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A stick to anybody else a potential work of art for Church Hill's Don Brooks

Suzi McKee • Jul 2, 2018 at 10:30 AM

If 83-year-old Don Brooks of Church Hill wants to relax, he simply begins whittling a piece of wood into a strikingly beautiful cane that’s a masterpiece of design.

After retiring from AFG with 34 years of service, Don had more time on his hands to create and design his beautiful canes. Don learned how to make canes from his Uncle Charlie. “I visited Uncle Charlie one day and noticed that he was whittling on a piece of wood,” Don explained, “so I asked him what he was doing and where he got the materials to make his canes.”

The wood pieces used to make the ornate canes comes from Don’s excursions, where his eyes are always looking for sticks that he can fashion into canes. “It’s best to cut a stick when the sap is down, or the wood will split,” Don said. “And since sap is down in the fall season, that’s when I find my best pieces to work with.”

Don, who is an Air Force veteran, usually takes from one to two days to create one of his masterpieces. “It’s just very relaxing,” Don continued. “Working on a new cane is something that I really enjoy doing; it rests my mind and gives me a sense of peace.”

“First I have to rough it out,” he continued, “then I let it dry. Next, I trim it up and sand it by hand to get it perfectly smooth. After that I add about three coats of polyurethane so that it will shine.”

Because of it’s beauty, sassafras is Don’s favorite wood with which to work. He has a collection of canes made from different types of wood and once had a special one made from cedar. “I made one from cedar once,” he said with a touch of sadness, “but I sold it and I’ve regretted it ever since.”

People bring unusual items to be fashioned into canes in his shop. One man brought a deer’s foot which Don attached to a cane (right) with a piece of leather.

“I can make most anything and truly enjoy working with a variety of materials as I incorporate them into the wood,” he added with a smile. With grapevines adorning some of his canes to intricate carvings that look like snakes with glistening eyes (far left), Don’s canes are each a work of art.

Riding in the 1949 Chevy truck (above) that he and a friend restored, Don is always on the lookout for interesting sticks. He once stopped alongside the road on a cold morning and was quite surprised when a Tennessee State Trooper pulled in behind him.

“He asked if I needed some help but I told him that I made walking sticks and I’d spotted a beauty just off the roadway. He looked at me rather funny but when I showed him a sample of what I did he told me to go ahead and get my stick,” Don shared.

The Ross Campground community in Hawkins County is a peaceful, country setting where on any given day you can find Don Brooks out back in his shop working on his God-given talent one cane at a time.

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