Steamed willow soaking times & tips

12 October 2021

Although steamed willow has already been processed in water to turn the skin a lovely chocolate brown/black, it still requires soaking before use. Forward planning is essential as the soaking time can be up to 1 day per foot of rod length.

How to soak steamed willow

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 the guidelines below and you should enjoy soaking success!

Tips for soaking steamed willow

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 steamed willow in clean cold water on an ‘average’ day. Using warm or hot water will shorten the soaking time. If your steamed willow has been stored for a long period it will require more soaking.

Steamed willow soaking times

Length of rods  Steamed willow soaking times
3ft 2-3 days
4ft 3-4 days
5ft 4-5 days
6ft 5-6 days
7ft 6-7 days
8ft 7-8 days
9ft 8-9 days

What to soak steamed willow in?

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

Alternatively, 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 overnight in the soaking bag. Hessian, a damp blanket or plastic sheet will 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 steamed willow can be kept covered for up to a week and still used. After this time, the willow will need to be dried thoroughly before being stored.

Things to watch out for

Keep steamed willow damp for too long (especially in warm weather) and the willow will turn greasy and/or mouldy and the bark will shred. 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.

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