I Love Sticks

The Father's Day shillelagh

It’s true.  I love them.

The foreign objects that the first tool users likely bashed each others brains out with were undoubtedly sticks and stones – and regardless of which was the first to break bones, sticks remain a viable option even today.

Forget cheap – sticks are free, and they grow, or can be found, damn near everywhere.  There are no laws against bringing sticks into any establishment so long as you can justify a use for them other than as potential weapons.  Depending on your age and physical state, few people question a walking stick or wooden cane.  Here in the South, a cop won’t bat an eyelash at a “tire thumper” behind the front seat of a vehicle (but he might question it if it’s hanging from your belt – use discretion).  On the other hand, you can look around you in almost any setting and find readily available sticks employed in a variety of ways that can easily and quickly be repurposed as expedient weapons: mops, brooms, plungers, pool sticks, sign posts, chair and table legs, dowels, and even natural limbs and sticks either still attached to their parent plant or not.

On their own, almost any stick can used as a blunt force weapon,

O'Bollocks the Cudgellelagh

either used two handed as a blunt spear if long, swung like a bat if medium sized, or wielded one-handed like a shillelagh if short.  Some sticks have convenient pointy-stabby ends for even more versatile use.  If your long stick breaks, it becomes two shorter sticks… possibly even with somewhat pointy-stabby ends.  If it gets too short to swing effectively, it can still be used as a yawara-style impact weapon.  How convenient.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my father instilled in me the value of a good stick, and when he’d take my brothers and I camping or hiking in the woods, the first priority was to acquire good “whappin’ sticks”… err, walking sticks.

When my cousin Chris and I came upon a water moccasin while walking when we were only 6, Chris knocked it silly with a walking stick, allowing me to get in and stomp its head into the dirt before decapitating it with a cheap, carnival knockoff of a fairbairn-sykes fighting knife.

In college, a new girlfriend and I went camping with some friends next to a lake.  I woke up earlier than everyone else and saw catfish feeding at the bank.  I picked up a long, thin stick, sharpened a point on one end with my pocket knife, and easily speared one in shallow water and carried it back to camp.  I’m pretty sure that it impressed her more than anything else I’d done up to that point.

Bodark Root shillelagh

As a kid, the first two weapons I made with my own tiny hands were a bo and a pair of nunchaku – because, like most male children of the 80s, I was obsessed with the Ninja Turtles (Col. Dad helped with the chucks).  The bo was an old shop broom stick with short sections of steel pipe screwed onto the threaded ends for weight.  The chucks were cut from an old shovel handle and joined with scrap handcuff chain from my grandpa’s garage.  I’d literally spend hours marching around the backyard taking on hordes of invisible foes with my wooden weapons.  Some people question why my dad would’ve started me with wooden chucks instead of foam, but honestly, I only ever hit myself with once.  After that, I respected them, and I learned slowly and responsibly.  Weapons don’t need training wheels – they need respect.

If you’ve read many of my posts, you know that I like to arm my

Another view of the Bodark Root shillelagh

family and friends so I won’t feel so obligated to rescue them all after the inevitable zombie apocalypse.  I usually end up passing on old or inexpensive weapons, restoring old weapons, or building homemade weapons.  As often as I can afford it or an opportunity arises, I give them firearms (almost anyone can afford a Mosin Nagant), but by far the most frequent gifts I impart are machetes and sticks.  In the last month alone I’ve probably made and given out five shillelaghs.  I don’t always take pictures and post them because they’re not always remarkable.  My process for preparing and hardening my shillelaghs can be found in my O’Bollocks the Cudgellelagh article.  It’s easy, cheap, and far less time consuming than the traditional Irish method of slathering the weapon in butter and sticking it up inside the chimney to harden via smoke and heat for months.

If you don’t have access to a propane torch, you can harden the wood (giggity)  more slowly over any fire you like, from a campfire to an alcohol or propane stove – probably even a charcoal grill if you’re careful, though my only attempt at this lead to me splitting the shillelagh irreparably due to the extreme high heat.  Any sustained source of high heat will work, but be sure to go slowly, as stated in my other article, so as not to overheat and split or crack the wood.

For this reason, adequate oiling is very important.  Again, the kind of oil you use is far less important than the fact that you’re using it at all.  I’ve used orange, lemon, and even olive oil.  You can probably use vegetable oil or motor oil, though I’ve never tried it myself.  The Irish used butter and a friend of mine once successfully used bacon grease.   Just experiment and have fun – the worst case scenario is that you ruin a stick… so what.  Go get another one.  In the backyard.  For free.

When I wanna get really fancy, I wrap the handles in leather twine or paracord and draw designs up and down the shaft with a wood-burning tool (glorified soldering iron).

Making walking sticks and shillelaghs is not only a financially responsible, environmentally friendly, and low risk crafting hobby, but it’s also damn EASY.  Pretty much anyone, of any age within reason, can pick up a stick and saw it to length, whittle the bark off of it, rub it with oil, and heat temper it.  If you can’t saw, then find one already the right size.  If you can’t whittle, then leave the bark on.  If you can’t heat temper, then leave the stick as is.  Despite the improvements one can make, none of them are necessary for the stick to be damn effective in whatever role you choose to employ it.  Any complete failures can be tossed right back out into the yard or burned in the fireplace without a second thought.

I love sticks, wastelanders… and so should you.

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