Skip to main content

Raif Killips

It begins with a walk...

As an artist interested deeply in wildlife and the outdoors I carve hiking sticks in designs inspired by the flora and fauna I see on country walks.

Artist on a walk next to Ploughman Wood
On a walk by Ploughman Wood

I hand carve my sticks using a mixture of new and traditional tools and methods. I employ techniques and work up designs to fit the texture and shape of the wood in hand using craftsman's wood stains for colour. I complete my carvings with fine durable materials and finish with beeswax polish for a natural tactile feel. I aim always to work with the wood's natural beauty and retain elements of its character.

Wren design
A carved wren thumbstick

The wooden shafts I use are gathered in November through February, the UK's traditional coppicing season. After harvesting, the wood is stored carefully and allowed to dry. It takes between 6 months and two years before the sticks are ready to be worked.

I include my artist mark on all sticks either on the shaft, or if it can be done so without detracting from the design, in the detail of the carving.

Artist mark carved into hazel shaft
Artist mark on the shaft of some of my sticks

While most of the materials I use are seasonal coppice products, for some designs I use timber cut from my own copse in the Peak District or FSC approved timber from UK suppliers.

Stick design

Artist's sketch of wren
Sketch of wren used for thumbstick design

Some of my sticks are free carved without reference to sketches or drawings. These pieces are usually carved in wood with bold figure and shape that strongly suggests the subject and form. Examples include my harvest mouse and wolf designs. In other cases while still paying attention to the inherent qualities of the wood I employ drawing and painting to arrive at a design. My studies combine memories of walks and things seen; sketches made in the field and photographic records.

Side profile design sketch stylisation of a Eurasian Wren.
Design sketch for wren thumbstick

How tall a stick?

Hiking staffs, thumbsticks, wading staffs and traditional farmers crooks are all distinct from 'walking sticks' being longer by several inches. While a walking stick is usually of a length that places its handle at or below hip height, staffs, crooks and thumb sticks usually stand with their grip between elbow and chest height. The exact height you prefer is personal. If not familiar, perhaps buying your first staff, to obtain a comfortable height try following this procedure: Put on your walking boots or shoes. Take a bean pole or broom, even a garden hoe and hold as if a hiking staff. With this stick 'substitute', adjust your grip until you find it most comfortable. Measure to the floor from the top of your grip.

Illustrating how to measure for a hiking stick or staff from floor to elbow or sternum as described in text

If you want your staff the "recommended" or "standard" height, follow the same procedure as described in the previous paragraph but make sure your forearm and upper arm form a right angle when you are holding the stick. Then take the measurement from floor to top of the hand grip.

Illustrating how to measure for a hiking stick or staff from floor to top of hand grip with arm forming 90 degree angle

A wading staff might need to be longer depending on the river or lake bed. If you are buying a thumbstick or other design and wish to rest binoculars on it then the very top of the stick needs to end close to eye level - please contact me with that measurement and clear indication you intend to use the stick that way. (My bird design thumbsticks are not suited to this application unless supplied with a replacement grip for the purpose. This can be provided on request.)

Walking Sticks by Raif Killips