1/4 " birch dowel rods (available at craftparts.com, caseyswood.com, dowelsondemand.com, saunders brothers, or your local Woodcraft store.) cut into 10-12" lengths (these make size 10 needles). A word about what kind of wood to buy: you can get the cheaper precut packages of dowel rods, or hardwood dowels at craft stores BUT this type of wood has a tendency to split and does not wear as well as birch. One of the qualities of birch is that it burnishes with repeated use, so the more you use it, the smoother it becomes.
Sandpaper in 150 grit, 220 grit, and 400 or finer grit.
Balls for tops with 1/4" holes, or candle cups with 1/4" hole from the craft store, or salvaged wood beads that fit.
Beeswax (I use modeling beeswax because of its softness. Alternatively, use a scented natural beeswax wood polish)
First, "sculpt" the tops of the needles by sanding them on concrete, stones, or bricks outside. You can also do this with the coarsest sandpaper. I tell students to make the point look like a gnome's hat all the way around. They tend to look like a house roof at first. I have them hold the dowel "birds on a wire": thumb underneath, all other fingers perched on top. Then they can wrap their fingers around the top (not like holding a pencil; thumb and forefinger point the same way...like you are pointing at something only pointer rests on the top of the dowel) and the proceed to sand, taking care to turn the dowel as they go.
Once the point has been fashioned this way, then the needle can be sanded. Wrap the sandpaper around the tip and twist it. Start with the coarse sandpaper first, graduate to the finest (the lower the number, the coarser the sandpaper) and sand until the needles are as smooth as a baby's bottom (determined by running the side of the needle along your cheek) 400 grit sandpaper is the best thing since sliced bread and gives a nice smooth finish.
Next, coat the needle with beeswax (or polish) by rubbing a small piece of wax all over as if crayoning a picture. Wax should be visible on the needle.
Once that is done, take wool felt and working in small areas of the needle shaft, start to rub the wax in. Rubbing quickly in a small area causes the wax to "melt in". Rub until the felt is waxy and all the lint is gone. You should have a nice, shiny pair of knitting needles. Smell them.
Glue your chosen tops on the needles. Color the tops with beeswax crayons and burnish (polish) with your waxy felt. If you are using unfinished wood for your tops, you can use watercolors or even silk dyes to color them. Allow these to dry before burnishing. It is easier to burnish them after the tops are securely glued to the needle.
*give the sawdust back to the Earth*
*something to try*if you want to experiment with different types of wood, ask a local woodworker to educate you on the qualities of each wood.