Obviously the first step is to select a branch or limb that will eventually provide the look you want. There are many factors to be considered, including straightness, length, girth, weight, knots, branches, and condition.
Selecting a Stick to Make a Walking StickThe straightness of the stick is not as important as the alignment of the top and bottom. A crook in the middle that returns to beneath the vertical of the top part is fine, and many people prefer the look of having a twist to the stick.
Length: The length depends on how it will be used. Usually a length from the floor to the wrist of the walking hand will be for casual walking and support. If it will be used as a hiking stick, where you will be going up and down hills, then it should be about shoulder high. Of course a longer stick can always be used as a casual walking stick but will be a little heavier than if it were shorter.
Diameter: The diameter, or girth, of the stick should reflect your weight and its use. The heavier a person is, then the larger the diameter of the stick should be to support them. Also if it will be used in hiking there are 2 other things to consider. The heavier the stick, the more tiring it may become on extended hikes. However it should be thick enough to withstand the abuse of heavy hiking.
Weight: The weight of the stick is a function of its size and becomes a factor to be considered depending on your strength, condition, and time of use. Normally healthy adults, used to hiking, shouldn't be too concerned. However, if you have some physical limitations then the weight should be considered.
Knots: The knots formed by branches growing from the main stick provide a lot of character to the walking stick. However knots can have a weakening affect on the stick and you must also remember it is more difficult to sand and finish them. Unless there is a great number of large and weakened knots, they are not usually a problem with mesquite since it is so strong and hard. They require extra work, but most people appreciate the look.
Branches: Some sticks have branches growing from the main stick and they can be used as natural handles. Sometimes there are branches farther down the stick, which can be used as a second foot at the end. These are harder to find but it you want a handle and/or a double foot, then these should be just what you need.
Insects: The condition of the stick can vary due to insect infestation and rot. Usually insects will not bore down into the heartwood, but if there is evidence of infestation then the stick will have to be of a large enough diameter so that you can remove the sapwood and still have the diameter you need. Minor infestation can actually create some interesting patterns in the wood that many like. If the wood has been down for a long time and has rot, obviously it shouldn't be used. A simple test is to place one end of the stick into the crotch of a tree and then press as hard as you can against the other end. It should not bend very much and definitely not break. You can do the same thing by placing the stick on the seat of a picnic table, or other type of jig, and forcing the other end down while the opposite end pushes against the tabletop. Use caution because you can be injured if the stick snaps.