Lantern willow soaking times & tips

15 October 2021

Lantern willow needs to be soaked prior to use.

Soaking isn’t an exact science. It can be tricky to get right as there are so many variables to take into consideration. The weather, water temperature and the length of time that the willow has been stored will all play a part. That being said, follow these simple guidelines and you should have soaking success!

Top tips for soaking lantern willow

Lantern willow takes longer to soak on a cold winter’s day than on a hot summer one. The times below are a guide to soaking lantern willow in clean cold water on an ‘average’ day. Using warm or hot water will shorten the soaking time. If your willow has been stored for a long period it will require more soaking.

Soaking & mellowing times

Length of rods  Lantern willow soaking times Lantern willow mellowing times
4ft 3 hours 24 – 48 hours
5ft 3.5 hours 24 – 48 hours
6ft 4 hours At least 48 hours
7ft Half a day At least 48 hours

If the lantern rods start to crack as they are being used, they need to mellow for longer.

How to soak lantern willow

A soaking bag has the advantage of being easy to empty and the lantern willow can mellow in the bag.  Our heavy duty soaking bags are available in a range of lengths and widths and are supplied with simple instructions.

Alternatively, lantern willow can be soaked in a bath, trough or old paddling pool. Always ensure that the water is clean! The willow will need to be weighed down to keep it submerged. Be wary of soaking willow in your finest bathtub. You may end up with tannin stains.

Once soaked, drain the water and leave the willow to mellow in the soaking bag. Hessian, a damp blanket or plastic sheeting do the job equally well. Mellowing is a really important part of the soaking process as it enables the inner parts of the rod to become fully pliable.


When working with willow, do keep it covered to prevent the rods from drying out. Leftover willow can be kept covered for a day or two, Do not keep it in a warm room as the willow will quickly go mouldy.

Any leftover rods will need to be dried thoroughly before being stored.

Things to watch our for

Keep lantern willow damp for too long (especially in warm weather) and the willow will turn greasy and/or mouldy. The rods may also squash if used. At this stage, it may be possible to thoroughly dry the willow out before re-soaking. The mould will need to be wiped off first.

Repeated re-soaking will cause the willow rod to lose its colour. If a rod starts to get black spots, it is no longer usable. However, if only a few rods are affected, pull these out to stop the mould spreading. The rest of the rods should still be useable.

If rods split while being worked this could be down to oversoaking or the rods not being given enough time to mellow. To remedy this, stand the rods up to drain and when touch dry put them back under a damp blanket/hessian/plastic sheeting to mellow.

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