Creating a Willow Garden Tower

Creating a Willow Garden Tower

Part of Ep. 1104 Garden Gifts

Learn  to make a willow garden tower with John Schakel from Spring Green during the Woodlanders Gathering in Mineral Point.

Premiere date: Nov 19, 2003

Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Every July, something extraordinary happens in Mineral Point. People gather together to learn how to create from nature. It's called a Woodlanders Gathering. Participants learn how to make pine needle baskets, wooden slab benches and rustic furniture. One of the most colorful and popular classes is making a willow garden tower, taught by Spring Green willow worker, John Schakel. John loves to work with willow because it's free, flexible and extremely strong.

Put another 20 pieces on here, and you'll be able to throw it out of a truck. I guarantee it will bounce like a basketball and will not break. I'm going to try to go for the Eiffel Tower look. And I've kind of arbitrarily chosen something for the height of this that I think will stand. I'll put this in here. And I'll try to put it dead center of the stick so that I can roll this stick and get it where I want it. Like I said, this is totally arbitrary. You can pick whatever however wide you want your tower base to be. And however tall you want the tower to be. Okay, now I can roll this, like this about two-thirds of the way.

This is arbitrary, too. You might want your top to come completely together the look of the Eiffel Tower really is together. Or, no taller than I made this, about five feet tall you may want to put something flat on top of it so you can actually set something on top of it. You might have a pot or something you might want-- or a sculpture, or something, you might want to put on top of your garden tower.

I use hole nails, ring shanks, because they really hold. And when they dry out, a willow will-- If you use two to a joint, if you're making furniture, and I make mostly furniture. If you use two to a joint, and you put them-- You're going to use two joints and put them in on an angle. When that willow dries out, you can't pull that apart with a crow bar. I'm very serious. I've watched one of my chairs bounce 20 feet in the air without breaking. Willow, the tensile strength is so remarkable. They won't come apart.

The other thing about willow is that it's soft. So, as opposed to struggling and struggling with a board, you can just stick it in with your hand. You don't even have to be strong. Stick the nail right in there.

We'll get it anyhow... So, now our cute trick is, all by myself, keep that standing keep that standing. We want something on the inside of each of these because we're going to put shelving in here. Okay? So, I have to have something to nail to. So, I want this-- This is the trick about nailing up on here, if I don't have my-- How do I want to say this? I might have to cheat because even though I made those measurements the same, if this isn't exactly right all of a sudden, I've got one side that's lower. So, maybe I'll use a thick end, if this end's setting lower. But of course, where we're working right now this is going to be a beautiful challenge. I have no idea how I'm going to get this to stand straight. I really don't. Assume this is going to be a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the leaning Tower of Pisa, right? That's the way we're going to do this. I'll make a little mark with my fingernail, and another mark with my fingernail then I can start my nails. Are you catching on, here?

Okay, we'll have all kinds of fun with it. And with one nail in each joint, you've got all that room to make it. Then, wherever you're going to set it-- You could set this in a crooked place like we have it right now, in you're garden... And by "cheating" and using thick end to thin end, or whatever, you can make the thing sit however you want it to sit. You can't do that with a piece of dead wood. If this is sitting down hill, I've got to block it up. All of a sudden, we've got stability.

Oh, a major thing about willow that I certainly wanted to bring up, willow will split much easier when it's dry when you're nailing it than it does when it's green. But when you're using frame wood, you need to have at least two inches between a nail, when you start it-- at least two inches between a nail and the end of your willow so it doesn't split out. With just the few pieces that I have on it... I already have a tremendous amount of strength. You can make something fairly mediocre to you look nice with your trim touches.

(bending a piece of willow) You can see where it's going to break right now, right? About there? (continues bending same piece into an arc) About there, about there...? It's marvelous stuff, man.

And then, should we start adding pretty pieces? Good, good.


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