Back in October, I got this wonderful email from reader Jeff B, in response to my call for shop tales I can use in the next volume of my tips book. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for. Thanks, Jeff!
In the mid-1980s, I lived with my wife and two kids in Seattle on the south side of Queen Anne Hill. I worked at a funeral home at the time and walked two miles to work. I made myself a walking stick from a piece of driftwood and sealed it with shellac, or something similar. Several times during my daily walking commute, I ran into Mr. Ball (that’s all I ever knew him as). He was about 70, spoke with a southern accent, and always wore a suit and tie. He used a walking stick, too, of his own making. His was curly willow, with sinuous twists to it. Mr. Ball chose a walking stick with a natural fork in it. The bottom third of the stick had two legs leaving the fork, and each leg was a curly mirror image of the other. At the bottom of the stick, Mr. Ball put two plastic champagne corks to protect the wood. He looked at my stick and suggested that I use something more natural and less toxic to seal future walking sticks. He used beeswax, rubbing it into the pores of the wood with a piece of bone or antler. He called this boning. He said it also compresses the outer layer of wood, making the surface stronger. After the boning, you go over the wood with a cloth to make the wax shine. Mr. Ball also said that as a child he didn’t have sandpaper. He’d smooth wood by using a piece of broken glass.
We moved and I never saw Mr. Ball again. I often wonder about him. I’ve used the beeswax and boning method on dozens of projects since. Next to my workbench, I have a little cardboard box of beeswax, a few antler sections, and a piece of bone.