A pace stick usually consists of two pieces of wood, hinged at the top, and tapering towards the bottom, very similar to large wooden drafting compasses used on school blackboards. They are usually shod and fitted with highly-polished brass. They can open so that the tips separate at fixed distances, corresponding to various lengths of marching pace, such as "double march", "quick march", "step short", etc. When opened to the correct pace length, the pace stick can be held alongside the holder's body by the hinge, with one leg of the stick vertical to the ground, and the other leg pointing forward. By twirling the stick while marching, the stick can be made to "walk" alongside its holder at the proper pace.
Otherwise, while on parade or when marching, it is normally carried tucked tightly under the left arm and parallel to the ground, with the left hand grasping the stick near the top.
The pace stick is usually permitted to be carried off the drill square by the Regimental Sergeant Major alone; however, at a particular regiment's discretion, other sergeants-major may carry a pace stick.
The origin of the pace stick is claimed by the Royal Regiment of Artillery, who used a "gunner's stick" to measure the distance between guns in the field. It appeared more like a walking stick, with an ivory or silver knob on the end, and, unlike the modern pace stick, could only be opened a fixed distance. It was quickly adopted and adapted by the Infantry as an aid to drill.
A similar stick is the drill cane or regimental stick. This is a shorter cane, usually fitted on one end by a shell casing and on the other by the forward part of a shell, complete with the bullet; these are often chromed, or left in their natural brass, but highly polished. In the Canadian Forces, and Australian Army, the round usually used is a .50 calibre round. They are carried on parade solely as an indicator of rank and authority by senior non-commissioned officers and warrant officers, and their use is generally governed (or restricted altogether) by the RSM.
Pace sticks can be opened to specific distances, which each measure specific things:
|12"||Distance between heels when at ease, and regulation side pace|
|21"||Distance between ranks when stood in closed order|
|24"||Distance between files, also width of one 'man' when leaving a blank file|
|27"||Stepping short, inside rank when wheeling|
|30"||Regulation pace for quick and slow march|
|33"||Stepping out, outside rank when wheeling|
|40"||Regulation pace for double time|