When confronted with the opportunity to buy something for twenty dollars, I always think “I bet I could build that for free,” and then proceed to spend a hundred dollars in tools so that I can build it for free. Then I spend twenty dollars on beer to celebrate the money I saved. So when my doctor said “You’ll need to buy a walking cane,” I thought, Buy? I have a pile of metal and a welder. So I bought twenty dollars of beer and got to work.
Before getting started, I needed to find some inspiration. A brief web search of canes confirms that cane users fall into one of two categories: Grandma, and Fedora Guy. Grandma has the aluminum adjustable cane with the four separate feet and, sometimes, tennis balls on the bottom. Fedora guy doesn’t need a cane any more than he needs a goblin holding a crystal ball, but for some reason has decided to purchase both of these items attached to each other.
You know what, forget about getting ideas, let’s just see what I have in my garage. I have tubes of metal, sheets of metal, some nuts and bolts, and oh, what is this? A Hurst pistol grip shift handle? Jackpot.
Before getting started, I pulled up my CAD software and did a full 3D model and ran both a modal and non-linear Finite Element Analy-no not really, I just drew it on a piece of paper. The cane’s ability to not collapse under my weight is a function of intuition and a huge safety factor.
Bonus Engineering Fact: The emblem of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers contains the latin phrase “non loqui sed facere” which means “intuition and a huge safety factor.”
After getting a design that I liked, the next step was to make a scale drawing and use it to trace out the metal to cut. I needed to weld an aluminum extension onto the shifter handle, and a stainless extension onto the shaft, so I cut those out of some scrap metal I had.
After those were cut out, I mashed the tube with a vice, placing the extension I had just cut into the middle of the part I was squishing to prevent it from collapsing too far in like a figure eight. Once that was flattened, I welded the extensions onto their respective parts and cleaned them up with a file.
The next step was to cut out the aluminum pieces that would connect the handle to the shaft. This would be a breeze with a waterjet, but if I go to the waterjet guy at work and say “Hey man, can you slip this in with your next job,” he will respond, “Dude, you haven’t worked here for two years; how did you even get in the building?”
Whatever, I have a bandsaw.
So I bansawed out the pattern, drilled the holes, and then used my favorite tool ever of the week to deburr the holes.
Once those pieces were made, it was just a matter of lining everything up, clamping it down, and drilling the holes for the fasteners. Once that was done, I bolted everything together, cut the shaft to the correct height, added the rubber bumper thing, and bam! Walking cane.
You know what? I don’t love that. It’s too… Flowy? Swoopy? It needs more angles. More… Metal.
Fortunately, I have more metal. Back to the drawing board.
Once I had a good 1:1 drawing that I liked, I cut out the middle connecting piece and used it as a pattern to cut some 1” wide steel bar. I then welded the bar together, drilled the holes, and used my favorite tool ever of the week again
After that was done and cleaned up, I put the fasteners back in and bam! Walking cane.