Tuesday, March 6, 2018

DIY Walking Cane #2 - The Plywood Canes

For my next cane-making attempt, I am going to make use of a big pile of 1/4" thick plywood I have laying around.

I know that plywood itself would not make a super strong cane, but I wanted to test the strength of the type of joint I had in mind on plywood first before I buy better material.  I'm simply calling this joint a "criss-cross" joint. I separated the plywood I had into 2 sections: long thin strips for the shaft...

 ...and wider pieces for the handle.  

To better illustrate this "criss-cross" technique, here is a set of visuals:
Step 1: Place the board for the handle on top of the strip for the shaft.  The strip for the shaft will be about 1.5" off from the edge.

Step 2: This time take the second strip for the shaft - which is longer than the first strip - and place it between the 2 different sized pieces for the handle.

...Then glue it onto the first layer pieces.

Step 3:  From here on it's pretty much rinse and repeat.  Take the third-layer pieces (same size as the first-layer pieces) for the handle and the shaft and glue it onto the second-layer pieces from the previous step.

Step 4: Now glue the fourth-layer pieces (same size as the second-layer pieces) as before onto the third-layer.

Step 5: and lastly glue on the last layer boards (same size as the first and third layer pieces).

Once the glue has dried you can cut out and shape the cane.

For the shaft strips, I cut all the pieces to the same width on the table saw.  

I made sure that the grain all run parallel to the blade.  This will make for a stronger shaft.

For the handle pieces, I first cut them all the same size.  

Then I cut some of the pieces a little smaller.

Next it was time for assembly.

This process looks just like the illustrations I made above.

Plus all the wood looks the same, so I stopped photographing the layers.  Once all the pieces were glued I clamped them together.

I let it dry for hours before removing the clamps.

Next I drew on the handle shape and cut it out on the band saw.

I attached a drum sanding bit onto my drill press and refined the shape of the handle.

I then clamped the cane to my workbench and used a block plane to smooth the sides of the shaft.

Then I sanded the sides to be smoother.

At this point it was late and I would save the rest for the next day.  But I did apply pressure to the cane to see how strong this joint is - and it is very strong.  In fact, the whole cane itself is remarkably strong - especially for plywood.

The next day I wanted to try something else out.  I wanted to route the edges, but not make the cane round.  I wanted it to remain square-ish, but just have smaller rounded corners.  So I used a 3/8" roundover bit and slightly rounded the edges.

As expected the rounding over process left the wood rough - but that is what happens when you route plywood.  But aside from it feeling rough, there were no blowouts, and I got the exact shape that I wanted.

Next I sanded the whole cane - first with my mouse sanded, then by hand with various grits of sandpaper.

Since the plywood I used had some gaps here and there, I used wood filler to fill in and smooth these gaps.

Then I let the filler dry thoroughly.

While the cane was drying, I thought to myself if this very strong joint would also work on a cane that was shaped like my Grandfather's cane.

I still had plenty of plywood strips left over, so I glued up a new cane shape and clamped it.

When the glue to this new cane dried, I cut out the shape on the bandsaw.

Then I went about the same method of sanding and shaping as I did the previous plywood cane.

More Sanding.


This time I decided to drill some 3/8" holes in various spots.

I then glued and hammered in some 3/8" dowels to help hold the plywood layers together stronger.

I put that cane aside to dry.  There's also a thin piece of wood glued on to fill the space where 2 of the plywood strips didn't connect.

When dry I used a flush cut saw to cut off the dowels and the small piece of wood.

Then it was time to sand.  Like the other cane I used my mouse sander and various grits of sandpaper.

Then I added wood filler to smooth and fill in gaps.

While the filler dried, I did the final sanding to the first cane.

And then cleaned it up.  Later when both canes are done I'll stain them at the same time.

When the filler dried on the second cane I sanded everything smooth.

While I looked the the second cane's handle it looked thicker than the shaft.  I used a compass to redraw the inner curve of the handle to match the thickness of the shaft.

Then I cut out the excess on the bandsaw.

And smoothed out the cut with a drum sanding bit on the drill press.

Then I re-routed the inner edges.

And then a little more sanding.

The next day I bought some rubber caps for the bottom of my canes.

Unfortunately both plywood canes are too thick on the bottom to fit these caps.

So I sanded the bottoms down on the belt sander...

...so they fit the rubber caps.

These rubber caps are pretty nifty - the canes can stand on their own!

I think when I make my final cane I will have to put more of a taper on the legs.  They do look a little bulky.

With both canes filled, sanded and cleaned it was time to stain.  I used the same ebony stain as I did with the first cane I made out of Oak wood.

Because some of the plywood I used to build these canes had an existing finish on them, the ebony stain did not penetrate the wood as well.

So I misted some black spray paint to mask those areas.

Once the stain and paint were dry I applied some matte clear coat, as it was still the only kind of finish I had on hand.

Once the clear coat was dry I gave the two canes a final light sanding and cleaned them up.

All-in-all these canes are pretty decent.

I think I prefer the look and feel of the cane handle above than the one below.

I put the rubber caps on these, but I think these caps are made more for a rounded cane, as there's a certain amount of 'flexing' going on (probably due to the gaps produced by the squared shaft).

But I have no doubt in my mind that these canes could actually be used for their purpose.  They are definitely strong.

However, compared to my first cane, these 2 are beginning to look a little too squarish to me.

So I actually thinned them out a bit (mostly on my bandsaw), and then re-sanded, refilled, re-sanded, and re-stained both canes.

Then I actually went out and bought some polyurethane.  To make it easier for me to apply the polyurethane at once and let the canes dry without resting on any surface, I drilled small holes on the bottom of each cane (even my first cane).  Then I screwed in small hooks onto the bottom of each cane.  This allowed me to apply the polyurethane and then hand the canes to dry in my garage. 

I used a glossy oil-modified polyurethane and the results were quite nice.

The second cane I made (the shortest one) was cut a little too thin towards the bottom of the shaft and I have noticed that it flexes quite a bit when I apply pressure to it.  But all 3 canes are actually holding up quite nicely.

With these 3 canes done, I think I know what I want to do for my final cane.
Stay tuned!

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