I’ve often likened my diamond willow hobby to Easter and Christmas. Searching for the willow is like an Easter egg hunt, and peeling it is like opening a Christmas gift. You just don’t know what will be inside!
I like to peel my willow right away after I’ve harvested it, but there’s no harm in letting it sit for a few days. The easiest peeling is in the spring and early summer when the sap is running in the trees. I’ve peeled sticks with my bare hands at that time because the bark strips off so easily. The rest of the year is a little harder, but still pretty quick.
My favorite peeling tool for smaller willow is a Flexcut 1″ Draw Knife. It can be held in one hand, while the other hand holds the stick. I like to place the bottom of the stick on the floor against a wall while I do this. Before I discovered my 1″ draw knife on Amazon, I just used a jack knife for my peeling and it worked quite well. It only takes about 10 minutes to peel a walking stick.
By the way, the dried willow bark makes great fire starter if you have a wood stove! I’ve accumulated bushels and bushels of bark and I’ve had some pretty impressive bonfires, too.
Be careful that you don’t dig too deeply with your knife. You want to remove the bark, but you don’t want to dig into the sapwood. The difficulty level of peeling can vary depending on the wood. Young, live wood harvested while the sap is running is very easy to peel. Older, partially dead wood can be really beautiful inside, but the bark and cambium layer can be a challenge to remove. Often the sapwood will be beautifully stained on these trees, so it’s worth the effort!
When I’m done peeling, I like to label my sticks with masking tape. I put the date harvested and the weight on the label. That way I know how long the stick has been drying and I can tell how much weight it has lost in the process. A branch will loose a third to half its weight by the time it’s dry. The weight is mostly just for my own curiosity, but I would definitely recommend that you record the date so you can ensure that you dry the stick adequately.
The stick is now peeled, and here comes the hard part. You have to wait for it to dry. Bummer!
The next step: Dry It: Much Patience Required!