Weaving a Willow Fence

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Weaving a Willow Fence
Peter Wood shows how to weave a continuous willow fence

Peter Wood shows how to weave a continuous willow fence

What you will need
• Sweet chestnut posts and uprights
• Hurdling willow
• Sledge hammer
• Secateurs
• Loppers
• Gloves

One part of my woodworking business that I really enjoy is working in schools with children, enabling them to have hands-on practical experiences of different aspects of craft. The problem is that schools have to justify the expense of an artist coming into a school by having the largest possible number of children included in each activity, which is very difficult to achieve when you’re running pole lathe turning sessions. A great way to achieve this is to have the children weave with willow (salix spp.), either individually or as I will show you in this article, by weaving a continuous willow fence. It creates a good looking and permanent structure in the school; children of all ages enjoy the weaving and results can be seen very quickly. The example I’m going to show you how to weave is 18m in length and varies in height – between 1.5m and 1.2m. You can, of course, weave any length and height of fence and form an attractive screen in a garden. I’ve chosen sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) uprights for their durability (50–75mm diameter posts and cleft pales) and two varieties of willow, brown (Salix viminalis) for most of the weaving and flanders red (Salix alba vitellina x fragilis) which will add some colour into the fence.The willow I’m using is specifically grown for hurdle making and can be ordered and delivered easily.
In the winter, when the willow is being cut you can buy ‘green’ willow; this is freshly cut so still full of sap and can be used straight away. During the summer the willow will have been dried out to store, so will need soaking for roughly seven days before becoming pliable enough for weaving. The willow is sold by the ‘wad’ or by the kilo and three ‘wads’ should be more than enough for a 1.8 x 1.8m section.

1. First, set out your sweet chestnut uprights. The larger posts are set at 1.8m spacing, so you will need to knock the larger posts into the ground at least 300mm, or alternatively use concrete if more strength is needed. For this fence I’ve evenly spaced seven chestnut pales between the posts; you could add an extra pale in-between the posts if wanted, which will give more tension in the weave

2. Create curves along the length of the fence to add strength. In my example the curves also complement the landscape. Avoid weaving perfectly straight fences, as they suffer more wind damage over time

3. Now we weave in the willow. Weave five rods of willow for each upright; you can vary this depending on the ‘look’ of you fence (but I’ll now refer to these five rods just as rods). The diameter of each rod will vary,
so try to avoid using five large or small rods in one weave. To start, weave the rods through an upright just once, with the large end (butt end) braced against an upright leaving most of the length unwoven; start from the seventh upright from the end post. Each set of rods should start on the same side of the fence. When this is laid out pick your initial set of rods and weave the rest of its length above the other willow you added. Repeat this with each subsequent set of rods

4–5. Once you reach the end post, wrap the excess willow tightly around the post and carry the weave back along the fence

5.

6. The final two sets of rods will pull up from the base and ‘lock’ the weave in

7. Once you’ve completed the first seven rod sets, start weaving the main fence adding one set of rods at a time. Just remember to start with the butt (thick) end, start at the next upright each time and weave the whole length before starting the next bundle

8. To weave the willow, hold the set of rods in place and tightly to the weave with one hand, then hold the section to be woven with the other hand

9. Lift up the willow and weave the through the next upright, then move your hands along to the next upright. You’ll get into a rhythm and it is very satisfying seeing the progress. Try to not leave too much of the butt end past the upright as it will be trimmed flush to the upright when you tidy the fence when you finish

10. Halfway through, I’ve changed willow variety, adding the flanders to give some colour. As you are weaving remember to keep knocking the weave tight; this compression of the weave strengthens the fence. You can create ‘waves’ within the weave by adding extra sets of rods where you want the weave to rise. Remember, if you add extra sets of rods on the same upright, start on the alternate side.When you’re happy with the height and flow of your fence, run a different weave across the top to stop the willow unravelling above the uprights. You’ll see a similar weave on newly laid hedges

11. It takes a few tries to get into the swing of this weave but persevere! In this picture you can see three uprights. You’re weaving with two sets of rods; you can see them just before the first upright (no.1) and between the first and second upright (no.2). Lift no.1 up and weave it over the top of no.2, around the back of the second upright and then through the second and third upright. Repeat this along the length of the fence. You want this to be a continuous run of willow, so keep adding more willow to each bundle. Do this by pushing three rods into no. 1 bundle (under no.2) before you weave it over the top of no.2. Perform this at each upright

12. When you come to the very end of your fence, secure the final ends of the weave. There should be the two sets of rods to tie in, twist each set of rods around the final upright and weave back under your binding weave. I’ve raised this up in the picture to make this weaving easier, then knock the weave down locking it into place

13. Move back along the fence knocking the willow down to tighten the weave, then work your way along the fence cutting the willow ends flush at each upright using secateurs and loppers. Finally, saw the uprights just proud of the top to create a tidy fence. In good conditions this fence can last between five to 10 years

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