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Making a Quarterstaff:

The British tradition is to make your own staff. The ancient ballad of Robin Hood (15th century or earlier) describes how Robin cuts a staff in order to fight with Little John.

Find a suitable sapling
The best staffs are made from whole saplings, not from branches or sections of a tree. Suitable woods are: hazel, ash, oak and hawthorn. It is easy to find straight hazel and ash; both are light and springy. But neither are as strong as oak (the wood used by Robin in the ballad) or thorn and will not last as long. The surface of ash has a tendency to flake and split. Thorn has proved itself the toughest and most durable material. The sapling should be at least 2.5 inches in diameter at the narrowest point. Its length should be your own height to the crown of your head plus about 3 inches.

Cut in winter
If you cut a sapling in spring or summer, it will be full of sap. This will make it heavy and more important will tend to cause it to warp as it dries out. The best time to cut a staff is in winter. When you cut a staff, you can easily strip off the bark with any kind of knife. Our experience is that if you store the staff without stripping the bark for a period of a few months, it improves its durability. But the removal of the bark is then more difficult.

Trimming the staff
The ideal staff is perfectly balanced. The British style is double-handed, so even balance is helpful in alternating right and left handed blows. The best implement for trimming a staff is a draw-knife, which is a curved and inclined blade about 9 inches long with wooden handles at each end. You draw it towards you down the staff, slicing off a layer of wood. The modern option is the electric plane, but the draw-knife is actually more efficient.

A WorkMate is good to hold the staff while working on it, but the old method was the shaving horse, a log raised on three legs with a pivoted bar/footrest for gripping the staff while trimming. A keen draw-knife will give as fine a finish as is needed, but perfectionists may use a spoke-shave (a small plane with a 2-inch blade and metal handles allowing you to draw it down a length of curved wood) or even sandpaper. A few coats of a light oil such as teak oil will prevent the staff absorbing moisture, which may cause it to split- repeat this every few months.


Joel Brown

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