Giant Reed (Arundo donax) Container

By Julian de Rubira 

**This is a more advanced carving project not intended for beginners**

Growing up in southern California, some of my fondest memories are of playing in dense stands of giant reed, building forts and secret hideouts. It felt like a world so far from from the city. Giant reed, also known as carrizo or river cane, can often be mistaken for its tropical look-alike, bamboo. It can be seen in creeks while driving on highway overpasses and at beaches all throughout southern California. It is not native to our region and its dense growth can crowd the space and choke the sunlight of native plants in riparian habitats. However, the silver lining is that it has many utilitarian uses such as building materials, musical instruments, and many fun craft projects.

Containers can be used for holding so many things: toothbrushes, pencils, feathers, charcoal sticks, rocks, jewelry, fish tackle, beads, treasure maps, you name it! Containers made from giant reed, when you’re done with them, can go back into the ground to feed another plant and not to the landfill!


Where to find:

Finding giant reed can be easier than it may seem, as it grows in a lot of the creeks that flow through our cities and neighborhoods. Here’s a link to Calflora’s website for easy identification. If you’re in Goleta, try Winchester Canyon park, Ellwood, Haskell’s, Goleta Beach (in driftwood piles), or where San Jose Creek crosses Patterson Ave. If in Santa Barbara, try looking downtown where Mission Creek crosses De La Guerra St., 1000 steps beach, Mesa Lane, or at the western end of Butterfly Beach. If you have any other easy harvesting spots, feel free to share them!



Since giant reed grows near lots of roadways and urban areas as well as creeks, make sure to harvest in an area that feels safe from traffic, poison oak, and possible creek debris. Using tools that are sharp and not rusty or dull are actually the first line of defense to stay safe. Carving knives that flip open and cannot be locked are not recommended. At Wilderness Youth Project, we teach knife safety to kids before ever letting them carve without supervision. Make sure that you understand knife safety before you try this project.


Knife Safety

notes taken from Alan Kaufman (the Knife Guy) of Galapago Knives:

    • Create a safe carving area (blood circle) that is big enough that you can not reach the outside of the circle around yourself in any direction
    • Check in with your mental state or attitude and make sure that you’re ready to stay calm and focused
    • Always cut away from yourself – make sure that your knife pushes into the open space out in front of you. Don’t rest your project on your leg or lap. This project uses one exception to this rule – an advanced technique called “knife hand pairing cut.
    • Keep your knife sheathed when not in use – When someone comes near your blood circle they may not be aware that you are using a knife.
    • Pass a knife safely – The best way is to sheath or close your knife. If passing a fixed blade, always pass with the knife blade facing away from your hand and the handle towards the person you are passing it to.
    • Using the right tool for the right job – A carving knife is not a saw or a kitchen knife.


Whittling Basics

Check this video out for some visual explanations 

  1. Knife hand push cut – Most common technique used to make shallow and controlled cuts.
  2. Support hand push cut – Use this cut to refine edges and curves.
  3. Knife hand pairing cut – Squeeze the knife toward your thumb like peeling a potato. Use your thumb to stabilize and control pressure. Use this cut for fine details.
  4. Channel cut – Use this cut diagonally in one direction. Used for decorative designs.


What you’ll need:

  • Small tooth saw (pruning saw or other saws can work as well)
  • sharp knife (fixed blades are best)
  • marking tool (pen or pencil or piece of charcoal)
  • sandpaper


How to harvest

Find a piece of giant reed that you like and cut with a pruning saw. You can also break off pieces with just your hand, or find pieces in driftwood piles at the beach. Finding pieces that are already dried or dead (yellow in color) are best if you plan to work immediately. If you choose to harvest material that is still alive (green in color), it’s best to wait to use and wrap them in a tight bundle. Then store this bundle for a month in a shady, well ventilated place so they don’t bend while drying. As always, only harvest what you need and respect the life of these plants.


1) Make your cuts above and below the nodes of the piece you want. Nodes are the solid joints separating the hollow chambers.

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709968991-d2f14877-98b7-6″ include=”10706,10695″]

2) Your new piece should now contain closed ends. Mark a line at ¾ of the container.

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709968994-a88d0546-f71f-10″ include=”10691,10704″]

3) Cut your container into two pieces on that line.

4) Now score a shallow line across the longer bottom piece with your knife about 1-2 inches down from the open end (or approximate about half the length of your shorter top piece). This will mark where the top and bottom pieces meet together when closed. ***If confused, just watch the video closely to see where I make the line***

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709968997-93fe4b71-b719-0″ include=”10700″]

5) Start carving slowly, thinning this section. Use the #1 Knife hand push cut (be careful not to go too fast or you might cut all the way through like the photo below).

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709968998-4f987014-877b-2″ include=”10702,10703″]

6) Once you’ve thinned out the piece a good amount, start carving back towards the scored line that you marked. Now use the #3 Knife hand pairing cut being sure to go slowly and precisely. This will allow you to create an edge for where your top piece will stop. ***This is a more advanced technique that requires lots of focus.*** If done properly, it should not feel dangerous.

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709969001-2d611544-3809-3″ include=”10692″]

7) Now insert your knife into the top piece of the container and start to scrape the inside wall with the blade of your knife.

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709969003-478428c1-ca69-4″ include=”10694,10689″]

8) Once you’ve scraped it thin enough, try fitting it on your bottom piece

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709969007-2da31d57-0a3a-0″ include=”10696,10688,10690,10705″]

9) Now clean up the ends of the container by rounding the sharp edges with your knife using the #2 Support hand push cut.

[vc_media_grid element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709969010-00bc13ec-ec58-7″ include=”10699″]

10) If you choose, you can sand any rough corners or edges.

[vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1588709969012-35e12fdb-526c-2″ include=”10687,10698,10701,10707,10697,10693″]

Congratulations! Now it’s time to find out how the container fits best when closed together. Add an inscription or marking on each of the pieces where they meet. Remember to be gentle with opening and closing as the material has now become thin.

***Questions, comments, finished product photos? Email them to ***

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *