Designing and Building the Forager’s Staff: An Old Tool With New Tricks

I designed this hiking staff with wild food foraging in mind. I first started thinking of how to implement it after seeing an old monk use the hooked tip of his walking stick to pull a branch down. As it turned out, I wasn’t the first to have this idea and similar tools exist, but I added some extra functionality. Five feet long and made of aspen with a forged steel hook, the staff is great for cutting clusters of mushrooms that are just out of reach, pulling branches to access tempting fruits, clearing thorny or stinging plants between you and your find, or a host of other tasks. My first designs included a long, blunt blade next to the hook to use as a digging tool, and I did have a few of those models built. Eventually I realized that digging in hard dirt would stress the end of the staff too much and risk breaking. Not to mention the completed tool looked a bit too weapon-like for my tastes, and I’d prefer not to garner unwanted attention or concern while looking for good edibles.

The hook is sharpened on the inner curve. Not razor sharp mind you- sharp enough to release a flush of fungi from a tree trunk or cut small, thorny vines and nettles with a brisk tug, but not so sharp that it damages branches when used to gently lower one to pluck an apple or plum.

Five feet of extra reach can mean a lot. Too many times I’ve had to walk away from a beautiful find that was barely out of my grasp.

On one side of the staff, I added 36 marks at one inch intervals for a quick and crude measuring device.

The other side has marks that function as a scale for weighing objects. Additional marks were added after this photo, and the staff now has 33 marks- 1 oz to 1 lb in 1 oz increments, 1 to 2 lb in 1/2 lb increments, and 2 to 20 lb in 1 lb increments.

A brass tip protects the end. The groove carved near the end is where you’ll hang your haul of mushrooms, fish, or what have you.

Calibrating the scale is by far the most time consuming part of making the staff. Since each staff has subtle differences in distribution of mass, they must be calibrated individually. Known weights are hung from the groove, and a mark made at the point of balance. This process is repeated for each mark. Since the mark placement depends on that specific staff, adding or removing any part will render the scale inaccurate. Therefore the staff is kept simple with as few components as possible.

To weigh an object, hang your haul from the groove, and adjust the staff on a fulcrum until it balances. You can hang it from a string or just use your finger.

Read the weight at the point of balance. My monocular and folding saw look to be just a hair under 2 1/2 lb (2 lb 8 oz).

The scale is pretty darn accurate. I think this will be a handy tool as soon as the mushrooms start flushing!

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