Shinty caman making
The making of caman (sticks) for shinty, a team game played with sticks and a ball.
|Historic area of significance||Scottish Highlands through to Argyll & Bute|
|Area currently practised||Shinty is played all over the UK but mostly in the Highlands of Scotland, Western Isles and Argyll & Bute|
|Origin in the UK||There are records of a game called “Camanachd” (shinty in Gaelic) being played in Scotland since the 5th Century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||1|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||0|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
Shinty a team game played with sticks and a ball. Shinty is now played mainly in the Scottish Highlands, and amongst Highland migrants to the big cities of Scotland, but it was formerly more widespread in Scotland, and was even played for a considerable time in northern England and other areas in the world where Scottish Highlanders migrated.
When a tree is cut it is split into four or six lenghts called ‘splits’. Each split is roughly dressed and placed in a deep tin or wooden box to which steam is admitted. After twenty or thirty minutes steaming the splits are pliable and ready to be placed in a frame, and slowly bent at one end.
This bending process is critical for a good deal of the club’s appeal depends on the degree of curvature – a stick is judged by its curve and bought accordingly. Some teams like the curve at approximately right angles, some prefer it slightly straighter.
After the preliminary bending the split is tied with wire in its curved position and allowed to dry. In a few days it is again dresses and retied with wire. The process is repeated as many times as is necessary, each dressing reducing the split nearer and nearer the required thickness. If there is the slightest bend in the shaft or ‘cas’ it must be steamed over again and straightened out. Again, much depends on proper drying, as if the wood is not thoroughly dried it sometimes happens that a wetting will cause the curve to straighten out. The last prosess is to treat the caman with varnish and bind the top with thin leather or strong tape to give a food grip.
All shinty clubs must conform to a certain shape, that is the curved part, or ‘bas’ as it is called in Gaelic, must be triangular in shape, both sides sloping inwards to meet the top of the ‘bas’ and the bottom flat to meet both of the sloping sides at the bottom edges. No nails or metal of any kind are allowed to be used in the making of the caman and the edges are slightly rounded to reduce the possibility of an injury to an opponent. The head of the stick must pass through a ring two and a half inches in diameter.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- There are not enough makers given that the sport is in steady growth.
- Can’t find people skilled to make the sticks.
- Not enough money in the sticks to employ someone of a skill level.
- The time effort and skill level needed to produce a caman in today’s climate if priced accordingly would discourage people to play the sport.
- COVID-19 has meant that there has been no competitive shinty played since March 2020, this naturally has meant that players have not been purchasing camans and, as such, little to no sales of Camans has happened over that period. This is somewhat concerning for the return to shinty as we are yet to see if the original makers will return to making camans again. Furthermore, we were saddened to announce the passing of one of the Caman Makers throughout the pandemic, it is unclear if his wife will continue the craft.
- Camanachd Association Support Group
Craftspeople currently known
- Tanera Camans – full-time caman maker
- Munro Camans
- Kyles Camans – Joinery business and part-time caman maker. Not currently selling to the public, only clubs.
- AB Camans – Joinery business and part-time caman maker.
- Mead Camans – Furniture maker and part-time caman maker.
The Camanachd Association is leading a body of work with Universities across Scotland to help preserve the ancient craft of caman making. At present, 2 projects are underway with a 3rd to hopefully begin in the next 12 months. One of these projects is with the UHI looking at how to improve the business practices of current caman makers to make the craft more profitable and thereby, increase its viability moving deeper into the 21st Century.
Another project is working with Edinburgh Napier University to provide a bank of tests to gauge a Caman’s quality. These tests will give the wide based parameters expected from a Caman and would allow the CA to have certified tests for camans. This way we can ensure the rigorous historical quality standards are met on a regular basis.
- BBC, The Art of the Caman
- ‘The Caman Maker’, The Oban Times (15 June 1946)
- ‘Association and uni join forces to save craft of shinty stick-making’, Iain Ramage, STV News (Oct 2021)