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Iroquois Lacrosse Stick Making
Making an Iroquois style lacrosse stick
Album by Tom Mills. Photos by Tom Mills. 1 - 144 of 144 Total. 18997 Visits.
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Hi Tom! I cut leathers amd I'd love to work with you on some traditional sticks. I'm north of San Diego amd I'm happy to come to you. Please get a hold of me at coachbrian@minlax.com. Thanks
Brian Kimmell | Www.minlax.com, Thu, 21 May 2015 10:34PM
loved your way of doing the catgut. i am fixing up a number of traditional sticks for a local outdoor ed program and needed to replace catgut. thanks for posting this.
tom bileski, Tue, 27 Jan 2015 7:53PM
cool site
Brian DeWagner, Sat, 22 Feb 2014 8:02AM
Stu, the wood is split green and allowed to dry for a short while.  I don't have a lot of experience making these sticks, but it seems that the wood needs to have a fairly high moisture content.  I did successfully bend some of this same hickory many months after initially splitting it.  As I live in dry S. California, the moisture content was probably fairly low at that point in time and things went ok with the bend.  

Bill,  With these first sticks, I didn't use rawhide for the side walls.  I simply used lax stringing material (side lace) and then tried stiffening it up with polyurathane.  It didn't work all that well.  I'm about to restring an old stick using deer rawhide lace (1/4" thick) I bought on line from an outfit called Centralia Fur and Hide.   I'll be posting photos of this stick renovation shortly!  Tom
Tom Mills, Sat, 26 Oct 2013 12:43AM
My kids are huge lacrosse players and I've wanted to make an authentic stick to hang on my fireplace hearth.

Question:  Do you dry the wood before splitting?  It seems that green wood would be easier to bend but I've read that you need air dried wood before steaming.
Stu Johnson, Thu, 24 Oct 2013 10:37AM
Very cool job on the sticks!  I've purchased several woodies off eBay and need to replace the gut on a couple.  What type of gut(rawhide?) did you use and where can I get it?  How many feet of gut did you need to use to make it.

On stringing the sticks the 4 leathers ended up being pretty easy to do and the cross string was easier than I expected.

Thanks for a great tutorial.

Bill Cattell
Bill Cattell, Sun, 8 Sep 2013 6:29PM
Im 16 and an avid lacrosse fan. Really cool seeing this! I am very interested in seeing the plans for your jig and i was wondering if you could give me some more information about the grain of the wood. i have attempted this myself but with no success. i already make my own wood shafts and want to take the next step. i am pretty good in the shop coming from a trade school and having a handy father. Please respond to my email. Thanks Owen
Owen Medeiros, Wed, 30 Jan 2013 5:32PM
I think making traditional lax sticks is great its really cool that you made a home setup it is stuff like that that keeps the tradition of the game alive I was wondering if you would sell one of your sticks if so I hope you could email me I have always wanted a traditional lacrosse stick but just cant find a website that sells them  hopefully i'm in luck thanks
john, Wed, 30 Jan 2013 2:02PM

Thank you so much for sharing this.  As a former player and youth coach,as well as a parent of young players I have always tried to instill the history of the game to the kids.  I would be very interested if you could send plans for the jig and the work bench.  This would be a great project for the kids and I.

Thanks again!

Mike:  Thanks for the kid words.  I have some rough plans for a bench in the Bow & Arrow album and some photos of a bench.  They are easy to make.  Here's  link...not sure if it will work:  http://photos.imageevent.com/paleoaleo/bowsarrows/websize/Toms%20Shaving%20Horse%20Plans.bmp.jpg

Thanks again.  Tom
Mike, Tue, 15 May 2012 10:03AM
great sight
Jimmy Tarlton, Sat, 24 Mar 2012 1:36PM
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My 2nd Iroquois style lacrosse stick.  Made of hickory wood as detailed below.  I put this photo first as it serves as the "title photo" for the album.   See photos below for the evolution of this project (which is the fulfillment of a dream I've had since I was a young boy...to make one of these sticks!).  See also photos toward the bottom of me replacing the initial string & glue sidewall with a traditional deer-rawhide sidewall.
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My steam-tube set up.  A propane burner from a turkey roaster heats up a 5 gal "jerry can" of water.  The steam travels up the radiator hose and into a 6" diameter PVC pipe.  There are some holes in the bottom of the pipe to let out water.

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Another view of the steam-tube set up.

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The far end of the steam-tube

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A thermometer that reads up to 750 degrees.   If I'm lucky, I'll get the steam-tube up around 212 degrees.

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2 hickory staves.  One is a sapling (left) and the other split from a larger diameter log.   Both are fairly fresh cut and green.
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Splitting the staves in half.

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The hickory splits very cleanly and straight.

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A perfect split!  These staves will make perfect lacrosse sticks or bows!

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I think I'll just work with one of these staves as a test piece.  Got to make sure my steam tube works and that I can make a decent form to bend them around.

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Here;s a stick I'll use as a example.

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The tools I'll use.  From left to right: 2  Japanese rasps, 2 spoke shaves, and 2 draw knives (one a folding draw knife).

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Here's one of the staves worked down to a good thickness

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My bending jig.
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The wood bent around the form (the bark popped off).

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I had a bit of a problem with the form.  Not enough of the end of the wood was sticking out for me to get a string on to hold the shape.   I had to pull it out of the form and use this string and twist method to crank the bend tighter.

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Not bad though...as long as it holds its shape I should be Ok.  We'll find out....

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To be continued!  I have to let the stave dry and then I have to re-heat it and put that setback in the stick (right below the netting).   Then I'll do the final shaping and string it up.   Should be a couple of weeks.

I made a mistake here by thinning the top part of the curve too much.   I should have left it thicker.   I will do so with the next attempt.

"Update: After only 4 days..."
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After 4 days of drying, the bend is set and I start work on shaping the stick further using a drawkkife, spokeshave and rasp.

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I made a mistake and didn't leave enough width in the top part.   We'll see how this causes further problems down the line.  I may have to laminate on some wood strips on the inside of the curve.  We'll see.

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Using a draw knife to cut the bevels on the top of the head.

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Next, I have to put in the setback of the upper portion of the stick.  See how the one in the back right is bent where the head begins - so that the center of the head is centered on the shaft of the stick?  To do this, I'll fire up the steam tube again and put the stick back in (handle first this time) and once it's softened up from the heat/steam, I'll bend it into final position.

To be continued....

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Here's the first attempt at putting in the back bend.   The shaft should point directly at the center of the head.   This first trial run is a bit messed up but it is helping me to get the forms just right.   After removing this from the jig, I see that the back bend needs to be a little more severe.   

On the next attempt, we'll just bend a little further and it will be perfect.  Otherwise, the jig works great.   Note also that because things went awry with the bending of the stick head, the orientation of the opening is a little off.   A new form for bending the big top crook is in order!

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My friend, Haden, preparing his hickory stave for steam bending using a draw knife.

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Realizing that I didn't leave the upper portion of my first stick thick/wide enough, we decide to leave this one plenty thick.

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The steam tube is almost ready and Haden's stave is just about ready to go into the tube.

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Here's the new bending jig/form.  This will allow us to make a tighter bend on the stick head.

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The tools Haden used to prepare the stave: Drawknife, rasp, and spoke-shave.

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Haden's stave is in the tube with steam going full blast!

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It took both of us to bend the stave and hold the jig in place - so no photos of the actual bending.   It was incredible to see this big, thick piece of wood bend around that form!   We left the wood to steam for about 1 hour...maybe a little less (I should have timed it for future reference).

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The stave came away from the form on the short side (where the wedge was driven in).   As we bent the stave, the wedge must have moved out a bit, or the stave shifted slightly in the form.   Next time, I'm going to take a second or two to secure the wedge in place with a nail so it can't move at all.

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Again, it was incredible to see this wood bend like a wet noodle around this form.   The hickory was only partially dried and still quite "green."   Had this been completely dry wood, it would have required much more time in the steam tube.

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We'll have to let this dry in the form for a number of days before doing further work on the stick.

The next course of action will be to shape the stick and make it ready for the 2nd bend, which will place the "head" of the stick directly over the shaft of the stick (the handle).  While Haden's at it, he will start shaping the contours of the head itself in order to thin it out to facilitate drying.

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Creating a side-wall using regular lacrosse stick lacing (sidewall lacing).

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I'm using two strands that are twisted around themselves to form the main structure.  After attaching to the stick, I moved back up the bottom strand (the upper one in this photo) and using half-hitch knots, jumped across to the upper strand and then around it and back again to the lower strand before moving up for another half-hitch knot and another "ladder rung" across, etc.

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To create the "ladder rungs" I moved from the throat of the stick (right in the photo) to the top.

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In the old sticks, this was done with deer rawhide (often mistakenly called "cat-gut."  No cats were actually involved!).  Having studied the rawhide sidewall on the store bought stick, I merely copied the structure using string.

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Then I added a single line down the middle (passing it through each of the "ladder rungs") and then "painted" the sidewall string with polyurathane to stiffen it up.   This was fast drying poly, and I put two heavy coats on.

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Here's the finished sidewall.  After only about 15 minutes in the dry California sun, it was dry and the stick was ready to be strung.

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Another view.  Note how the polyurathane changed the color of the string to a yellowish brown.  It actually looks like rawhide.

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To start the stringing, I added 4 leather laces.  They attach to the top of the head through 4 holes.  The laces have 2 slits in them and after passing the leading end through the holes in the stick, it passes through itself 2x and is thus firmly affixed to the stick.

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I'm going to drill the holes to fix the leathers to the bottom of the stick now.

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I held the leathers in place and marked where the holes would go for each.  Then I drilled the holes and attached the leathers like this - like they did with the old sticks.

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The leathers are in place and I'm ready to string the cross-lace (the actual netting part).  In the old days, they would use rawhide, leather or "gut" (intestine).   I'm using store bought nylon lacing made for stringing lacrosse sticks.  On the next stick, I'll probably use all natural materials...we'll see....

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Just another view

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On the older sticks I've seen, the cross-lace is attached directly to the stick by passing it through holes in the wood side-wall as the net is created.

I'm going to do this with more of a modern twist.  On modern sticks, stick stringers will actually attach a sidewall string to the head of the stick and then use that to anchor the netting.  This is because there is a lot of stress on the string passing through the holes on the stick (whether the stick is wood or plastic) and it wears out first at those points.  

By using a sidewall string, a person can simply replace the sidewall string rather than have to do the entire stringing job all over again.

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Adding the sidewall string with a series of half-hitch-like knots.

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Side-wall string finished.  Time to do the cross-lace.

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I made a video of me stringing this, but the quality is poor and it's hard to see what's going on.   I'm not going to go into too much detail here.

I strung this with a modern twist on the old "traditional" design.

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On the old sticks, the stringers would use a series of single half-hitch knots.  I'm going to use the same pattern of stringing, but will be using double half-hitch knots.  This simply means that I'll be passing the cross-lace 2x around the leathers on each pass rather than just 1x.  This will create a very cool looking knot and make for an overall "tighter" weave.

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The way you string a traditional stick, is to divide the job up into 5 sections: outer left and right, center left and right and center.

I'm starting at the outside panels (between the side-walls and the first leathers) and weaving from top to bottom.  In this photo, I've completed the left and right panels and am starting out with the center right panel.

You can see how I'm making the interlocking double half-hitch knots. I'm using a leather-working needle on the running end of my string and passing it through the existing double half-hitch knot.

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Here I'm starting on the 4th panel (center left, if viewing from the front of the stick).

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Here 4 of the 5 panels are done.  Again, I'm moving from top to bottom of the stick and then tying off the string at the bottom.

To create those interlocking double half-hitch knots, you have to alternate from one face of the stick to the other.  On the outside panels, I worked with the stick facing me.  On the left & right center panels, I worked from the backside of the stick (or vice versa...frankly I don't recall. The important thing is to know that you have to switch sides!).

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Here's the finished weave.  I just have to add a few shooting strings up top and the stick is ready for action.

For viewers who aren't lacrosse folks, shooting strings are strings that are woven across the top of the pocket and pulled fairly tight.  These cause the ball to be kicked out of the pocket during the throwing motion.  As the ball rolls up on its way out, it hits the throwing strings and is then directed outward...think of a cresting wave, or a kid skateboarding in one of those tube/ramp things!

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The flipside.  Those interlocking double-half hitch knots are cool looking, eh?   I like how they create a cool visual effect in this net-like structure.

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You can see the shooting strings added up top of the stick.  I'll probably add one more later on to get a smooth release when throwing.

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The pocket needs to be broken in a bit, but this is working great so far (see videos on Youtube under CoachTomPasLax or Paleoaleo)

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My 2nd stick on the left.  I seem to have lost the photo of the stick on the bending jig.  I did make a youtube video of this however.  I'll have to drop in a link so you can see the video.  It's amazing to watch this big piece of hickory bending around the form.

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As with the other stick, this one splintered a bit when bending.  This seems to be natural and normal and is one reason why it's wise to start with a thicker piece than you need.

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I'm going to leave the handle kind of thick until I make the set back bend for the head.  First I'll just generally carve the stick so it is straight.  The drawn line is just for guidance as I shape the stick.

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The head is shaped pretty well and I thinned out the area to be set back in the handle.  As the whole handle (up to the bend) will be put back into the steam tube, I'll leave most of the handle thick so when I bend the setback it doesn't bend in the handle where I want it to stay straight.

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I skipped some photos here, but here is the stick pretty much finished and ready for stringing.  I sanded it real nice and then applied a natural earth pigment (red and yellow ocher from my N. American friend) decoration.

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Holes are drilled for the stringing to follow and I put some danish oil finish and a light application of wipe on polyurathane.  The poly is probably unnecessary, but it makes the stick look nice and will protect better from moisture.

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The red and yellow ocher.  I burned the outline with a magnifying glass and then painted the stick.

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Stringing/weaving the sidewall.   At the end, I'll paint some polyurathane on the string to stiffen the sidewall.   I was going to use deer rawhide, but decided to wait on that for another stick.

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Twisting up the outside of the side wall.  These will be attached to the stick at the bottom of the throat using leather lacing that will stretch a little and allow me to pull it real tight.

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I cut the leathers myself from some veggie tanned cowhide.  They have been soaked in neetsfoot oil (which is an animal based oil that is excellent for softening and protecting leather).

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Sidewall strings attached at both ends.  Ready to weave the rest of the sidewall.  I used the store bought wooden stick as a guide to doing this.  It's actually quite easy.  Maybe I'll do a tutorial just on this if anyone is interested.
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Just a quick idea of how it works...I come up the string on the left with another line and make a double half-hitch sort of knot (like doing a top lace on a plastic stick) and then I run it across to the string on the right.  I rap around that right string and then start coiling around the section that I came across with back to where i started (capturing the center string on the way).

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Here's the coil.  See how I captured the center sidewall string?  After another coil, I'll tuck the running end back under the line I came up with and then move up and repeat that process.  I space the cross pieces (ladder rungs) about two of my finger widths apart.

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There it is all completed.  Maybe you stick stringers out there can easily see what I did.  It's very simple actually.

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Here's the finished stick.  I actually cut down the hooked part by 1.5" or so as the head was too wide and the angle of the side wall was too big.  Now it's absolutely perfect!  The hold is incredible.  While the stick is a bit more heavy than my first attempt, it came out very well and I am more than pleased with it.

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The pocket is a little deep, but it throws perfectly.   I'm really psyched to have made these two sticks.  This is the fulfillment of a life-long dream I've had since I was a kid.  No B.S.!!!  Took me 40 years to do it.  I'll have to make more of them now!

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Got to love it!

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I got the scoop nice and thin and tapered nice.   On the next one I'll try to make the underside a little more concave so that the leathers are more protected from scuffing.  This one is infinitely better than my first attempt (which I messed up by not leaving enough width at the scoop so I was unable to thin it top to bottom.

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I got the setback perfect on this one too.  When the ball is in the pocket, it's perfectly balanced!

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The sidewall "painted" with polyurathane to stiffen it up.

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I just need to add some sort of decorative and useful butt-end (probably a turks-head knot in leather).

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Here's my friend, Hayden's stick in the works.  I'm dropping in some photos of him making his stick.  I helped him with this for a school project.  I hear he got an A.  Good deal Haden!

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Here's Haden stripping the bark after bending and letting the bend set for about a week.

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Using the drawknife to shape the scoop end.

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More draw knife work

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Using a Japanese Rasp to shape the head.

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Using a belt sander to do some shaping.  Power tools like this are great, but you can mess up the piece really quick so you have to be careful.  If you touch your knuckles on this belt sander  y mistake it's about like hanging your hand out the car door and dragging it on the pavement while going 50mph!  Dangerous stuff....

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More shaping

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Using a cabinet scraper to do some fine wood removal

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Using a heat-gun (paint stripper) to heat the stick to put in the back bend.  Got to be careful not to burn the wood.  Veggie oil protects the wood and lets it heat up well without too much scorching.  This thing gets up to 1500 degrees!

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After setting the back bend, we put the stick into the form and then sprayed it with the garden hose to cool it off.  Then we let it sit in the form for a few days.

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Cutting leathers using a strap cutter from that big piece of leather.

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More shaping

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Haden's stick is ready for the side wall and we got started.  He was cutting it close for his school project so he had to rush this part a bit.  It was getting dark and we didn't take too many photos.

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Haden's stick next to my first one.  His is looking very, very nice!

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Haden's stick all completed.  The leathers are kind of long and we ran out of time to continue work.  He had to present the project for his class so I'll have to wait to take more pics of the finished stick.  We also have to do some throwing and catching one of these days Haden!   As you can see, I finished my 2nd stick and am ready to go!  Good job dude....

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Finally adding a rawhide sidewall to replace the initial string & glue sidewall.  This came out near perfect.  It was a bit of work getting it done however!

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This is actually another stick I'm restringing for a friend.  I did this sidewall immediately after the first attempt on my stick (mine's the one with the paint on the stick).

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I had to keep the rawhide lace wet while I was "weaving" the sidewall. It was hot and dry here today, so the lace would dry out too much if I didn't keep dipping it in the water.

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It came out great!  Not bad for a first attempt.  I have an idea how to do it better next time too.

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This is a friend's stick, and my 2nd attempt at making the rawhide sidewall.  The first attempt on my stick actually came out a little better.

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My friend's stick again.  I've got a bunch of photos of me removing the old lacing in this stick, refinishing the stick, etc.  I'm going to create a separate album with photos of this project from start to finish.

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Here's my stick after removing the initial string & glue sidewall shown in the earlier photos above.  The rawhide lace is soaking in water and almost ready to go.  Once the rawhide is in, I'll be restringing the pocket as well.

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I restrung the sidewall on my first stick using deer rawhide.  The wood dowel spacers help th maintain the shape while the rawhide dries.

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Letting the rawhide dry in the sun.

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All dry and ready for stringing.

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Leathers in place.  I should have bought the 36" long leathers.  These 24" work, but they are kind of short

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All strung up.   I spent some time putting a little setback in the handle to give the stick greater balance.   It is perfectly balanced now.

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To make the correction, I used dry heat by way of a heat gun (aka paint stripper).  I brushed on veggie oil to keep the wood from burning, clamped the head in a bench vice and leaned on the handle with my body.  When the wood was hot enough to bend, it bent under the force applied.  It is perfect now.

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My indoor practice ball!

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Ready for the playing field!

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