What is a Mahl Stick?

A mahl stick is a stick or thin pole used as an aid in painting. It’s particularly useful when working on a piece where the paint is still wet and you want to avoid touching the surface accidentally. Using the stick allows an artist to brace their hand while painting detail, taking the strain off the shoulder. The mahl sticks we use were purchased in 1999 at the Container Store in San Diego. They actually were designed to be used to remove hanging garments from a high closet rod. We like them because the crook at the end hooks over the top of our easel, making it very easy to use. When not in use the bottom end rests against the palette as  you can see above. The setup is arranged so my palette is directly in front of the easel. The palette is a piece of glass on top of a white board, similar to the white of the canvas. This arrangement is much more efficient than if the palette was to my side, I don’t have to twist back and forth each time I mix or get paint. When mixing my colors I can immediately see how they will look on the white canvas because of the white under the glass. By the way, we were watching a Spurs basketball game while painting. GO SPURS! And yes, we won! Hugs, Mikki Senkarik

11 Responses to “What is a Mahl Stick?”

  1. Renuka Says:


    I was wondering what company you bought your mahl stick from?…it looks great!

  2. Joanne B Hall Says:

    Hi Lynn,
    My favorite mahl stick is an antique wooden cane given to me by my
    90 year old painting angel/mentor. I feel her “glow ” every time I pick it up!
    Happy painting!

  3. Carol McIntyre Says:

    An old cane works as well!

  4. Leia Says:

    What’s up, I check your blog regularly. Your story-telling style is awesome, keep it up!

  5. William McCoy Says:

    It’s also easy to make one: I made my mahl stick from a piece of 3/8″ diameter dowel rod, obtainable in various lengths from a lumber yard, hardware store or home center. Mine is 3 feet long. I padded one end with a bit of batting and covered it with a scrap of an old T-shirt, gathering it around the batting and tying in onto the stick with a string, then trimming the loose edges of material with scissors. Then I taped the loose ends down with a wrap of duct tape, giving it a smoother profile and no loose ends sticking out from under the string. The tape also anchors the tied pad from slipping off the dowel rod. I added a hanging feature by inserting a screw eye into the other end of the rod, in a large enough size to hang on a small nail tacked into the side of my easel or on the wall.

    • William McCoy Says:

      As an addendum to my previous maul stick description: it should be noted that having a fabric covering means that it doesn’t get “slick” as the current reader mentions. It has enough “grip” to stay put.

      • V. Lee Morrison Says:

        After I sent my comment I re-read Mikki’s description and noticed that she is resting her stick on the easel – not the canvas. My easel is not set up with a cross bar at the top, so that is not an option for me. But, I might add one. I would be good to stay off the canvas and avoid tracks as well as slick surfaces.

      • Mikki Senkarik Says:

        We encountered the same problem on Jack’s easel. So off we went to Home Depot to get 2 C-Clamps and a 1×4 board. We just clamped the board to the upright of his easel and PRESTO! He could hook his mahl stick over the board. Hope this helps. Mikki

  6. Lee Morrison Says:

    I made a Mahl stick too. I used a dowel and screwed a large round drawer pull into the end. The drawer pull is shaped like a mushroom with a flat bottom. That rides well on the top of the canvas. But, the sides are a different story. It slips. I added some rubber plumber’s O rings. Just slid them up the dowel. They are tight so I can move them if need be. That has reduced the slipping but not eliminated it. Needs more rubber. And I need to keep the rubber clean. When it’s wet with oil paint, I start thinking of my old skating days. Slick!
    I like the cane idea. That’s my next mahl stick. And I’ll tack a strip of rubber to the crook of it.
    Thanks for the ideas. Thanks to Mikki and Jack. I’ve read 3 of the books and follow the daily painting postings. They help me stay on track. I am more productive and more satisfied with my work because I’m using a number of your tips. Good stuff. Much appreciated.

  7. Salvatore D'Angelo Says:

    If you want a cheap Mahl Stick in this tutorial I explained how I built my own Mahl Stick:
    It cost less than 10 Euro.

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