Learning Things Again — Good Sources of Hiking Staffs

A fiberglass sorting pole is the modern sjambok

I was updating old posts today and settled on one about Carbon Fiber Walking Sticks. Sadly, many of the good products I mentioned there are not available on Amazon any longer and some have been discontinued by their manufacturers. So I got curious and I started looking for sources of at least the simple trail weapons that have served me so well over the years. Lehman’s Hardware in Ohio apparently isn’t offering many of the handles I prefer, or at least not online. Turney’s Wood Products went out of business years ago, and Miller’s Hardware doesn’t even have a website because they probably think none of their real customers have computers and they probably don’t. So I fell back to House Handle Company, the best still in business, and although it took me a lot of digging through their site and I never did find their search engine, I did manage to find not only what I was looking for, but some other good things as well.

First let me say that I recommend House Handle because they offer actual drop-down choices between “hand-picked” vs what I would call “straight-run” and also between lacquered and non-lacquered. Most hardware stores only carry lacquered handles and I have griped about this before so just let me repeat that if you get non-laquered, it won’t tear the skin off your hands and you won’t have to spend hours scraping the lacquer off with your pocketknife. So if you buy something from House Handle, choose non-lacquered. You can rub it down with a light coating of boiled linseed oil and that is a much more hand friendly finish than lacquer. Or you can do what I have done and just carry these things on long hikes for years and years until they are as weathered and worn as you are and then you don’t need a finish. The finish is built in at this point in my life, on my self as well as on my tools.

A 60″ eye hoe handle with a flared top end is the basis of a cheap and reliable full length shillelagh.

So if you are looking for a good trail staff, consider the Strawberry Hoe handle from House Handle Company. It’s a little lighter than the Eye Hoe staff I carry but lots of times I’ve thought the Eye Hoe was a little too much. Eye Hoe handles are just above the Strawberry Hoe handles in this scrolling list of products. I found these by looking through the different categories one by one until I found what I have and what I recommend, and it’s under the category of “Grub Hoe.” These handles have one flared end. I have two of these “eye hoe” hiking staffs but only one is still flared. I shaved off the flare of the other one so it would be more balanced. That’s a personal decision, some people favored a balanced staff that was a little faster, and other people favored something that was shillelagh in nature, with a heavier knob on one end. That works, too. You can shape the edge of that flare with a pocket knife or a rasp and it’s more suitable for hiking. Sharp edges on things don’t help if you are leaning on the stick sometimes. These Eye Hoe and Strawberry hoe handles are heavy enough and strong enough to have a real impact on something you hit. In easy country you might find it more pleasant to sling a heavier one across your shoulders. Don’t buy FH quality, the cheaper grade. I assume this means Field Hand quality, the sort of thing you buy because it’s cheap. Buy AA and also specify “hand-picked.” That means you are asking someone who knows something about wood grain and handles to pick out a good one for you. If you’ve been polite I am sure they will do this, it’s a Missouri company.

Now the other thing I saw there was the Sorting Stick (listed on that same page), and that’s actually what most hikers and walkers would want. It’s a straight stick with rounded ends, either 44″ or 60″ so it’s either a walking stick or hiking staff. I saw that name and laughed, because even though I’m not really a livestock person I knew what it meant. You use that stick to sort things out, when the livestock doesn’t want to go where you need it to go. You poke and you prod and you whack on things sometimes, otherwise the animals won’t pay you any attention. This is really the same sort of approach I would take if I were bothered by a mountain lion. It’s not a fight to the death, it’s a matter of who is in charge. The Sorting Stick is an ancient concept and I don’t think that any of the farmers I knew and learned from in the old days would have considered buying one. But they all knew what made a good one, something strong and light and fast with a good reach. My running staff, the cedar stick I’ve carried since forever, is basically a sorting stick and I’ve sorted out a lot of dogs with it without ever actually hurting anybody.

Balanced, smooth and strong, 60 inches long and what a deal. It’s the Sorting Stick from House Handle Company. Buy one and sort something out.

I looked beyond this, because I did write in that older post about the Cold Steel Sjambok, and that was a little different kind of a sorting stick, more flexible and originally made to punish humans. The Cold Steel version was fast and light and a touch with that sort of thing can make an instant impression on a bold dog that is getting too close. In the old Army, drill instructors carried swagger sticks and those were similar in function :). The Cold Steel Sjambok is gone now and their City Stick walking canes aren’t exactly the kind of thing I would want to carry, especially if just out for a run. The “sorting pole” from QC Supply (first photo above) is fiberglass so it’s light and fast and tough enough to deliver a hit, plus you can lean on it a bit if, like me, when you run 15 miles sometimes your hip gets touchy. People have asked me sometimes if I carry my juniper staff for dogs, and I tell them, that and sometimes I need to walk home on it.

Aw, hell, all the bad dogs here have gone away because they were bad, now I should just carry a pocket full of dog biscuits. All the dogs remaining just come out to say hello. But I’ll keep the stick.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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