The Anatomy of a Cane

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By Dr. Arieh N. Gilai

Cane or Walking Stick?

The two terms are used interchangeably. The definition of Walking stick or Cane is "a stick or staff carried in the hand for support or amusement when walking".
The name "Cane" originated from the Biblical Hebrew name "Kaneh" or "Can'ne", which is a tall sedgy reed plant with a hollow stem, growing in moist places and is used for cane production. Here are biblical references for the name "Can'ne":
Kings II 18:21 "Now look, you must be trusting in Egypt, that splintered can'ne (reed staff). If a man leans for support on it, it punctures his hand and wounds him."
Ezekiel 29:6 "Then all the ones dwelling in Egypt will know that I am the LORD because they were a can'ne (staff of reed) for the house of Israel"
The handle is the most important part of the cane because it gives a carver an opportunity to show his talent. Many intricate carvings in the form of dogs, horses, birds, human faces or figural handles of dignitaries. Some that were made with silver trimmings and glass or jeweled eyes were much in demand.

Just at the union of the handle with the shaft, some canes had a collar encircling the cane. This ringlet is of various widths and is made of various metals, base and precious, and is meant to have the name of the owner or a dated presentation legend engraved thereon. Some canes had the collars made of horn, bone or ivory. Some collars served merely to strengthen or hide an ugly joint where the shaft was secured to the handle. Not all canes have, or needed, a collar as the handle may have been a perfect fit without it.

Eyelet and Swivel
Beneath the handles or collar of the early canes (before 1860), a hole was drilled through the cane's upper shaft, so that tongs could be passed through them and form the wrist cord for easier carrying of the cane. In the more expensive canes these holes have their outer surface surrounded by eyelets, to prevent wear and tear on the holes. These eyelet decorations came in various shapes and sizes and were made of iron, bone, ivory, horn and precious metals depending upon the status of the owner. It naturally followed that the simple loop through the cane evolved into tasseled ends for an even more decorative cane.

The shaft is the straight part of the cane, usually made of wood, but it can be found in other materials. Shafts are made from Botanical materials (Stems, Branches ,woods), from Zoological materials (Horn, Ivory, Bone), from inorganic materials (Metals, Glass) or from a combination of several types of materials.

Many canes have bare shaft material at the bottom where the cane strikes the ground. This in early days limited the life expectancy of the stick. A bare stick would become soaked and later crack and become frayed and swollen at its terminal end. To overcome this, stick makers created the ferrules which can be defined as a cap of solid metal, to cover the bottom of the cane. Ferrules were also made from horn, ivory copper or silver with iron heel. In the best modern cane the ferrule is made of water buffalo horn, because it is denser than other horn, does not flake and wears well. Simple thimble-like caps are now manufactured in England and are found as replacements on many old canes.

Based on:
F. Monek (1995)

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