Introduction: Willow Twig Furniture
How to make a little willow table. Process can be extended to create all kinds of furniture. I make part of my living from doing this (though not this particular item anymore, so feel free to copy it)
Step 1: Cut Some Wood
Willow is everywhere. It grows anywhere there is water and no one to hack it out. It's like the American Bamboo, I've learned to make all kinds of stuff out of it.
For this little table, cut
4 legs, 18" long, thumb thick or larger
4 bottom sides, 14" long, thumb thick or smaller
4 top sides, 12" long, finger-to-thumb thickness
a bunch of twigs size: pinky-to-pencil
Step 2: Tools and Fasteners
Drill, Preferably cordless, with keyless chuck.
knife (I REALLY like the cheap Sweedish carving knives like the one shown here. Get them from Woodcraft Supply for about $8)
1 1/2" ring-shank nails (you can use normal nails, but use these if you want your project to last a LONG time)
1 1/2" pannel brads (like a little nail, but coated with paint, and it has little rings around the shank)
1" pannel brads.
you can find all these at Home Despot
Step 3: Building Frames
Assemble the table by making two flat frames from your legs and side pieces.
The thing to remember about working with willow:
YOU MUST PRE-DRILL EVERY HOLE no matter how small. I use an 1/8" bit for the screws, and a 1/16" for the small nails. The reason you have to drill holes for everything is that willow is harvested green, then it dries after you assemble it. We all know that wood shrinks when it dries, so as it shrinks, it squeezes on your screw, and cracks. Engineers call that "Failure".
Start by drilling pilot holes in the ends of all the side pieces.
Drill holes in the legs, 2" from the top and 14" from the top.
The picture shows nails in the screw holes, that's just so you can see them.
Screw through the legs into the sides.
Remember: the top side piece is 12" long, and the bottom is 14", so it's not going to be square when you are done. Don't worry about angles, just flex it and rack the wood until it looks right.
Step 4: Make It 3D
Once you are finished with the two frames, it's time to add the remaining four side pieces.
Drill holes through the legs at a right angle to the first holes. Locate this set of holes 2.5" from the top, and 13.5" from the top.
Screw through the legs into the side pieces. It should look about like this:
Step 5: Finished Frame
Do the same thing to the second frame, and screw it onto the assembly from step four. By the way, you should use a 3" screw any time you are screwing into the end-grain of a stick. End grain is soft, and it needs all the holding power it can get.
Now you have something that's starting to look like a table! Set it on a flat surface and rack it and twist it until it sits level. You may have to remove some screws, redrill, and reattach pieces to get it right. That's why you use mechanical fasteners.
Strangely, I rarely use a square to get this thing right. Frankly, if you eyeball it, you will be close enough.
(Dovetail purists beware!)
Step 6: Braces:
Cut some pieces of willow about "thumb-to-finger" sized, about 6 to 8 inches long. Trim their ends to 45 deg angles so they become diagonal braces. This brings up the Second Rule of Willow Furniture:
EVERYTHING MUST BE BRACED WITH A DIAGONAL
Willow is flexible, and the joints you put in it are flexable too. A strong structure has to have diagonal braces on evey side to be stable.
Locate the braces reaching from the bottom side pieces, down into the legs. Predrill and nail with ring-shank nails. These baby's hold TIGHT! If you ever want to remove them, you will have to split the wood out around them, because they will NOT come out without breaking something.
Step 7: Twig Tops and Shelf
Take all those twigs that you cut and lay them out on the bench.
Starting in the middle, lay them out on the top to form a table-surface.
YES, you do need to predrill each one, even for those itty-bitty pannel nails. The only exception is if you are using an air-brad nailer, then you don't have to predrill.
Nail the twig down, snip it to length, and do the next one. I like to use about 7 twigs across the top and another 7 across the bottom shelf. The bottom shelf should run at 90 deg to the top. It makes the table stronger.
Step 8: Finished!
This little table is great as an end table, a night stand, lamp stand, or plant stand. It is strong enough to support my weight, and you could use it as a stool if you add larger diagonal braces.
You can use this technique to create all sorts of willow furniture. Everything pictured was created with these guidelines:
Diagonal Bracing on every surface
assemble two surfaces as frames, then connect them with sides. Add diagonals and twig surfaces.