Custom Carved Walking Cane Smiling Face Wood Spirit Twisting Beard Walnut Wood

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 03-17-2015 01:29 PM 5000 views 3 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Project Story:

Over the years I have been asked to carve a lot of walking canes with faces on them, as they’ve been a popular theme with my commissioned work. I haven’t posted photos of a walking cane for awhile, so this is the latest one, #2015-01, 36” Tall, American Black Walnut wood, with a touch of Ambrosia Maple on the handle.

I was up late last night typing a long story for another project posting, so I’m sort of shot this morning, out of words, and need to get back to my shop work this morning… I’ll keep this one short.

The customer on this cane waited a long time for me to get to her on the list, and she could not have been a sweeter person to deal with. Down the shaft of the cane with the beard twisted, she requested her name and the names of her grandchildren be carved.

Unfortunately, I spelled one of the grandkid’s name wrong, the “MARK” should have been a “MARC”. I looked at that list of names about a 100 times before I carved it to make sure I had it right.

But, I was working off the first list of names she sent me, and she had caught her error and emailed about the spelling change later. I got that communication, but when I took the list to the shop to carve it, I used the original list by mistake…..UGH!

The process of carving a cane in this style starts with a 2”x2”x38” blank of walnut. I look for wood that has straight grain, and one where the grain does not run-out the side of the shaft, as that would weaken the wood.

I then draw on the blank with a Sharpee marker the outline of the face and the twisting beard. I then remove everything that doesn’t look like what I see in my mind for the cane to be. It’s a lot of chips, and I’m nervous all the way from the start to the finish.

Several years ago I showed a walking cane in this style at a multi-State regional carving show, and I listened puzzled to one of my competitors arguing with the Judges that I had carved this out of one stick of wood.

The competitor and I had met several months before at a woodworking show in Kansas City, and so he defended my honor to the Judge. The Judge was convinced that I glued the face to the shaft of the wood.

The competitor deservedly won the competition, and I took 2nd, but I couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy. And and his carving was indeed better than mine, his animal’s fur looked like real fur, amazing.

Normally, I’m not content with 2nd place – 1st Loser, but that time I was happy, and I learned a lot about competitions….I haven’t been back to that since then.

My dad is quite an accomplished carver, and so I grew up with his sculpture pieces and furniture filling our house. Carving always seemed to come so easily for him, the chips just easily lifted just where he wanted. And, I see others that it comes easy for…..but I have to really work at it, and I’m still trying to improve.

Right now my 13 year old Son has decided he wants to learn to carve. I found a Cottonwood Tree down our road that the County Crew had cut down to protect the water drainage. So, we drove down and loaded up a few pieces of the Cottonwood, looking for something he could carve.

Sitting in my shop is an unfinished carving of a Native American Indian Chief’s face. So my Son decided he wanted to also carve and Indian’s Face in his new Cottonwood Chunk.

I watched him for three afternoons sit on a stool and just mess around, trying to figure out how to start.

That’s always my problem….how to start.

Well, that’s not my only problem…..finishing is also a struggle, but this story is about him.

For the first three days, I kept watching him sit on a stool in front of his “Carving”, just looking frustrated.

I’d ask, ” you need me to help you?”

He’d reply, “No, I can do it!”
I’m the same way, stubborn to a flaw.

By the Fourth afternoon, he had stopped.

Realizing how he was struggling with visualizing the carving inside the wood, I offered to help again.

This time, he accepted some advice.

So, I took a Red Sharpee Marker and drew a rough face on the place where he skinned off the bark for the past three afternoons.

I said, “now, just carve off the Red marker, and let me know when it’s gone.”

I went back to my bench and did my own work, and tried to not get caught peeking at his work.

He happily and quickly removed the red marked wood, and said, “I’m done, but it doesn’t look like a face?”

So, I returned and red marked again, and said, “Now, remove the red.”

Back and forth we went for three more afternoons, and slowly, layer by layer a face with nose and eye sockets, and chin started appear.

“I’m really doing it, can I take it to church and show the kids there?” was his excited question.

My suggestion was to wait on showing others until it was finished, so his “face” hasn’t gone to church yet.

I’m hopeful he’ll stick to it until he finishes up his carving.

He has a character struggle of working hard to the end of something, he tends to get about 3/4ths of the way and calls it “done”, and moves onto a new project.

I struggle with the same thing, so I understand the burden it is, and how difficult it is to get paid for projects that are only 3/4ths complete.

I do think that if it wasn’t for having to make a living with my tools, I’d never really complete any project to the end.

My shop is filled with the musings of my creativity, all about 3/4ths complete….too far along to toss out, too much left to take time and finish, and so they gather dust.

Maybe you have the same struggle?

So, my Son and I work on this character issue together, and hopefully the world will someday see another face emerge from a chunk of wood by his hands.

Thanks for reading along,
Mark A. DeCou


More Walking Sticks & Canes:
If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you won’t find very many canes pictured there. I do realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are few more of my canes posted at lumberjocks, thanks for your patience.

Handmade Finished Canes For Sale, Ready to Ship Now: Online Shop Inventory: Click Here to Visit my Cane Inventory Page

- List of Other Canes I’ve built:-

Folk Art & Pop-Art Carved Canes
  1. Bear Head Dressy Cane
  2. Horse Head Dressy Cane
  3. African Safari and Elephant Cane
  4. 50th Wedding Anniversary Staff
  5. Carved Face Life-Story Cane
  6. Motorcycle Biker's Walking Cane, Carved Flames
  7. Elk Antler Handle, Carved Twisting Oak Leaves
  8. Bishop’s Carved Walnut Crosier
  9. Nascar’s Jimmie Johnson Themed Walking Cane
  10. Carved Oak Leaf Walking Stick
  11. Folk-Art Smiling Wood Spirit Face Cane w/ Elk Antler Handle
  12. Folk-Art Carved Wood Spirit Hiking Stick
  13. Folk-Art Pirate Carved Face Cane w/ Deer Antler Handle
  14. Cartoon Character Taz, Folk Art One-of-a-kind Art Cane
  15. Sculpted Wood Spirit Face Cane
  16. Folk-Art Wood Spirit Cane w/ Elk Antler Handle & Scrimshaw
  17. Folk Art Mountain Man Face Cane
  18. Shamrock Wood Spirit Irish-Theme Face Cane
  19. Walnut Wood Spirit Face Cane with Antler & Turquoise
  20. Collection of Face Carved Canes
  21. Moses-Inspired Face Carved Cane w/ Antler & Turquoise
  22. Shepherd's Stick, Carved Border Collie Welsh-Style Dog Show Trial Stick
  23. Carved Oak Leaf Walking Cane with Scrimshaw Artwork
  24. Amazing Grace Music Notes Carved Cane
  25. A Lady’s Elegant Red Long-Stem Rose Carved Cane
  26. Prairie Fire Hand-Carved Hiking Thumb Sticks
  27. A Folk-Art Carved Albatross Head & Snake Walnut Cane
  28. Carved Folk-Art Walking Cane; 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' Story Stick with Scrimshaw Artwork-
Native American Indian Theme Folk-Art Canes
  1. Apache Chief Geronimo Folk-Art Face Cane
  2. Folk Art Native American Face Cane Set
  3. Apache Chief Cochise Folk-Art Face Cane
  4. Folk Art Carved Cane of Shoshone Chief
  5. Indian Guides Chief Big-Red-Cloud Hiking Stick
  6. Apache Chief Cochise #2 Folk-Art Face Cane
Scrimshaw Artwork Canes
  1. Scrimshaw Quail and Bubinga Spiral Dress Cane
  2. Scrimshaw Art Trophy Buck Deer Head
  3. Scrimshaw Art Walking Cane: Praying Mantis Insect
  4. Scrimshaw Art Walking Cane: Floppy Eared Bunny Face & Walnut Barley Twist
  5. Big & Tall Barley Twisted Oak with Scrimshawn Handle
  6. Walnut & Curly Maple Cane with Scrimshaw
  7. Scrimshaw Art Walnut Cane
  8. Fancy Barley Twist with Scrimshaw Cane
  9. Lady's Dress Cane, Red Oak, Walnut, Black Lacquer, & Scrimshaw Artwork of a Purple Cone Flower
Natural Sapling/Limb Canes/Sticks
  1. Ash Sapling with Elk Antler and Inlays of Crushed Turquoise
  2. Knarly Cedar Driftwood Topped Sapling Stick
  3. Folk-Art Carved Wood Spirit Hiking Stick
  4. Nanny McPhee Movie-Inspired Crooked Walking Stick
  5. Naturally Twisted Tree Sapling Cane
  6. Naturally Twisted Tree Sapling Walking Stick
  7. Shepherd's Crook Hiking Stick
  8. Black Locust Tree Sapling Walking Stick
  9. Red BirchTree Sapling Hiking Stick
Fancy Barley-Twist Style Dress Canes
  1. Fancy Barley Twisted Ebonized Oak & Elk Antler Cane, Serial No. 2009-05
  2. Big & Tall Walnut & Maple Barley Twist Custom Cane
  3. Big & Tall Red Oak and Antler with Scrimshaw Monogram
  4. White Oak Barley Twist Cane
  5. Osage Orange Barley Twist Cane
  6. Walnut & Figured Maple Barley Twist cane
  7. Black Walnut and Spalted Sycamore Barley Twist
  8. Red Oak Barley Twist with Black Lacquer
  9. Red Oak Barley Twist with Walnut Handle
  10. Dress Cane, Oak Barley Twist with Walnut Ring
  11. Bryan's Cane, The Start of my Cane Journey
Fancy Dress Style Canes
  1. Ribbed Walnut Cane with Camphor Burl Derby Handle
  2. African Blackwood and Lapis Lazuli Ball Walking Stick
  3. Pink Ivory and Elk Antler Dress Walking Stick
  4. Coiled Ribbon Twisted Spalted White Oak with Walnut Handle
  5. Polished Black Steer Horn Upright Walking Stick
  6. Mexican Bocote Wood, Elk Antler Handle with Hand-Wrought Fine Silver End Caps
  7. Fancy Walking Cane, Camphor Burl, Maple, Bubinga, Whitetail Deer Antler, Inlays & Silver End Caps
  8. Custom Dress-Up Walking Cane, Walnut shaft with a Camphor Burl Handle
  9. Walnut & Buffalo Horn Twisted Cane
  10. White Birch & Buffalo Horn Twisted Cane
  11. Walnut Bamboo-Style Cane with Chrome Ball Top
  12. Walnut & Buffalo Horn Dress Cane
  13. Bird's Eye Maple Cane
  14. Spalted Sycamore Walking Cane
  15. Walnut Tall Knob Top Opera Cane
  16. Zebrawood & Walnut Knob Top Opera Cane
  17. Dress Cane Set, with several Material Options Shown

What is Scrimshaw Artwork?:
A Scrimshaw Art Journey: What it is & How to Do it; Five Simple Steps to Success
Click here to go to My Website page with Walking Canes

I usually have a few canes in stock at:
  1. Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works in Wichita, Kansas
  2. Prairie Past Times Antiques & Crafts in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas

You can contact these gallery stores directly and see what they still have in stock. They will ship to you if you buy something. If you prefer, you can also email me, as I keep fairly current on what is “unsold.”

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Background: My Cane Making Story:

I enjoy sculpting walking canes. Some folks call them Folk-Art Canes, while others call them Artisan Canes, some call them Carved Canes, while others call them Walking Sticks. There is quite a bit of argument about whether something should be called Sculpture or Carving. They could be considered Functional-Art, which is the type of work that I am usually drawn to. No matter what these canes are called, they seem to bring joy to the owners, and I have been asked to make quite a few of them in the past 5-6 years.

I started making canes on the request of a nice married couple I met on a church-building short-term mission trip to Mexico City in the early 1990’s. Several years after our trip, their son-in-law was diagnosed with bone cancer, and so they wanted to get him a specially made cane that he would enjoy using. They had heard from others that I had quit my corporate office job and started doing woodworking full-time. So, they contacted me to make his cane.

Click for details

Sadly, I also built him a casket, another first for me, about a year later

Click for details

Since the time I did that first Cane for Bryan, I have enjoyed the work on the canes that I have been able to make, but more importantly, the people that I have been able to meet and help along the journey. I do make a bunch of unique items and furniture, but without a doubt, I receive more correspondence and thank-you cards from cane customers than any of the other items I make, combined. So, they are fun for me to build, and I look forward to each new person and situation.

To keep a handle on all of the memories, I engrave a small serial number on each brass cane tip, and then I keep a detailed database log of each cane, customer, and situation. The list always brings me warm memories each time I scan it and remember the folks that have supported my work over the years, and vice versa.


Still Want to See more of my work?

Start with each of these links, and they will take you to other organized lists of my other niche products:

  1. Custom Knives
  2. Custom Art-Furniture I've Built
  3. Artisan Hat Making Tools


(This text, all photos, project design, are protected by copyright 2015, M.A.DeCou, all rights reserved and protected, ask permission first! Weblinks to this page are permitted)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

12 comments so far

View littlecope's profile


3157 posts in 4996 days

#1 posted 03-17-2015 01:43 PM

Great Story and Excellent Work as always Mark!
I look forward to seeing third-generation work from your Son soon!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

657 posts in 5628 days

#2 posted 03-17-2015 01:43 PM

At least he had some interest in carving. My kids took no interest in woodcarving at all but maybe after their kids get older the interest might come.

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View Woodbridge's profile


3755 posts in 3912 days

#3 posted 03-17-2015 01:59 PM

Great looking cane. What a great expression. The smile is contagious. As I read this post and your earlier one it sounds like nurturing young saplings is something you do rather well.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View mmh's profile


3703 posts in 5217 days

#4 posted 03-17-2015 02:03 PM

A unique carving indeed! Glad to hear that your son is interested in working in the wood shop. My husband’s son doesn’t have much interest in woodworking either. It’s sad to see the lack of interest in the younger generation, as there could be so much to pass along.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5895 days

#5 posted 03-17-2015 02:07 PM

Marc ops Mark. Great story and thanks for being a parent that allows them to run and fall and getup and run again.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5900 days

#6 posted 03-17-2015 02:07 PM

Thanks guys.

Roger, I’ve taken it as a personal-hobby to talk to carvers whenever I see them at events for kids, well actually, anywhere I find them, but lately it’s been at Boy Scout events.

At the large Boy Scout events especially, there seems to always be a handful of carvers sitting around hoping that some kids will come up and learn something and be inspired to carve.

When I ask if the kids are stopping at the table, each time, it’s a collective “no.”

Now, I’m only judging my experience based on the kids I observe in Kansas, and the surrounding States that go to Boy Scout events, so it might not be this way everywhere.

Each time I find a table of carvers, I’ll stop and listen to them, and I’ll look around and see all of the kids running by the table without looking. If they do look, it’s a quick glance and they trot off to something else.

For some reason, not many kids are interested in carving. I’m not sure why that is. It’s one of my little goals in life to figure this out, and find a way to inspire some younger hands. Maybe it looks too hard for them, I’m still trying to figure it out.

So, I started off trying to understand my son’s troop of Boy Scouts, what makes kids that age “tick”?

So far, I’m left confused.

They all say they want to be able to carve, but they don’t.

So, I sat through a few meetings whittling myself some neckerchief slides, something Boy Scouts and leaders all like, and easily trade for.

I finished up a few, and the kids seemed to like them, and a couple of them said they wanted to learn how to do it themselves…..but then they never did, and they never came back to me for advice, or learn more.

Maybe I’m just not good at inspiring and teaching, so let’s just say at this point it’s maybe my fault.

Maybe it’s always been like this, or maybe it’s the video-game culture, maybe it’s those stupid texting smart phones, not sure?

My research so far has found that kids think that carved items are “cool”, but seeing themselves doing it hasn’t taken hold yet.

Anyway Roger, I felt so blessed to have my kid want to learn….actually he wants to “carve”, he doesn’t have time to “learn”.

A lot of us are like that with things in life….going too fast to learn.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 3501 days

#7 posted 03-17-2015 03:21 PM

Good story (again). Glad you kept this one “short” :-)

Hopefully your son WILL stick with it till the face reveals itself!

And I like how you made the “clip” that holds the cane in the stand.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4337 days

#8 posted 03-17-2015 05:40 PM


Glad to see you’re back! LOL! Reflecting on the “good old days” I did woodworking and learning through my dad, and observing him. I still can’t carve but I’ve got it on my list. LOL!

School and current culture determine our kids environment. I did woodworking and electronic stuff, but we had to either get a book or a kit from Radio Shack. I use to see Dick Tracy in Sunday comics and think “Wow”. The only tech stuff we would see was in the back of a comic book. “A cardboard mock up of a space ship control center.” I was in scouts for awhile but never saw anyone carving or doing wood projects. I built my version of a stereo/boom box….LOL! Rocked my neighborhood. :<)

The budgets in schools is reduced, job creation is tech based, and programmers make the most money. Liberal Arts colleges are folding while “On Line” schools are flourishing? I was fortunate to go to a high school that taught college prep and hands on technology, and I took wood shop, machine shop, drafting, and electric shop. Now the thing is IPad’s in grade school?

I believe the tech age has done wondrous things. LJ’s, On Line craft education, and books online.

My woodworking guild in MN is online, as well. I can’t drive two hours in the evening to see a tutorial.

I believe you are an inspiration to your kid, even if he doesn’t know it. And if you add some cool tech tools to your wood stuff, the kids get hooked.

Oh yeah Kiefer figured out how to get connected to his grandson. He helped the boy make some three dimensional toys relating to gaming?

You my friend are many things. Artist, miller, craftsman, and a great writer! I haven’t met you in person, only on line. If it weren’t for technology I’d would never have had the pleasure.

Tom/aka DocSavage45

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Bluepine38's profile


3393 posts in 4580 days

#9 posted 03-17-2015 10:15 PM

I remember Boy’s Life magazine always had a section that dealt with carving a neck slide in each issue, it has
been a few years, so I do not know if they still do it. I never got interested in carving myself until a few
years ago, will never be top notch, but it is fun. Grand kids & great grand kids will look at my shop work
and house remodeling and if I ask if they want to try, I will get a response on the order of “I am not good at
that.” They are not interested in trying, a couple have done projects, but there always seems to be some
thing more interesting going on. Do not know the answers, but I will keep having fun playing in the shop,
at least it keeps me out of most trouble and off the street corners.

-- As ever, Gus-the 83 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4298 days

#10 posted 03-18-2015 12:18 AM

That is bee-u-tee-ful! He must have been using some good tooth whitening toothpaste cuz he’s got a very brilliant smiley pearly whites. Super nice cane and super awesome carving/s.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 5237 days

#11 posted 03-20-2015 08:55 PM

Nice story about working with your teen Mark.

Hard to watch them struggle….always have to fight the instinct to step in.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Napaman's profile


5535 posts in 5571 days

#12 posted 03-21-2015 02:49 AM

This one makes me think of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings…how about a series of canes with a theme ( since you have so much time).

Bummer on the name mix up…but it does not take away from the amazing artistry…

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

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