Martin Haridge is the owner and operator of The Walking Stick Dude. A semi-retired construction worker, Martin started making walking sticks while healing from a leg infection. Each stick is sourced from local wood, then hand-sanded and carved into a unique piece of functional art. Martin’s walking sticks make for excellent mobility aids, fashion accessories, hiking support or wall art. We sat down with Martin for a behind-the-scenes look at his process and passion.
What was your ah-ha moment when you decided this was something you should pursue?
I wouldn’t describe my experience as an “ah-ha moment”. I almost fell into it after spending six weeks in the hospital with a leg infection caused by cellulitis. During the 9 months healing at home, I started picking up sticks at the park I lived close to and thought to myself, “I’ll take one home and see what I can do with it.” That was 4 years ago. Now I’ve got enough stock, and space, to take it to the next level. Next, up, business.
When did you start this business?
I started creating sticks with the tools I had from my career in renovations. After about two and a half years of developing my method, I had about 100 made, and it occurred to me that I could be selling these. While I spent years working in renovations perfecting my craft, I didn’t venture into the business side of things. I knew I had a thing or two to learn on the business side of things, and so, I dove in and started learning.
Who were some of the people that helped you the most? How did they contribute?
Until ten months ago, I was storing everything at home. I couldn’t make much noise and needed more space. When a great friend and former employer got a huge garage space, we turned it into a workshop and I was able to move my production there. It came at the perfect time, and was the greatest asset I could have asked for. Moving there helped me scale up my production of the walking sticks.
How long does each stick take to make?
It all depends. One stick took eight hours, others can take up to two. I’d say the average length of time is about two to three hours. My process looks like this: first, I sand it down smooth and seal the wood with 3 coats of clear polyurethane. Then, I accessorize by adding metals, semi-precious stones and leather–I always add a leather tip to avoid slipping. I apply the final 3 coats of stain, and then I know it’s done when it’s all smooth.
Where do you find inspiration for each design?
I get inspiration from the world around me– anywhere like street festivals and flea markets in the community. When they’re happening, one place I like to go is the artisan markets. There are so many inspiring people I see in local places like that.
Why is locally sourced wood important for you to use?
What I want people to know is that I’m not just picking up a tree branch. Each piece of wood has meaning– it’s a part of my origin story. I like to take things from being throw-away, to being one-of-a-kind.
What are the next steps for you and this business you’ve built?
More presence, more eyes– specifically through online routes. Right now, I still get looks and comments whenever I walk around with one of my sticks, but with the way the world is going, online sales and presence is the smartest option. I want to grow the business as much as I can. Eventually, I’d like to have a reliable income from selling my sticks. From there, who knows what’s next?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I make my sticks as affordable as possible. I want anyone to be able to access them: from the younger folks to the older folks, DTES community, low income. I know that not everyone has enough money to buy something expensive, but they still deserve something that is unique and one-of-a-kind, as well as sturdy, reliable and beautiful.
Want to put a little pep-in-your-step with a cool walking stick while supporting Martin’s passion? Check out his page, and visit Martin’s page on the Employ to Empower Marketplace. You can also visit his page or email him at email firstname.lastname@example.org.