Crafts in focus: walking sticks
Making walking sticks also means hiking poles and sword sticks for the fabricant de cannes
Once an indispensable part of any gentleman’s daily wardrobe, walking sticks are no longer particularly fashionable. They are still, however, useful, and the artisan fabricant de cannes uses skill to combine utility with beauty.
Canes are used by walkers, particularly in the hills, by the elderly, those with a disability and also as weapons in sport.
Every major town would have had at least one fabricant de cannes, but today only a handful of walking stick-makers remain in business and all are in mountainous regions.
Cannes Fayet in Thiers, Auvergne has been making canes by hand for more than a century, and has recently worked with a hi-tech start-up to make ‘smart’ sticks.
In the Pays Basques, stick- makers Léoncini, Maison Ainciart Bergara specialise in the makhila, the region’s traditional walking stick that symbolises authority and strength.
Similarly in Savoie, Bernard Boursier and Lanfrey make sticks suitable for the vertiginous terrain.
Most canes are made from beech, although more exotic materials can also be used.
Heat is used to shape the handle and the stick may be hollowed out to create a secret hiding place – such as for a sword or a corkscrew.
Handles can also be in horn or metal. If tortoiseshell or ivory is used the fabricant de canne must ensure their supplies meet the Washington Convention rules.
A fabricant de cannes must enjoy working with wood, and creating unusual and fine objects.
They need to be patient and to have an eye for detail. As well as making new sticks, they may also restore antique canes, and this requires a sensitivity to older styles and working methods.
There is no specific training available but anyone wishing to move into this craft could undertake a Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle (CAP) in bois option tourneur, of between one and three years in length. There are 10 sites offering this, such as the Lycée Professionnel Pierre Vernotte in Moirans-en-Montagne in Jura and the Lycée Professionnel Georges Lamarque at Rillieux-la-Pape in Rhône.
The CAP involves plenty of practical experience, so it would be advisable to seek at least part of that experience with a fabricant de cannes.
Retraining pays off for boss and artisans
Cannes Fayet Rousseau was founded in 1909 by Georges Fayet in Thiers, Auvergne, and Amandine Fayet is the fourth generation of walking-stick makers in her family.
The town’s only surviving manufacturer, it specialises in cane, umbrella and sunshade handles, made from wood, and horn, that can be simple or highly decorative.
Amandine joined the firm a decade ago, wanting to keep it in the family. She runs it with husband Cédric Dauduit and her father, Jean-Luc Fayet.
Her training was very different; as a beautician, but she puts it to good use, keeping everyone abreast of new looks and trends around the world.
She is not the only one who has retrained as the three artisans who hand-turn the walking sticks all worked in other industries.
“They have an excellent attention to detail, are dextrous and patient.
“These are all the qualities we look for.”
It took about five years of “learning on the job” to become skilled.
Cannes Fayet makes about 400 models of cane, for every taste and need.
Most are for medical use, but many are for collectors “looking for something a bit unusual. Even if it is for walking, often customers want some decorative element: flowers for children, for example”.
Designed with the user in mind, some fold or are telescopic; they are lightweight, and one prototype, designed with a start-up, has a ‘smart’ handle to inform family if the user falls.
Amandine loves the materials: “We need 1.20m of wood to make a walking stick, and getting the more exotic wood in those quantities can be a challenge, but it’s worth it when you see the beautiful rich tones the sticks have.”