View Full Version : Curly willow tray

Richard M. Wolfe
06-01-2008, 9:32 AM
Well, I’ve run off at the mouth here quite a bit and realized I’ve not shown any of my work so thought I’d put this in as an example of a wood that’s not seen very often. Very common tree but people ignore it….and I would too, up till now. The photography from a year ago leaves something to be desired and I don’t know as I’ve gotten much better. This is a composite picture and the top is closer to the true color. And fine woodworking it’s not. OK, so much for the disclaimers…….

Over a year ago my woodworking partner came home with a big willow – I think it’s a black willow. I thought, now what are you going to do with ‘that thing’. Well, it’s here, so might as well cut it. The main trunk was about ten feet long and about 34” across the butt. It was green and weighed what you might expect green willow to weigh….seemingly 5% wood and 95% water. After taking a few ‘shaping cuts’ with chainsaws to let the mill head pass started slicing it into boards. First thing I noticed was the heartwood is a really pretty red color. The sapwood is thick so to get any amount of heartwood you need a big tree. (One edge of the tray has some sapwood.) Then we started looking closer. It turned out a considerable portion of the tree was curly. And not just ‘march in a line’ curly but twisted and really convoluted on some of it. We switched gears at that point and started cutting to hopefully get pieces to maximize the curl. As I recall the tree yielded about 500 ft of stock. We’ve got a bunch of bowl blanks and thick stuff as well as boards. One thing that’s good about willow is once it dried it’s very lightweight and easy to handle. Also due to interlocking grain it had very little checking or cracking. And a very odd thing about the wood, at least in this tree - we cut the boards to 1 ¼” to allow for a lot of shrinkage in drying. The wood dried to….about 1 ¼”. It lost the water but kept the same size.
Since the boards were pretty thick I decided to take one and make a tray from it. Since the wood is pretty soft (maybe a bit harder than white pine) what you see is a result of various sanders (angle grinder, ROS, etc) on the inside and a little routing on the outside. If I do another I’ll cut a template and route the inside…..it’s odd how ¾” sanded off 2 sq.ft of wood can yield enough dust to fill a 55 gal drum. Once I got the final shape I started finish sanding, and sanding, and sanding, and…..sigh, more sanding. And I don’t think I did enough finish sanding on part…that’s willow – really fuzzy. The finish is simply multiple coats of gloss wiping varnish; every day for about a week I’d put on a coat when I came home from work. I would have used more but it seemed to be losing some clarity. I’ll try something different like shellac next time. Thanks for looking. Oh yeah, trivia question: What is the traditional use for willow?

Dewey Torres
06-01-2008, 10:50 AM
Very well done! I love the way the finish turned out.

Clara Koss
06-01-2008, 11:08 AM
thanks for the post with all the info... really interesting stuff... the tray is really pretty and i can't wait to see more of the curly work!!!!:o

John Thompson
06-01-2008, 12:48 PM
You have been a busy beaver indeed.. or you just waited to post all three projects to over-whelm us. :) But.. the grain on that willow pretty much over-whelmed me upon first glance and I can't stop staring at it. It's simple attraction stands alone very well.. very well indeed.


Jay Jolliffe
06-01-2008, 5:54 PM
. : What is the traditional use for willow? Basketry or wattle fences.....It's also used in some herbal medicines as a pain reliever. Substitute for aspirin

Ryan Sparreboom
06-01-2008, 7:04 PM
That is really nice figure on that wood. I have some 55 yr old Birch boards that have some flame figure similar to that. Haven't used them yet.
Great work!
Willow bark and leaves was originally used as an herbal medicine, described as the original asprin. Here's an article I found about it.

Willow sticks were also used to whip people back in the less civilized days.

Do I win a prize?

Richard M. Wolfe
06-01-2008, 7:40 PM
Well, I guess I better give an answer for the "Trivia Question of the Day". :)

I was thinking about what I had read as a use of the wood. I hadn't thought about things like wicker furniture, etc. And had I been thinking I would have thought about the "aspirin" thing. Way back when I did a paper on the genesis of aspirin in a chemistry class on natural products and knew that salicylic acid was first isolated from willow.....it just didn't cross my mind.

The traditional use for willow is (was) in the making of artificial limbs. The wood is light and soft enough to be worked easily but hard enough to withstand at least some wear and with a tightly interlocked grain is very hard to split.

Peter Stahl
06-01-2008, 7:53 PM

Awsome looking tray! Great score on the wood. you never know whats inside do you.

Jim Becker
06-01-2008, 9:31 PM
Curly is an understatement! Wow. Very nice tray.

Jeffrey Makiel
06-02-2008, 8:53 AM
The grain looks just like a burning flame. Very neat.
-Jeff :)