Cleaving White Willow

In the U.S., it’s not easy to buy white willow (willow that has had the bark peeled off). You just about have to grow it and peel it yourself. This spring I’m doing just that for future needs. But for an upcoming project this spring, it’s been a scramble to find enough white willow. Joanna Schanz gave us some she had ordered from (I think) Belgium. And I was able to purchase some from Dunbar Gardens. After a day of soaking and mellowing overnight wrapped in a damp beach towel, the cleave went through that U.S.-grown willow like a hot knife through butter.

white willow split with a cleave.

A cleave is that egg-shaped wooden object in the photo. To use it, you make a couple of starter cuts in the butt end of a willow rod, then slip the sharp edges of the cleave into the starter cuts. Then you guide the rod toward the cleave, which acts sort of like a woodsplitting wedge. My cleave splits a rod into three pieces.

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This purchased willow gave me a better idea of what size willow I would want for this project, and how it should feel when splitting. And that was kind of a relief.

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Before cleaving the purchased material, I split some homegrown monster willow I snitched from Bill’s rustic furniture stash. That was much larger in diameter, much harder on my hands to cleave, and many of the rods did not split evenly.

So now that I have an ideal in mind based on the Dunbar Gardens willow, I’m peeling some of my homegrown willow. More on that next time.

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin