“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”– John Muir
What an adventure it truly is to lead a group of young boys and girls through the Cub Scouting program. They tell us we need the Scout Six Essentials to do it; water, sun protection, a first aid kit, flashlight, whistle, and (in most cases, most importantly) a snack. But having been involved with the same great Pack for a decade now, I’ve learned that every good leader needs something sturdy to lean on. They need a tool that helps them keep a steady pace, supports them through the more difficult footholds, and gives them the leverage they need to stand proud and tall at the end.
A Scout Stave is an important part of any good Scout’s basic accoutrements, and not just because it looks great with the uniform. They serve an important purpose – providing an adventurous Scout with support and safety. It’s more than that, though. Scouts know that any piece of equipment worth carrying has many uses, and the stave is no different from a Swiss Army Knife, for instance. You can use it to splint an injury, secure a patrol flag, as a tent pole or part of a lean-to, for measuring distances, feeling your way through marshy or rough ground, estimating height, linking together in darkness or difficult weather, and of course self defense. It’s impossible to mistake a unit for anything but prepared when they’re led by a Scout carrying a stave.
As a marker of leadership, it’s a logical gift for the intrepid, dedicated Arrow of Light leadership who are bridging their merry little Cub Scouts into a Troop.
I’ve been making personalized hiking staves for outgoing AOL leadership for years now, presenting them at the bridging ceremony. It’s been a true pleasure to see them used by those leaders as they continue on with their Scouts into the Troop or step off the Scout path and go on personal adventures. I’ve seen them used in many ways – some choose to hang them up in pride of place, some add accessories and take them on adventures, others hang lanterns from the end and use them to literally light the way. Making a personalized stave gives you the opportunity to truly think through the blessing each leader has been to your unit, to mull the ways they improved your Pack, to consider how they changed the lives of the youth in their charge. It’s a special process that helps you to clearly see the overall picture of a persons dedication to Scouting.
Making a personalized Scout Stave is easier than it looks, and you can find a lot of great tutorials out there. I tried several before settling on a combination of many, doing what I could NOT to create more work than was absolutely necessary, but without sacrificing any of the important details.
Here’s a list of basic supplies I use to complete this project:
- Aspen Walking Stick – Blank – from TreelineUSA
- 25-50-foot Hanks of Paracord – any color – from Paracord Planet (depending on how many staves you’re making – you’ll need 17′ for one wrapped stave)
- Minwax Wood Finish, Penetrating Stain in Puritan Pine
- Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane, Clear Semi-Gloss
- 1-inch Foam Brushes
- Walnut Hollow Creative Versa-Tool and Wood Burning Tips
- Walnut Hollow Hotstamps Uppercase Alphabet
- Walnut Hollow Hotstamps Numbers and Symbols
- Cub Scout Hiking Staff Shield
- BSA Hiking Staff Shield with Flag and Eagle
- drill and 13/64 bit
- 150 grit sandpaper
It looks overwhelming, but the beauty of this project is that it’s personalized, so you can use whatever you have on hand to make a beautiful hiking stave. I already have the paracord, stain, poly, brushes, wood burning tool, drill, and sandpaper on hand from a million other projects, and you probably do as well. A lot of Scouters pick-up, whittle and dry their own blank walking sticks; that’s just outside of my wheelhouse and takes time I don’t seem to have. I’ve seen beautiful staves that were hand-painted instead of wood burned! Truly, the sky’s the limit with this project.
Prepping the Staves
I’ve purchased Aspen Walking Sticks – Blank – from TreelineUSA for four straight years and have yet to be anything but extremely pleased with the product. Each stick is, of course, different, but they’re all exceptional quality. Some orders are perfectly straight sticks, and others come with a little more personality (I prefer those). TreelineUSA is a great company with fantastic customer service, and their website is a lot of fun to poke around.
Once your staves arrive, you want to lightly sand them right away. You’ll want to focus a little more heavily on areas where the whittling process has left small imperfections. Next, you’ll want to spend a little time with each stave, finding the most natural way that particular stave should be held. That will help to determine the front and back of the stave, and where a hand will most naturally want to hold it. Once you determine where the hand will naturally go, you’ll drill a hole completely through, from front to back, using a 13/64 bit, about an inch below where your hand rests. This will be where you start your paracord wrap, from the bottom up.
If you are going to woodburn your unit number and/or leaders’ names into your staves, now’s the time. I own a Walnut Hollow Creative Versa-Tool and Wood Burning Tips kit, and I use it regularly. I love this tool! For this project, I like to put the unit numbers facing out, name on the back. Placement is up to you – I normally start burning vertically about an inch below the hole I drilled for my paracord.
One year, we had a smaller den and invited Scouts to come and hand-write their names into the staves with the rounded woodburner tip that comes in the full Walnut Hollow kit linked above. It was a great opportunity to teach those Scouts how to properly and safely use a new tool, and the final product was beautiful! On this years staves, which will be presented to my fellow den leadership, includes a nod to the legendary Star Wars Blue & Gold Banquet we put on together a few years ago.
Next, you’ll want to lightly sand down around the areas you burned. Sometimes you’ll accidentally burn the perimeter of the burning plates into the wood, which oftentimes come right out with a little sanding.
Staining and Sealing
Once you’re happy with the burning and sanding, you’ll want to tap the end of a small nail into the bottom of each stave so you can dry it without touching the ground. You’ll remove this later.
With a 1″ foam brush, apply a thin layer of Minwax stain (I use Puritan Pine, but you can use whatever you have on hand), paying special attention to the knots and lettering. Allow it to dry completely before gently sanding any drips or imperfections wiping away any dust, and applying a second coat. The top and bottom of each stave will really suck up some stain, so make sure you apply enough to both ends.
After your second coat has completely dried, check it for any drips or imperfections. Sand those one last time if need be. Apply your first coat of Minwax polyurethane and allow it to completely dry – the Fast-Drying formula takes about 3 1/2 hours to completely dry. A second and final coat will give your staves a shiny protective coat that can withstand a lot of abuse, including use out in wet conditions. If you feel the need to sand between coats of poly, make sure it’s completely dry before you sand and that you wipe away dust particles before applying a new coat.
Paracord Wrapping and Medallions
Having a paracord hand grip doesn’t just look and feel good, it has a lot of important uses in the field. Scouts use paracord all the time for securing tents and other structures, first aid, hanging bear bags, tethering and repairing gear, and about a million other ways. It’s our go-to for knots and other fun pioneering and camp crafts. Having a nice length of it at your disposal is never a bad idea, so any good hiking stave should have some just in case.
There are several knots and wraps you can use to make a sturdy hand grip; here are two I’ve used and prefer (tutorials by Paracord Guild):
The single stand ringbolt hitch looks awesome and feels good in your hand, but you can get a much tighter wrap with the french hitch.
You’ll need a 17′ length of paracord to wrap one stave. Use the hole you drilled as an anchor point for this wrap, feeding your paracord through and tying off a simple overhand knot at the end, then continuing on with the tutorial posted above, minus the constrictor knot. The constrictor knot in the tutorial will hold your grip if you choose not to drill a hole and use an overhand knot, but I like the extra security. Where this tutorial starts at the top of the stave and works its way down, you want to start at the hole you drilled and work your way up to about 2.5 – 3″ from the top of your stave (it’s in that 2.5 – 3″ space that you’ll place your medallion). Using the free end of your paracord, tie off a loop with a two half-hitch knot to create your wrist rest. The wrapping will be about 6 – 6.5″ total, with plenty left over to create the perfect wrist rest loop. Don’t forget to fuse the ends of your paracord.
Once your wrapping is complete, go ahead and remove the nail from the bottom of each stave.
You can attach your Cub Scout medallions at the top, as seen in the title graphic above. If you have a Wood Badge graduate on your team, you can purchase gorgeous pewter Fleur De Lis medallion or brass Wood Badge medallions from TreelineUSA. You can even purchase pewter Military medallions from TreelineUSA to celebrate their service to our country. They also sell rubber stave caps and other accessories. Even if it’s just for fun, their website is worth a good browse!
(I do NOT have a TreelineUSA sponsorship and do not benefit from purchases made with TreelineUSA.
I just love their products and want to spread the word.)
An Arrow of Light Bridging Ceremony is one that is rightfully full of pomp and circumstance. Sometimes we forget to acknowledge the real effort and contributions of our leaders, and this is our last shot to tell our outgoing leadership team how grateful we truly are.
We reserve time after Scouts have bridged into their Troops, and right before we break, to thank our outgoing leaders. Talk about saving the best for last! Our typical script goes a little something like this:
<Leader’s name>, what we’ve witnessed tonight is the culmination of many years of your life spent in service to your children and other youth in this incredible program. We know that you stand here bathed in pride watching <their own Scout’s name> bridge into a Troop, <if applicable> received by his brother <name>, and witnessed by your daughter <name> and youngest son, <name>. The call to leadership is one we all have felt deep in our hearts; it’s a commitment of time, energy, talents, and oftentimes blood, sweat, and possibly tears. That commitment is a gift that you have generously given to your own children and the youth in this Pack. We are so very grateful for your leadership, your dedication to Scouting, and your friendship, and look forward to Scouting with you for years to come. We would like to present you with a gift of gratitude that we hope will accompany you on the many adventures that await you.
I quoted John Muir at the start for several reasons, not the least of which is that I think any opportunity to quote the man should be taken. But when it comes to our outgoing leaders and they job they volunteer for, it truly is through the wilderness that they show our youth the vastness of what’s available to them, what’s to come. If that’s not the universe, I don’t know what is; and if you’re going on an adventure in the wilderness, you better have a good hiking stave.
Scouts are bridged, leaders are thanked, and it’s on to the next chapter.
Yours in Scouting,
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