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If you can find them, cherrybark oak and pignut hickory are among the strongest North American hardwoods. However, most common types of oak and hickory will also make strong walking sticks. Birch, ironwood, black cherry, ash and maple are also very stiff, strong woods. A few exotic hardwoods also resist bending, but their weight and price reduce their appeal.
If weight is not an issue, most types of hickory, ironwood and birch are all incredibly strong and make excellent walking sticks. Like hickory, oak is hard and strong, but very heavy. Black locust branches are among the strongest possible choices, and they are relatively resistant to decay and abrasion. However, honey locust branches are not very strong, and they usually bear sharp thorns. Persimmon is very strong, but it is very heavy and susceptible to decay.
Like many North American hardwood species, several tropical tree species, such as bubinga, rosewood and purpleheart produce strong, durable wood. Most of the strong tropical hardwoods are very heavy. Because these products are often much more expensive than comparable domestic woods, they are not commonly used for walking sticks.
In addition to being a very stiff wood, black cherry has one of the best strength-to-weight ratios of any common North American hardwood. The primary drawback to cherry is that it is only moderately hard, so it will become damaged over time. Cherry can be difficult to carve with hand tools, but the wood is attractive, and the final product is worth the effort.
Ash, Maple and Ashleaf Maple
Ash’s combination of strength and durability lead many tool manufacturers to use it to make tool handles. Similarly, they make excellent, if heavy, walking sticks. Maple is not only a strong wood, it is abrasion resistant, so it will last for many miles on the trail. Many male species will work, although ashleaf and silver maples have somewhat weaker wood than red or sugar maples. An additional benefit of maple is that it accepts stain readily and often features attractive grain patterns.
The Benefits of Bamboo
While it is technically a type of grass, rather than a tree, bamboo is a very strong material. In many ways, bamboo’s strength is more comparable to steel than wood. Additionally, because bamboo is hollow, walking sticks made from it are exceptionally light.
While you may not need the strongest walking stick possible, you should avoid using weak species. Willows, aspens and cottonwoods are very weak by hardwood standards. Most pines, cedars and other conifers are weak, but Douglas fir is stronger than many hardwoods.