Cane maker carves through the pain

ENGLEWOOD — Bob Mortenson wasn’t really looking for a new activity — his legs were bad and he was battling arthritis, but a persistent friend pushed him to start carving wooden walking canes.

At first, Mortenson thought he couldn’t do it. The pain from the arthritic joints in his hand had become unbearable at times. Then he got hooked. It turned out to be a calling. Now he sells his intricate walking canes for $250 and teaches others to carve. It can take up to two months to carve one.

Mortenson, 86, has been carving wooden canes for more than seven years. Frank LeGrue, a friend, showed him how.

“He started at it and said, ‘Oh Frank, I don’t think I can do it. It’s too hard,’” LeGrue said. “I kept after him and he eventually came around. Now he’s teaching other people to make these beautiful canes.”

LeGrue said he admires Mortenson’s persistence.

“I just think the man’s a marvel to stick with something that was hurting him so bad,” LeGrue said. “He stuck with it until his hands more or less got into it. Not only does he do it well, but he now eagerly teaches it. He’s just a wonderful man.”

Mortenson modestly contests his own eagerness.

“I don’t want to be a teacher because I’m not that good,” Mortenson said. “I just help them get started and show them the right way of going about it.”

It takes three weeks to two months to make a cane depending on the difficulty and condition of his hands. Mortensen fashions the handles too. He uses a homemade knife with an inch-and-ahalf blade.

“It’s just got a little angle from the handle,” Mortenson said. “That works very well because it’s a very thin blade. It makes your cuts so much easier. I have a diamond stone that’s got the blade down the way I like it. Then I put it on a strap and polish it up.”

Mortenson mostly uses basswood from the tilia tree for his canes because he says, “it cuts really nice.” He also uses butternut wood but cautions it splits easy.

“The main thing is you have to hold your knife to it at a 45-degree angle at all times, then you turn the cane,” Mortenson said. “You do maybe five cuts in a row, then you turn and do five more cuts in a row. You take out that one piece, then you call that wood chipping.”

Mortenson limits himself to about 10 squares a day. When his arthritis really acts up, he tries to at least do five. He said difficulty varies when it comes to the pattern of a cane.

Mortenson prefers to carve on his back porch since daylight provides the best conditions for him.

“You have to have your eyes good and sharp,” Mortenson said. “It takes about a day to put the pattern onto the cane, drawing and measuring it.”

For more information, call 941-697-5980.

Bob Mortenson, 86, Cane maker

SUN PHOTO BY DANA SANCHEZ
Despite arthritis in his hands, Bob Mortenson carves wooden walking canes and teaches others to carve.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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