Thursday, March 13, 2008

the Simple Twig Table

How to make a little willow table. The process can be extended to create all kinds of furniture. I do not make this particular item anymore, so feel free to copy it.

Cutting Willows

Willow is everywhere. It grows anywhere there is water and no one to hack it out. It's like the American Bamboo, I've learned to make all kinds of stuff out of it.

For this little table, cut
  • 4 legs, 18" long, thumb thick or larger
  • 4 bottom sides, 14" long, thumb thick or smaller
  • 4 top sides, 12" long, finger-to-thumb thickness
  • a bunch of twigs size: pinky-to-pencil

  • Drill, Preferably cordless, with keyless chuck.
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Pruners
  • knife (I REALLY like the cheap Swedish carving knives like the one shown here. Get them from Woodcraft Supply for about $15. I have several that are 8 years old, and going strong.)
  • A good pruning saw

  • 3" sheetrock screws
  • 2" sheetrock screws
  • 1 1/2" ring-shank nails (you can use normal nails, but use these if you want your project to last a LONG time)
  • 1 1/2" panel brads (like a little nail, but coated with paint, and it has little rings around the shank)
  • 1" panel brads
you can find all these at any standard hardware store, and they are all inexpensive.

Building the Frames

Assemble the table by making two flat frames from your legs and side pieces.
This brings us to the First Rule of Willow Furniture:
no matter how small. I use an 1/8" bit for the screws, and a 1/16" for the small nails. The reason you have to drill holes for everything is that willow is harvested green, then it dries after you assemble it. We all know that wood shrinks when it dries, so as it shrinks, it squeezes on your screw, and cracks. Engineers call that "Failure". If you pre-drill, the wood squeezes your screw or nail tighter than when it was new. Engineers call that a "Feature".

Start by drilling pilot holes in the ends of all the side pieces.
Drill holes in the legs, 2" from the top and 14" from the top.
The picture shows nails in the screw holes, that's just so you can see them.
Screw through the legs into the sides.
Remember: the top side piece is 12" long, and the bottom is 14", so it's not going to be square when you are done. Don't worry about angles, just flex it and rack the wood until it looks right.

Adding the Sides (Make it 3D)

Once you are finished with the two frames, it's time to add the remaining four side pieces.
Drill holes through the legs at a right angle to the first holes. Locate this set of holes 2.5" from the top, and 13.5" from the top.

Screw through the legs into the side pieces. It should look about like this:

Do the same thing to the second frame, and screw it onto the assembly from step four. By the way, you should use a 3" screw any time you are screwing into the end-grain of a stick. End grain is soft, and it needs all the holding power it can get.

Now you have something that's starting to look like a table! Set it on a flat surface and rack it and twist it until it sits level. You may have to remove some screws, redrill, and reattach pieces to get it right. That's why you use mechanical fasteners.

Strangely, I rarely use a square to get this thing right. If you eyeball it, you will be close enough.
(Dovetail purists beware!)

Adding Diagonal Braces: Firming it up

Cut some pieces of willow about "thumb-to-finger" sized, about 6 to 8 inches long. Trim their ends to 45 deg angles so they become diagonal braces. This brings up the Second Rule of Willow Furniture:
Willow is flexible, and the joints you put in it are flexible too. A strong structure has to have diagonal braces on every side to be stable.

Locate the braces reaching from the bottom side pieces, down into the legs. Predrill and nail with ring-shank nails. These baby's hold TIGHT! If you ever want to remove them, you will have to split the wood out around them, because they will NOT come out without breaking something.

The Twig top and shelf

Take all those twigs that you cut and lay them out on the bench.
Starting in the middle, lay them out on the top to form a table-surface.
YES, you do need to predrill each one, even for those itty-bitty panel nails. The only exception is if you are using an air-brad nailer, then you don't have to predrill.
Nail the twig down, snip it to length, and do the next one. I like to use about 7 twigs across the top and another 7 across the bottom shelf. The bottom shelf should run at 90 deg to the top. It makes the table stronger.

If you want to use the table outside, I suggest a good oil finish like Linseed mixed with paint thinner (50/50). Slop it on good and let it dry for a couple days. Recoat after several years, or whenever the table starts looking worn out. If protected from exposure, willow furniture like this twig table will last for many years.

This little table is great as an end table, a night stand, lamp stand, or plant stand. It is strong enough to support my weight, and you could use it as a stool if you add more diagonal braces.

More projects:

You can use this technique to create all sorts of willow furniture.

Just remember the two rules of willow furniture making:

Predrill Everything
Diagonal Bracing on every surface

The steps are usually the same:
  1. Assemble two surfaces as frames
  2. connect them with sides
  3. Add diagonals
  4. and twig surfaces

Have fun with your first willow project!

(if you are interested in purchasing the project you see here, please send me a personal email to jlfinkbeiner at gee mail dot com to discuss availability and pricing)


Anonymous said...

Great post! I show it to my son; so he can make a wood into a chair for me. God Bless!

Susan Graham said...

It’s a pretty interesting tool. I will definitely be using it once I get the chance. Thanks for sharing!

rustic beds said...

I definitely would have bought it the first time around! It's just beautiful and you can do so many things with it for the different seasons. It looks just beautiful as you have it right this site.

Susan Graham

Unknown said...

I am inspired by your creation and I love your technique. Everyone can test their talent in furniture making. They just have to find some wood which is not really hard if you live near a forest or if you have some trees around your house. You can surely make some interesting pieces using this technique and tool.