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Fine Finishing: Custom Walking Sticks


My grandfather woodcrafted fine walking sticks after he retired. He cut most from Cherrywood; some from Walnut (Black and European); a few from Ebony; also Brazilian Mahogany, Teak, and Rosewood.


Each featured distinctive characteristics:


. custom-cut, solid shaft in length and diameter;

. custom-designed, molded and etched brass head, and tip;

. custom-designed, turned and etched brass shaft rings;

. custom-etched owner’s monogram, in brass head.


The wood for each piece was hand-selected for its unique and suitable qualities: hardness, color, grain, texture, etc.


He ordered the wood for each piece individually, and directly from the mill. Two mills were located in the United States. The others were located in France, Italy, South America, India, and Australia.


Upon arrival, Grandfather Boyd cut the wood piece to customer specifications (length and diameter), allowing extra millimeters for working it. Next, the piece was formed. Then shaped and planed, and rounded. It was sanded many times. Each time to flawless smoothness.


When the finishing phases were reached, the walking stick was rag-stained twice, and rubbed twice. Grandfather applied many coats of final finish. He allowed as many as 20 days of drying time between each coat. A lacquer finish was the favorite. Known for its distinction and elegance, and its astounding durability.


Grandfather advertised his custom walking sticks in only two magazines: The New Yorker and Esquire. For a short period, he advertised also in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Christian Science Monitor.


Here’s how the purchasing process worked…


A person saw Grandfather’s walking stick ad. He or she phoned him at the listed “812” area code phone number. Grandfather described the walking sticks. He asked a few questions about the person’s background and interests. He asked how and where the walking stick would be used. He asked about the person’s wood preference. He offered an estimate of the handcrafted accessory.


Each interested person was sent two distinctive business cards and a matching note card. Both were printed on pale blue linen, and featured an India-ink sketch of a walking stick. Enclosed was a Polaroid photo of a finished walking stick, a simple order form, and the terms of sale.


On the order form, the client selected his or her choice of wood. The person provided his or her measurements: overall height, overall weight, whether left-or-right-handed; waist-to-floor height; hands-open palm width; also length from wrist-to-finger tips; etc. The client listed any physical handicaps that he or she might have had – relative to the need for and use of a walking stick.


By phone, Grandfather confirmed the client’s wood preference. They agreed upon the finish delivery date. They agreed upon the total cost, including shipping. They agreed upon the actual packaging and shipping preference.


Every client left the brass head and tip design to my grandfather. Most also left the stain and finish to my grandfather’s discretion.


Between 1972 and 1987, he handcrafted over 70 distinctive walking sticks. Starting in late 1975, he offered clients a beautiful accessory: a custom-made satin-lined, plush velvet carry bag. Also, it featured a custom monogram on the outside, and a distinctive, hand-sewn identity label inside.


His clientele were stars of film, television, and the stage; comedians; best-selling authors; artists, musicians, opera stars; entrepreneurs and executives; leaders in medicine, science, government.


Grandfather moved to Florida in 1988. He also moved some prized woodworking tools and equipment. Also, his walking stick materials, forms and molds.


He planned to handcraft more walking sticks. It didn’t work out. The workshop on his lovely second wife’s lakefront property lacked climate-control. And, it lacked the ample workspace.


In August of 2015, a letter addressed to Grandfather Boyd was forwarded to my mother. The writer stated that, in 2014, he had purchased “two exquisite walking sticks.” Still in their monogrammed velvet cases. They’d been sold at an estate auction in Southern California.


The writer explained that, inside each case, the original owner had kept one of my grandfather’s blue linen business cards. That’s how the new owner knew the name of the woodcrafter. And, then “Goggled” to reach him.


Isn’t ISP and social media wonderful? Almost as grand as Grandfather Boyd’s distinctive walking sticks.


Have you walked lately in another person’s shoes? How did they fit?


Thank you, everyone, for visiting “Painting with Bob.”

Copyright 2015. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.

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