Willow tops soaking times & tips

22 November 2021

How to soak willow tops

Willow tops usually need to be soaked prior to use. Semi-dry tops may not. If soaking is required, the willow tops should be left to mellow overnight. Timings will vary depending on the type of willow. Willow tops are extremely flexible when soaked and mellowed correctly.

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 guidelines and you should enjoy soaking success!

Tips for soaking willow tops

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 willow tops 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.

Type of willow tops Soaking time
Buff 0.5 – 1.5 hours
Multi coloured bundle 1 – 1.5 hours
Single colour  1.5 – 2 hours
Steamed 1 – 1.5 hours
White 1 – 1.5 hours

What to soak 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 simple 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 tops to mellow overnight in the soaking bag. Hessian, a damp blanket or plastic sheet 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. The type of willow will determine how long it will remain useable. It is possible to reuse leftover tops by thoroughly drying them. They can then be stored.

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