North East Chapter – Irish Woodturners Guild

May 2016 

Our Secretary Imelda Connolly, welcomed John Sheehan, East Central Chapter, as demonstrator for May, and also welcomed guests from both Down and Dublin Chapters.


John treated us to a masterclass in walking stick making.  Starting with a 42” long hedge cut Hazel stick which had been seasoned for at least one year, he first checked the dryness of the timber by bouncing the bottom of the stick on a solid floor – a sharp bounce and clear noise indicates dry timber: a poor bounce and dull noise denotes moisture content.   He explained the various methods of straightening which he uses.  On this occasion he used a hot air gun on the part of the stick that required bending. 


Using a bending block measuring 3”x 3”x 9” containing a 1.25” drill hole, the stick was inserted into the block and side pressure applied to straighten the stick while the fibres of the timber were hot and subtle.


tn_John Sheehan shaping walking stick handle P1040319

John shaping walking stick handle



A variation of this heating method is to place a tray covered with tinfoil under the heating area to reflect heat back into the stick.  For bulk bending he uses a 6” heavy grade pipe which is blocked at one end, and steam is applied from a wall-paper stripper into this container for an hour.  Safety precautions while using this method is essential in order to avoid any build up of steam pressure in the container.  A variety of custom made bending / forming jigs for bending animal horn were also demonstrated. 


tn_John Sheehan with his home made saw P1040320

John with his home made saw


A heavy vice was secured in the lathe bed to hold the walking stick while carving and filing a 50mm long tenon x 14mm to secure into the handle.  It is essential to protect the bark at all times with a wrap of heavy rubber while in the vice.  It is also important that the timber being used was not harvested between November and February, as timber cut during this period is prone to the bark separating from the timber.   


tn_John Sheehan bending buffalo horn with perswader lever P1040334

John bending buffalo horn with perswader lever



The Elm handle was shaped on the bandsaw and drilled to accept the tenon.  The assembled walking stick was remounted in the vice, and using a Shinto (Japanese rasp) and a variety of other rasps and files the handle was crafted to its planned shape with the aid of a template.  After sanding the handle, the complete walking stick was finished with three coats of high gloss varnish. 


Thanks John for a fascinating demonstration and an intriguing display of jigs of the trade, and also for including the buffalo horn bending exercise.  


Thanks to Seamus Cassidy for his critique on the following exhibits:-



tn_Spalted Beech bowl - Cecil Barron P1040321

16” Spalted Beech bowl – Cecil Barron. 


tn_Greenheart honey pot - Kevin Milton HP1040324 

Green Heart honey pot – Kevin Milton. 


tn_Elm bowl - Gene McConnell P1040323 

9” Elm bowl – Gene McConnell. 


tn_Mahogany bud vases - Bob DierP1040369 

2 Mahogany bud vases – Bob Dier. 


tn_Mahogany bud vases - Bob DierP1040369 

Ash popery pot – Tony Thwaites.