So you’ve found willow and you want to find pieces that are useful for your purposes. We are looking for pieces that have those beautiful, colorful, curvaceous diamonds. They usually aren’t too hard to spot. Often a bush that has one diamond will have more.
You must examine a tree carefully so you don’t miss any treasures. You can’t look from a distance. You need to get up close and personal. Look at the bush closely from all sides. Because willow is often covered with lichens and vertical fissures, the diamonds may not immediately stand out. Some diamonds are not deep, but more flat, but they can still be detected. And gladly, there are often hidden surprises under the bark that you don’t notice when you harvest.
Diamonds will often have dead branches in the middle. The tree “grows away” from the canker, causing a widening around the diamond. This is part of what creates the beauty of the diamond willow.
When you find diamonds in a tree, then you must find a piece of wood that meets your needs. It’s often frustrating trying to find a piece that is long and straight enough to make a walking stick. The best branches are those that are old and diseased from the fungus, and this often causes them to grow crooked.
Don’t overlook those small pieces though! They can be useful for other things like candle holders, bird feeders, and more.
What about live versus dead wood? It’s always safe to harvest live wood. If you like the classic diamond willow look with cream-colored sapwood and reddish-maroon diamonds, live willow is the way to go. But don’t overlook downed, dead, or dying willow. Some of the most diamond-filled willow you see will be dead. The fungus has gotten the best of the plant and it has succombed. But if it’s not TOO dead, it may still be strong enough to be used. Dead or dying willow will often be dark, stained, grainy, and full of diamonds. It has the most character of any willow I’ve encountered. I like to call it “Zombie Willow,” because it’s dead, but not completely dead. It’s the undead willow. And it makes the best sticks I’ve seen if it hasn’t started to decay.
So check out that zombie willow. Be sure it’s strong. If you can crack it, then don’t bother with it. But if it’s sturdy and straight enough and diamondy, bring it home and see what surprises it holds under the bark!
I use a small folding camp saw to cut my sticks. I keep the blade sharp – I’ve gone through several blades that break off or get dull. I like to wear gloves to avoid nicking my hands, and a hat is a good idea to keep bark and twigs out of your hair. Also, sawdust in the eyes is a common problem when cutting a stick up high, so glasses are helpful.
One last piece of advice. If possible, cut the stick a few inches longer than you need it to be on both ends. Some sticks will check (crack) on the ends and it’s best if this doesn’t happen in the middle of a beautiful diamond.
So you’ve harvested some willow. It’s time to take it home and move on to the next step.
Next step: Peel It: Uncover the Beauty Inside