Since being wounded in a land mine explosion during the Vietnam War, Kingfield resident Bryce Brown has needed to walk with the assistance of a cane. Up until 12 years ago, he relied on an aluminum cane provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Aluminum and cane should not be in the same sentence,” Brown said. “It just screams gimp.”
It was while on a bike ride around Lake Harriet in 2007 that something caught the corner of his eye — a lonely branch that fell after a windstorm. What struck him most about the branch was its shape. It looked exactly like a cane. Brown picked it up and, after testing its strength with some of his weight, decided to use the stick as his new cane. After that, he sanded it and embellished the wood with a lacquer highlight.
Ever since that bike ride, Brown has turned the crafting of canes and walking staves into his passion and his business, which he calls BryStix.
“It’s just a crazy bummer that this didn’t happen until I was 60,” he said.
Much of the wood is sourced from dead trees found either in Minnesota or in Arizona, where Brown spends his winters. Because he sources the branches from all over, his sticks have varying designs. Some have holes burrowed out by bees, others have trenches created by beetles and there are even sticks sporting small bits of dried fungus.
But no matter the type of stick, Brown always starts his creative process by locating a properly shaped branch. Once he identifies a stick, Brown dries it out to make the cane lighter and then sands it to create a better grip.
The last step, which he said is the most crucial, is to take each stick out on a half-mile walk to discover if additional work must be done before it can be sold. For Brown, every cane needs to be ergonomically perfect.
As for how he markets his sticks, Brown’s primary method is word-of-mouth. Typically, this is accomplished by Brown walking around with one of his canes and someone noticing it.
That is how Minneapolis VA security guard Lew Hughes got his cane, which he calls a “character cane.”
Hughes spotted Brown walking into the VA hospital with one of his sticks and was surprised to hear that Brown had crafted it himself. After noticing how skilled Brown was at handling the stick, Hughes said he knew he had to get one. He’s been using one of Brown’s custom sticks for more than a year.
Much like Brown, what Hughes appreciates is the natural beauty of the sticks along with their practicality. But most of all, he said, he likes how they make him … stick out.
“If you weren’t a character before you got one of his canes, you are now,” Hughes said.
If you’re interested in trying out a BryStix cane, you can call Bryce Brown at 612-227-9909.
In his own words
Listen to Kingfield walking stick maker Bryce Brown read a piece of biographical writing about his business BryStix.