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Handsaw handles come in handy

Jerry Van Heukelom of River Falls creates original walking canes with a handle fashioned after an old handsaw's hand grip.

RIVER FALLS -- Starting out with a piece of cardboard, River Falls resident Jerry Van Heukelom draws out a pattern for one of his handsaw handle canes.

He then takes his cardboard pattern and traces it onto a wood board -- walnut, cherry, oak, maple -- and cuts it out.

After the pattern, which features a handle like an old handsaw, is cut out, Van Heukelom sands, stains and polyurethanes the cane, then adds a soft tip to the end.

He said that no two are alike: "Each one has different wood and different grips."

Van Heukelom said he uses hand, Skil and table saws, as well as a lot of sandpaper to finish his canes.

Van Heukelom, married to Beryl, said oak is the easiest wood to work with, while walnut is hardest because it takes the longest.

He said that some of them take a lot of time, but on average each one takes a good 10 hours.

When asked how he came up with the handsaw handle design, Van Heukelom said he "... seen a fella who made one" and thought, "I can do that."

He does point out that he was not a woodworker by trade. Before retirement he was a mechanic for what is now Value Implement in Ellsworth.

Van Heukelom went on to say that he choose the handsaw grip because it offers a sturdier hold than the traditional knob. He added that a saw handle provides a more natural fit for a person's hand.

Van Heukelom, the father of two and grandfather of three, also said he uses the buttons from old handsaws to give each cane a different style.

He mentioned that he is always on the lookout for the buttons and asked that if anyone has some, to give him a call at 715-441-3942.

Van Heukelom, who has lived in River Falls for more than 40 years, also customizes the size of the cane depending on who he's making it for -- a heavier cane for a bigger person.

Vam Heukelom has not sold any of the 15 to 18 canes he's made so far. Instead, he gives them away to people he feels needs them.

"The look on people's face is more rewarding than getting paid," Van Heukelom said.

He mentioned that he has given them to people in North and South Dakota, as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin in the three to four years since he started making the canes.

Van Heukelom, who grew up in North Dakota, added that about a year ago he gave one to a woman in Ecuador who was having a tough time.

Besides making canes, Van Heukelom is active in the local snowmobile club, participates in garden tractor pulling and volunteers to teach ATV and snowmobile classes.