraps, with the last wrap right at the top of the stick.

carving a  walking stick snake

carving a  walking stick snake

Step 3: Please see the Step 6 for the pattern for the snake head. Using a pencil or marking pen, draw or trace the pattern for the snake head about 1″ from the top of the stick.

tracing the pattern for a walking stick

Mark two tapered lines for the tip of the tail of the snake onto the tape. Begin the tail about 1″ above the bottom of the stick.

tracing the pattern for a walking stick

Using a pencil or marking pen, trace along the edges of the tape to mark on the wood the snake’s body lines.

tracing the pattern for a walking stick

Step 4: Remove the tape. You can re-wrap painter’s tape to the roll and re-use it later for your next snake walking stick or for securing paper patterns and graphite paper to your relief carvings.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

Create a stop cut along the outer edge of the snake body lines, cutting on the marking pen guidelines. A stop cut is made with your bench knife in two separate strokes. First, holding the knife at a 90 degree angle to the wood, cut along the line.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

Make the second part of the stop cut by slicing into the first cut, moving from the background area towards the snake body.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

I prefer to slowly drop the background wood in a stop cut area in thin layers or slivers at a time. As you work you can make the first cut slightly shallow, and then make the second background sliver into that cut. Then return to the snake body line and make a new, slightly deeper first cut. Again, work the second background sliver. This will slowly drop the background level of the wood, giving you more control over your depth of work.

Step 5: Continue working the two strokes of the stop cut along both sides of the snake body. The stop cuts are worked about 3/8″ to 1/2″ away from the body lines of the snake. This leaves the center area of the space between the snake twists high or proud. Those areas will become our sassafras twists soon.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

Work the stop cut around the snake’s head. Notice in the third photo for this step, below, that the snake’s body has been ‘freed’ from the background wood by dropping the background areas.

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish
Step 6: Work the stop cuts along the snake body until you are about 1/4″ deep at the marked guidelines.

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. IrishThe wrapped snake is a classic design for walking sticks and canes, one that has a history as old a Genesis in the Bible in the story of the serpent twisted in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge. It is a powerful image and one that is so easy to create in our carvings.

Using the wrapped tape method of creating the snake’s body path, you can quickly change the width of the snake by changing how thick or wide your tape is. The length of your snake also is easily adapted for either larger carving blanks or even short key chain sized blanks.

The snake head pattern is a simple to pencil mark directly to your wood. Begin with an equilateral triangle twice the size of the snake’s neck width.

Make a pencil line at each corner of the triangle to slice off the sharp edges. Now add a small half-circle just in front of the center point on each side of the triangle for your eyes. That’s it! Quick, easy, and fast.

Tomorrow we will establish the wrap of the sassafras twist and stop cut that area to create the second twist or wrap of the cane. Thank you for reading!!!!  If you have any questions, now is a good time to sign up for one of the forums where you can chat directly with me.

– Lora