Cane Topper Woodcarving - Carve a Custom Cane or Walking Stick

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Carver, painter, pyrographer, jewelry maker and author are just a few of the titles that Lora S. Irish holds. And she is extremely accomplished in all of them.

She has written more than 30 books, including Wood Spirits and Green Men, Pyrography Basics, Great Book of Woodburning, Chip Carving Workshop, and Wildlife Carving in Relief.

Her latest title, Cane Topper Woodcarving, is an extensive compilation of “Projects, Patterns and Essential Techniques for Custom Canes and Walking Sticks.”


In the intro for Cane Topper Woodcarving, Lora explains several reasons why she loves woodcarving. To Lora, woodcarving is a hobby that encompasses all forms of designs, themes and art styles. It’s a portable pastime that she can enjoy while also hanging with her family. She divides a cane into sections so she can carve and construct a cane just about anywhere she goes. Working in sections also allows her to mix woods in one design.

“Cane toppers truly give me everything I want as a woodcarver,” she wrote. “The choice of any theme I can imagine, the ability to work in any location I want, and the option to incorporate the strongest assets of the wood available to me.”


A very important part of any cane is its staff. Lora’s first chapter in Cane Topper Woodcarving delves into the best time of year and locations for harvesting staffs, and she offers some valuable tips for storing and drying your sticks.

She talks about several species of woods like black walnut, sassafras and oak that grow on the East Coast where she lives. She includes the characteristics and common uses for each.

Lora also shares five different ways to prepare a staff for becoming a walking stick.  

The following chapters continue with various methods for attaching your carved topper to the staff and for covering the joints. Her simple joinery instructions and detailed photographs provide plenty of information in order to choose the best option for each project.

For strength, stability and grip, Lora offers easy-to-follow instruction on leather and cord wrapping, and shows several ideas for wrapping material.

The section ends with a chapter on “extras” and how to create them, like useful tool bags, charming pipes, wood and wire accessories and more.


Lora reviews basic practices for carving, goes over the knives needed and teaches some fundamental cuts in Chapter 5. Beginners will find this section a good one to spend some time on, while more experienced carvers may view it as a refresher and perhaps pick up a pointer or two.  

Many of the supplies needed for cane topper carving are common household tools or tools that you may already have for other crafting or woodworking projects.

Shown here are a few examples: a T-square ruler, a large dusting brush, a small ox-hair dusting brush, scissors, a white artist’s eraser, assorted pens and pencils and a sanding block with fine 220-grit sandpaper.

Lora recommends precut basswood carving blocks for your first cane toppers. Basswood is a soft, easy-to-cut wood that sands well, and the light color is perfect for painting or staining. Other excellent carving woods for toppers include butternut, sugar pine, soft maple and yellow cedar.

This section also includes how to size the diameter of your cane toppers and how to measure the center point for the grips. An overview of bench knives, chip carving knives, round gouges, chisels and v-gouges follows, along with sharpening and safety tips.

The four basic cuts in this chapter are all it takes to carve a topper: whittling push cut, whittling pull cut, stop cut and rounding-over cut. Lora also shares some of her favorite ways to finish cane toppers, including acrylic, polyurethane, paste wax and oil. There’s even a handy multiple choice exercise at the end of the chapter for deciding what kind of cane topper you might wish to make.


Now…onto the projects! The biggest part of this book focuses on how to actually carve cane toppers with detailed instructions and photographs to make it easy to follow each step. Lora provides instruction for four interesting toppers with plenty of important tips and tricks for great, clean work. Even if you don’t fancy any of these particular designs, the carving instruction itself is worth hanging around for.

The GI Joe Mushroom Topper takes the reader along as she focuses on carving the planes of the face. She shows how to create an exaggerated style to give him some personality and how to top him off with a mushroom-shaped Army helmet.

The Wood Spirit Topper is full of interesting details, from the texture of his beard to the decorative beads along his mustache to his expressive face. Helpful design tips for faces include how to create emotion in your wood spirit and what cuts allow for certain facial features.

GI Joe Mushroom Topper

Wood Spirit Cane Topper

The Tiki Topper introduces carving leaves, geometric patterns and expressive eyelids and mouth lines. Since each specific feature of the tiki face is a simple shape—rounded half circle for eyelids and teardrop shape for the nose—this makes a wonderful learning project.

Here Lora is working on the Wood Spirit’s goatee with the v-gouge.

Lora uses a bench knife to make a stop cut to begin forming the tiki’s teeth.

The Twistie Snake Topper works through creating the round, establishing the snake, marking and cutting the twist, texturing the snake and bark, adding a frog on the top of the stick and adding a real honeysuckle vine into the twist.

Creating a half-circle trough for the honeysuckle to go on the sassafras stick.

A finishing mixture of linseed oil and turpentine soaks deeply into the wood fibers.

After practicing on the different kinds of cane toppers, the reader is presented with several more fun, different shaped mushroom carving projects to try: Little Reader Mushroom, Large Cap Mushroom and Little Gentlemen Mushroom.


The last part of Cane Topper Woodcarving is a plethora of carving patterns to practice your skills, which includes the toppers previously studied and a whole lot more. The black and white drawings show all angles of the topper, accompanied by color versions of the finished piece. 

The Mark Twain cane topper features a tall wisp of white hair and the trademark Twain mustache, along with a cigar and dapper vest with button detailing. The Braided Beard topper gives the carver a chance to try to some intricate hair detail, while the Viney topper incorporates a twisty vine than wraps around the wood spirit. The Viking cane topper wears a little horned helmet and holds a sword.

Mark Twain Cane Topper
Viney Cane Topper

Braided Beard Cane Topper

Viking Cane Topper

There are tons more patterns, like the Horned Dragon, Wise Owl, Hunter, Squinting Spirit, Critter Totem and Wizard. Lora’s book provides plenty of carving inspiration and intriguing character patterns to keep your carving tools moving and your mind sharp.

To learn more about Lora S. Irish, go to her website at or find her on Facebook

Stop by your local Woodcraft store today to pick up a copy while you browse the library section. Or order a copy online at  

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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