How to make a Mahl Stick

For those that don’t know, a mahl stick is a stick with a ball at one end and is useful when painting (or drawing) details or again, to avoid accidentally resting your hand on the canvas and smudging your artwork  – If you’re right handed, hold the mahl stick with your left hand; the other way around if you are left handed. Simply rest the ball-end of the stick on the edge of the canvas or the easel, or again place the ball on a dry spot of the canvas and rest your painting hand on the stick for steadiness.

I have never seen mahl sticks at art supply stores near my place. Not that I would want to buy any since I’ve already made my own but I have seen some at online art supply stores that sell for 15$, 20$ or more. Some are made with oak wood, rosewood or whatever “fancy” stuff you like. They sure look pretty but what’s the point?  It’s all going to get stained with paint over time – A mahl stick can be made from material you already got at home and it’s easy to make – So don’t waste your money; spend it to buy paint, brushes or canvas instead.

mahl stick

I used a tomato plant bamboo stick guide (about 3/8 inches diameter) to make my mahl stick (above) but any stick will do as long as it doesn’t bend or break easily – The stick should be at least 30 inches long but if you mostly work while sitting; you might consider a smaller one, like 20 or 25 inches.  The canvas size you are most used to work on should also be considered to help determine the lenght of your mahl stick – For the rest, I used a wine bottle cork to make the ball end, a piece of cotton cloth, a pony-tail elastic, duct tape and an X-Acto knife.

Material needed to make a mahl stick

Mahl stick materials: plant tutor or stick guide, a wine bottle cork, a cotton cloth, a pony-tail elastic, Duct Tape and an X-Acto knife.

By the way, I made my mahl stick a long time ago and didn’t take photos at the time, so I have re-created the making-of my mahl stick using Google SketchUp; a neat and user-friendly 3D modeling software, which can be downloaded for free. Check it out if you haven’t already, it’s useful and fun – Ok, now back to the mahl stick… :)

wine bottle cork cut in half

First, I made the cork shorter (about 1 ¼ inch long) cause I liked it better that way but you can use the full cork if you’d like. Once I cut the cork in half (It probably is better to use a small saw for that one),  with the X-Acto knife I carved a small wedge (3/8 of an inch wide) in the centre of each cork halves as shown in figure 1 above.
stick Duct Tape "sticky-side-up" inside the wedges
Inside the wedge of each cork halve, I have stuck some Duct Tape upside down so that the sticky side is up. I have also previously Duct Taped both ends of the stick guide for a firmer grip.
the stick is going to be squeezed in between the cork halve
One end of the stick is going to be squeezed in between the cork halve (above picture), inside the wedges. Hold firmly and tightly Duct Tape the cork halves around the stick (picture below).
Tightly Duct Tape the cork halve around the stick
Wrap the end of the cork with a small piece of cotton cloth and Duct Tape it.
Wrap with cotton cloth and Duct Tape it !
Finally, wrap another piece of cloth around and tie with the pony-tail elastic. Don’t cut the excess fabric. Instead, fold and tie it under the elastic; it holds better. Instead of cotton, you may use a piece of chamois as it is supposed to be and perhaps tie it with a piece of thread, but personally I prefer keeping my chamois for other uses than at the end of a mahl stick.
Wrap with another piece of cloth and tie with the elastic.
When it gets too dirty, just untie the elastic and replace the cotton cloth with another one – As an alternative to a mahl stick, some artists use a walking cane. Others, I’ve heard say that they use a long-handled wooden spoon –Whichever you choose, a cane, spoon or mahl stick is a useful, if not indispensable  tool to keep in your art studio.
Close-up on my mahl stick

Here's a close-up on the ball end of my mahl stick.

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