Making a woven willow hurdle

This article, originally published by Musgrove Willows describes how to make a woven hurdle from willow.

About willow hurdles

Making willow hurdles is a great way to create borders, fencing, roundhouses, wattle panels, vegetable plots and give an authentic, rustic look to the garden. The fabrication of fencing hurdles for willow is an ancient craft and has been used in Britain and many other countries for centuries. Originally used as a movable fencing to partition land in open field farming systems, willow fencing hurdles are effective and attractive in any garden.

It is a traditional woven willow hurdle using treated softwood for the uprights and capping along the bottom and top of the panel. The main structure is woven using 7 and 8-foot willow ‘withies’ which are selectively chosen for their quality and strength. This design offers robust fencing whilst retaining its natural charm. For a very undulating garden or a fence that requires gentle curves it is sometimes beneficial to build the fence on site.

6X6 ribbon willow hurdle panel

6X6 ribbon willow hurdle panel

Preparation of material

Hurdles are made using willow when it is partially fresh and green. Using freshly harvested willow is not advisable as it will become very loose and have unsightly gaps in the finished product.

When using fully seasoned material, which has been harvested at least 6-12 months ago you will need to soak it for at least a week in the summer and up to two weeks in the winter.

When soaking willow, use a large soaking tank or a pond, if you are lucky to have one near. Tanks are best kept covered, to limit algae build-up. Once you have soaked the willow or the acquired time, hose it down, let it stand to drain for an hour, then wrap the willow in a damp blanket or similar or a day to let it mellow.

Tools needed

  • A wooden jig – it needs to the same length as the hurdles – for instance, a 3ft wide hurdle has holes for eight upright sticks. The wooden jig fits into a Workmate, which is stable and enables you to work at a comfortable height
  • Loppers or bow saw
  • Fingerless gloves or protection
  • Secateurs
  • A draw knife to sharpen the points on the uprights (or you can do this with a knife)
  • A basket makers’ rapping iron (a flat piece of metal can be used)
  • Measuring sticks (one to check with the width and one for the height)

Guide on how to make willow hurdles

  1. Firstly, select eight sticks for the upright willows. Two need to be slightly thicker and these will go on the ends. Use a draw-knife and shave horse to point the ends.
  2. Insert the eight sticks into the holes on the wooden jig. You may need to tap them in with the rapping iron to make sure they are secure and level.
  3. Take one weaver (which should be long enough to cover two and quarter widths of the hurdle). The thick end of the willow rod, is called the ‘butt’ and the thin end is called the ‘tip’. Lay this horizontally in front of the jig with the butt end on the right hand side. The ‘butt’ should stick out beyond the end upright, so that when the end upright, it will weave in front of and behind the next two upright sticks.
  4. Take the thinner end of the weaver, behind the next upright stick so that it is coming out of the gap between the second and third uprights from the left-hand side of the hurdle. Now take the thicker part of the weaver and weave this in front of the second upright and behind the third.
  5. Next take the weaver that is on your left and weave this in front of and behind the second two uprights. Keep repeating this weaving process. You will notice that you will always be picking up and weaving with the willow that is on the left, until you reach the right-hand of the hurdle. This weave is called ‘pairing’ and this sequence will give a strong base to the bottom of your hurdle.
  6. Once you have finished this process, you will find the tip end will be short, so leave this at the end and trim off later. The butt end will now bend around the right-hand end stick and weave in front of the second upright and behind the third. NOTE: There is a danger that the willow will split when you do this, so try to twist it as it bends around the end.
  7. Repeat step 3 to 6, but this time on step 3, lay the weaver with the butt end to your left hand- side and work in the opposite direction. By doing this, it will ensure that the base of the hurdle is securely woven.
  8. At this point make sure the upright sticks are parallel and the top of the end uprights are the same measurements as they are at the bottom.
  9. At this stage, only use one weaver at a time. Lay the next weaver behind the left-hand end stick and weave in front of the second upright in and behind the third stick. Continue this sequence until you reach the right-hand side of the hurdle, then bend the weaver around the end of the stick. The next weaver will be placed with the butt end in front of the left-hand stick (opposite to the first). Repeat step 9, with the next two weavers but this time start on the right-hand.
  10. To ensure that the hurdle progresses evenly, continue to add more weavers repeating steps 9 and 10. It is best to use a rapping iron to compress the weaving. The correct way of achieving this is by holding down the weave with your left hand in the adjacent gap to stop it springing up when you rap down the willow. Use the width measurement to ensure that the width of the upright sticks is even and consistent. Continue weaving until you have the desired height.
  11. To finish off the top of the hurdle, use the pairing method that has been explained in step 5. Select a rod that is long enough to cover two widths of the hurdle, plus a little extra to thread away. At the left-hand end, bend the weaver around the end stick so that you have two weavers to alternate with pairing across the top (See step 3).
  12. The thin tip end will need to wrap around the right-handed stick twice and then woven back into the hurdle.
  13. Using the rapping iron, level off if necessary to make the height of the hurdle consistent. Trim the butt ends or thin tip ends with secateurs.
  14. Lastly remove the jig from the hurdle by giving it a few hard taps with the rapping iron on either end to loosen it.

Thanks to Ellen Musgrove of Musgrove Willows.

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