White willow soaking times & tips

12 October 2021

White willow needs to be soaked prior to use. Soaking and mellowing times will vary depending on the variety of willow. Most of the year, the variety stocked at Musgrove Willows is Black Maul. However, at certain times Austrian Grey may be available. The variety will be clearly marked on the website.

How to soak white 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!

Soaking tips

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 white willow in clean cold water on an ‘average’ day. Using warm or hot water will shorten the soaking time. If the willow has been stored for a long period it will take longer to soak.

Soaking and mellowing times for white willow

Length of rods  Black Maul (white) soaking times Austrian Grey (white) soaking times Black Maul (white) mellowing time Austrian Grey (white) mellowing time
3ft 1 hour 2 – 2.5 hours  1 day 2 days
4ft 1 hour 2.5 – 3 hours  1 day 2 days
5ft 1.5 hours 3 – 3.5 hours  1 day 2 days
6ft 1.5 hours 3.5 – 4 hours  1 day 2 days
7ft 2 hours 4 – 4.5 hours  1 day 2 days
8ft 2 – 2.5 hours 4.5 – 5 hours  1 day 2 days
9ft 2 – 2.5 hours 5 – 5.5 hours  1 day 2 days

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 in the soaking bag. Please be aware of the different mellowing times for Black Maul and Austrian Grey. 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.

With Austrian Grey, after 2 days the willow will look dry. Don’t worry, the rods will have plenty of flexibility and bend well.

When mellowing, keep the bundles tightly tied and lay them down on the floor. Be sure to keep the willow out of direct sunlight and wind.

White willow leftovers

When working with white willow, do keep it covered to prevent the rods from drying out. Leftover white willow can be kept covered for a day or two and still used. After this time, the willow will need to be dried thoroughly before being stored. Leaving white willow in direct sunlight will yellow the colour. Always store white willow in a cool, dark ventilated room.

Things to watch out for

Keep white 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 before re-soaking. The mould will need to be wiped off first.

If the rods keep snapping, mellow for longer. The snapping is an indication that the rod is too wet.

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.


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