When you are out camping or hiking, a wooden walking stick can be fun and useful. In fact, it can perform all kinds of tasks, from fishing out something you dropped in a creek to knocking a Frisbee out of a tree. And of course, it can help stabilize your walking. If you are camping or hiking in hilly terrain, a walking stick can be an invaluable tool for keeping you steady while hiking up and down steep hills.

A walking stick can serve as a memory of various camping and hiking trips, too. You can carve notches in it or paint colored bands around it. You can even write on it to record the year and location of your trip. A good walking stick can become a treasured memento.

Some families make a tradition out of making and passing on walking sticks. A child’s first “real” wooden walking stick is a rite of passage of sorts. A parent or grandparent can pass the walking stick on to his or her children or grandchildren.

Whether you want to produce an heirloom or just keep yourself steady on your next hike, here are some tips for making your own wooden walking stick.

1. Choose a stick that is not too heavy or too flimsy. Make sure that is a diameter that is comfortable in your hand (about 1 1/4 inches is comfortable for most people). You want it to be heavy enough to endure some hard knocks, but not so heavy that it will wear you out to carry it on a long hike.

Some good woods are hickory, oak, maple, and mesquite. But any hardwood will do. You might want to avoid evergreens (which are not hardwoods) – although they’re lightweight, pine, spruce and fir ooze sticky sap and tend not to be very durable.

A stick with a bend or “hook” at the top makes a comfortable, natural handle.

2. The length of the stick can be varied, of course, so don’t reject a good limb right off the bat just because it is too long. You can use a bow saw or hacksaw to cut it off to the right length.

3. The right length of the walking stick will vary according to your height and your plans for the stick’s use. Most people prefer a stick that comes to their waist or right above their hips.

4. Remove the bark from the stick. It’s possible to accomplish this with just your hands, or you may need to whittle it off using a utility or pocket knife.

5. You can use sandpaper to smooth and shape the surface after removing the bark. Use coarse sandpaper (60-80 grit) and work up to fine (400 grit).

6. Seal the ends of the stick with commercial waterproofing sealant, or use latex paint. Let your walking stick “cure” or dry for a few weeks or as long as a year, depending on how fresh the wood is. You can go ahead and use the stick while it’s drying.

7. Oil or wax your walking stick. You can use tung oil or linseed oil. You can use a paste wax after oiling, or use the wax instead of oiling.

Maintain your walking stick by oiling or waxing periodically. A good time for this would be at the end of the season when you want to recall your summer fun.