Last year I started gathering driftwood sticks and turning them into walking sticks. Actually, it started out a bit differently: looking for a long, twisty piece of driftwood to display my collection of hiking stick medallions. But in the process, I couldn't help gathering up beautiful silvery sticks of driftwood just the right size for walking sticks.
Puget Sound hillsides are lined with Madrona trees, which keep their leaves year-round, shed their bark, and have gorgeous reddish wood. So the beaches are also littered with Madrona driftwood in all shapes and sizes, and if you're lucky, you can find the perfect size to carve into walking sticks.
Alder and maple are also plentiful at the beach, and from the farm, I’ve collected hazelnut and English walnut branches. I stack the wet driftwood and green wood in the barn to dry slowly; the rest go in a bucket in the entryway to finish drying.
As the wood dries, I shave off any remnants of bark and trim the branch ends. As I worked on my first stick, which had lots of interesting bumps and beautiful wood grain, I noticed that as I rubbed away the bark, the wood got silky smooth. Driftwood has very open grain caused by floating in salt water, rolling around on the sand, and bleaching in the sun. But it actually closes up is you rub it with something hard, like another piece of wood, making a beautiful hard finish. Even Madrona, already silky smooth, gets better when polished.
The first time I went looking, I found the perfect twisty stick to display my hiking medallions. It waits atop a display cabinet until I have time to finish it up. Until then, I get to enjoy this bit of natural beauty.
My dad researched the best way to polish driftwood, way back when we spent all our family vacations on the Oregon coast. He was also a collector of intriguing bits of driftwood, and especially loved the polished twisted pieces of driftwood we’d see in local shops. He was told the best thing to use was a deer antler. Deer shed their antlers every year, and we always figured we’d find one during our hikes, but we never did.
So lacking a handy piece of antler, I thought I’d experiment with other materials. I tried lots of things: sticks of hardwood driftwood worked pretty well, especially on smooth areas. So did both coarse and smooth stones, especially jasper and agate. But so far, the best material for polishing driftwood is beach glass. Lucky for me, it couldn’t be more available (unlike deer antlers). Whenever I walk the beaches looking for driftwood, I also keep my eyes open for beach glass.
The container of walking sticks sits just inside the front door, and I keep one in the Pilot, always ready when I need it. My favorite for sheer beauty and interest was in the water long enough that barnacles started a colony on it. The whole lower half has shell inlays. They're rough to the skin, so I don't use this stick. Dave's favorite still has bark on most of it, polished by the sand of the beach, and both ends were chewed by a beaver. It's really too long, but who could cut off those teeth marks?