Sticking with it

Stanley Saperstein is a wood carver and furniture maker who runs Artisans of the Valley woodworking studio in Pennington, N.J. He pays the bills building period-style reproductions and custom built-ins, but fills his time on the side making custom wooden canes and walking staffs. Customers’ favorites include historic icons and animals, but he will cater to all requests. A recent commission describes the fun he has with the niche line of work where his clients, many of them senior citizens, want to express themselves.

“My client wanted a Yoda from Star Wars put on a cane. Everyone calls him Yoda because he looks like Yoda. He’s this little short guy with a very round face and kind of big ears.”

Saperstein grew up on a farm in Columbia County, N.Y., and started whittling at age six. Much later, he apprenticed with a professional furniture maker and started his own furniture business in 1974. A historian at heart, he also did Revolutionary War reenactments and portrayed a camp carpenter where he would make period walking sticks.

“I would whittle these things during the reenactment for the amusement of the crowd, and then people started to ask me if I would sell them … especially the other reenactors, because it was very common to have a walking stick that designated your army unit, the battles you fought in and what you did during the war.”

In 1987, he was making dozens of walking sticks in styles representative of those made between the Revolutionary War and 1900, the peak of them designed like the walking sticks made right after the Civil War.

“You don’t have to make them look like exact sculptures — they’re supposed to be kind of on the crude side. I was reproducing what a soldier would do, not a professional carver. Reenactors are very particular about playing an authentic role.”

Popular designs include animal heads such as raccoons, dogs, horses and dragons, as well historic icons, the most popular being George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

Saperstein launched his Web site, www.customwalkingsticks.com, in 2000 and has since attracted clients from all over the U.S. and throughout the world. His prices start at $250 and can exceed $500 per item.