Twistie Stick Snake Cane Tutorial

Hi Gang!

Roy, aka Big Cougar, is teaching a great relief carving project with his bass pattern, which you can find under Carving Class, I thought I would share a walking stick carving.

Walking stick carving is often one of the first carving projects a new woodcarver tries. This particular design - a snake wrapped around a Sassafras Twistie Stick - is a beginner's level project, but I think that even the advanced carvers here may discover a few fun tricks and tips.

We will work, step by step, through creating the round, establishing the snake, marking and cutting the twist, texturing the snake and bark, adding a frog on the top of the stick, and how to add a real honeysuckle vine into the twist. The cane will be lightly coated with a finished with a linseed oil and turp mixture and then dry mounted to your walking staff.


These are the tools that I used, but you do not need these exact tools or exact sizes. Use what you have. If you are new, a bench knife, or large chip carving knife, and a basic Japanese set will get you started. Because we will be creating the pattern directly to the basswood you can make this stick in any length!

1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 12" basswood blank
bench knife or large chip carving knife
3/8" round gouge
1/8" round gouge
u-gouge, also called a veining tool
several sizes of fine rasps or rifflers
220-grit sandpaper
1" wide painter's tape or masking tape
pencil, for marking the cane
old toothbrush for cleaning
carving gloves
thick terry-cloth towel
sharpening tools
cardboard center from a roll of toilet paper
linseed oil
all thread pipe
epoxy glue

walking stick staff - approx. 4' to 5' tall, x 1 1/4" diameter


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We will begin tomorrow by rounding-over the basswood stick, establishing the path of the snake, and rough carving the Sassafras twistie area low to reveal the snake's body.

So, go get your knives and carving tools, check them for sharpness, find a basswood cane blank, and join me tomorrow as we begin this fun project. I'm off to start cropping photos for you.

I will also be posting larger images for this Twistie Stick Snake Cane each day on my blog. And while you wait to get started, visit Roy's relief carving class thread!!!!


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Carol Reed

In Memoriam
Coolidge, AZ
Hi Lora,

I am interested in those cute little gnomes that top walking sticks. Not big on snakes at all! I'll watch along, but when (or if) you do the stick toppers, I'm in. Starting a new job tomorrow, so later I will see how much time I might have this winter to make a mess in my office! :rolleyes: :wave: Well, beyond its usual mess. :rofl:

I need a bench knife to add to my tool kit. Care to make some comments about what to shop for?
Hi Lora,

I am interested in those cute little gnomes that top walking sticks. Not big on snakes at all! I'll watch along, but when (or if) you do the stick toppers, I'm in.

I need a bench knife to add to my tool kit. Care to make some comments about what to shop for?

Carol, as you watch our progress you will see how easy it is to leave off the snake, and just create the twistie stick and frog.

Personally I use a large chip carving knife for my bench knife. A chip knife fits my hands, which are much smaller than my husbands, so much better than the traditional bench knife. Plus, its a two-for-one purchase. You'll have a great, short blade knife for relief and 3-d carving, and, of course, they are made for chip carving. So, you can invest in a really nice quality chip knife knowing you will get years and years of use.

- Lora

Carol, I slipped out and found some photos that might guide you.

The knives shown from top to bottom are: small chip knife, large chip knife, detalier, short-bladed bench knife, and a long-bladed bench knife. In the other two photos you can see the large bench knife handle fits my hand perfectly. The short blade places me right against the wood, where a bench knife places me 1" to 1 1/2" away. Plus, because the large chip handle is not excessively long the center of balance for making small cut direction changes is right in the center of my palm.

Hope this helps! - Lora


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Roy Millsaps

St. Mary's, Georgia
I will be doing this some times during the winter but need to finish the class an honey do's an other projects that's got to get done, Thank you Lora for doing this for the group :thumb:
This is up my alley, must find a stick.
Lora are those kevlar gloves u have there?

Sent from my SGH-I337M using Tapatalk

No, they are "cut resistant" gloves! As a relief carver I seldom wear carving gloves because all of the tool cuts are made with a push stroke. But I do use this set when 3-D carving as they give me a stronger grip on the wood, yet are light weight enough I don't lose any hand motion or finger control. And! When they really dirty I can throw them in the washer. I got my set from Ramelson.

At one time I had a set of kevlar, but found them so thick and heavy I couldn't really feel the wood.

- Lora

Brent Dowell

Staff member
Reno NV
This is so cool. Ok, Not sure I can participate in real time, but I am going to do this. I love playing with walking sticks.

Paul Douglass

S E Washington State
Darn you carvers! I absolutely love wood carvings, I given it some trying but know I really have no talent for it. But, looks like so much fun.... darn, I have to stick with one thing for a while...I keep switching, some many things I want to try, so little time, so frustrating.

Vaughn McMillan

Staff member
I'm not in a position time- or space-wise right now to participate on this one, but I'll be watching with lots of interest. :thumb:
Good Morning!!!! Let's have some fun!!!!

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. - Irish_twistie_cane_006.jpg


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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. - Irish_twistie_cane_007.jpg

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. - Irish_twistie_cane_008.jpg

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. - Irish_twistie_cane_009.jpg


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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. - Irish_twistie_cane_0010.jpg

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. - Irish_twistie_cane_0011.jpg and Irish_twistie_cane_0012.jpg


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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. - Irish_twistie_cane_0013.jpg

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. - Irish_twistie_cane_0014.jpg

Using a pencil or marking pen, trace along the edges of the tape to mark on the wood the snake's body lines. - Irish_twistie_cane_0015.jpg


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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. - Irish_twiste_cane_0016.jpg

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. - Irish_twisite_cane_0017.jpg

Make the second part of the stop cut by slicing into the first cut, moving from the background area towards the snake body. - Irish_twiste_cane_0018.jpg

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.


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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. - Irish_twistie_cane_0019.jpg and Irish_twistie_cane_0020.jpg

Work the stop cut around the snake's head. - Irish_twistie_cane_0021.jpg Notice in the third photo for this step that the snake's body has been 'freed' from the background wood by dropping the background areas.


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Step 6: Work the stop cuts along the snake body until you are about 1/4" deep at the marked guidelines. - Irish_twisite_cane_0022.jpg and Irish_twistie_cane_0023.jpg

The 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 - Irish_twistie_cane_0024.jpg - 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. - Irish_twistie_cane_0024.jpg

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 great time to post them.

- Lora


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