#85: Black Willow

Bird number: 118
Date: November 19, 2012
Wood: Black Willow (Salix nigra)
Source: Down by the creek

The back entrance to our subdivision is a low water crossing of Brushy Creek. On the road side of the creek stands a Black willow tree. It loses rather large limbs from time to time, and ever since I started this project I’ve been hoping to see one down. It lost a smaller branch over the summer, but it wasn’t quite large enough to get a bird. Two weeks ago I drove by and saw a 5″ limb on the ground, which quickly ended up in the back of my truck.

That limb must have been hanging dead on that willow for a long time. The wood was very dry, and there was so much insect damage that I feared I wouldn’t be able to get a large enough piece to carve a bird. I worried needlessly. It took a little creative work with the bandsaw, but I managed to cut out a couple of blanks.

This willow was soft enough to carve easily with a knife. I sat down with my carving group one morning and had this carved in 30 minutes or so. Another 30 minutes or so of sanding, and it was ready for finish. A thoroughly enjoyable wood to carve.

This is my favorite method of obtaining wood for my birds: finding an old branch that otherwise will rot away or be hauled off and burned. It also produces some of the more interesting figures because it will show irregularities and “imperfections” in the wood. Commercially available wood usually comes from straight, “clear” parts of the tree, with a minimum of knots and insect damage.

The Black Willow tree has a very wide range, covering most of the Eastern United States from the Atlantic coast to South Texas. It also occurs in much of Arizona and California, and a relatively small area of Colorado. It is a medium-sized, fast growing, and short-lived tree. The root is very bitter and in the past has been used as a substitute for quinine. The bark contains salicylic acid (similar to aspirin), which explains its use for fever reduction, headache, and cough treatment by Native Americans. The limbs also were used for basket making.