The Trouble with Blackthorn

Blackthorn walking sticks are highly sought after and appreciated. Blackthorn sticks command higher prices for several reasons.

1. It is hard to find. Blackthorn is very rare these days and it is becoming more and more difficult to find longer or thicker pieces. Many customers like a stout blackthorn knobstick with a large rounded handle and more still like the long blackthorn hiking sticks.

2. Blackthorn is difficult and dangerous to cut. The coppicer has to wrestle with branches covered in sharp, long thorns. If you look at a blackthorn walking stick, you will notice all the bumps all over the shank. These bumps are were the thorns once protruded out up to 5 cm. If you have ever tackled a mature mass of brambles you will appreciate the difficulty.

3. In Britain deer like to eat blackthorn and this is reducing the available stock.

4. Splits in the Blackthorn walking stick knob handles. Due to the size and area of wood, the part used to make the blackthorn stick handle is prone to splitting.

We supply blackthorn knobsticks that are made from one blackthorn branch in a slim and a stout version with a (sometimes) large ball handle. This handle often has a crack through it and the stick makers fill this crack with either wood filler, epoxy resin or plastic wood and then apply a dark wax.

These cracks are completely unavoidable and we find they add character to the stick. The cracks usually happen during the drying process and it is quite unpredictable. Even blackthorn blanks that were cut thirty years ago and stored in an outside unheated barn will most likely split when taken into a warm workshop for work to begin.

Cracks also appear due to another property of wood. Wood expands and contracts in different directions when it absorbs and looses moisture. When the wood is cut and left to dry for two to three years, it looses its moisture content but it can also absorb water when conditions become more damp or humid. Thsi means that the water content of dried sticks is still about 20%.

I think the way we need to look at it is the same way we love old oak beams in a tudor pub. Some of these beams are twisted where the wood has moved and have cracks wide enough to put your hand through. When making and buying products made from natural materials we need to expect, embrace and love these features and not expect seamless perfection.

5. Blackthorn wood is a very hard and dense wood and can ruin the stick makers tools and machinery. The long and numerous spiky thorns also cause a hazard in the workshop when the stick maker attempts to remove them.

I expect the love/hate relationship between blackthorn, stick makers and stick buyers will always be part of the story of this amazing wood. When you have a finished blackthorn walking stick in your hands, all the trials and tribulations fade away. The rich, dark colours are second to none and the dense heaviness is most reassuring.

Blackthorn Walking Sticks
Blackthorn Knob Stick