Diamond Willow is Fascinating - Walking Stick Projects

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Project by Eric M. Saperstein posted 01-08-2012 07:29 AM 11013 views 4 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was a fascinating specimin of diamond willow, one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. Highly exaggerated diamonds like this are pretty rare especially in this concentration. The undercut carving brings them up another level. A golden oak stain and several coats of Waterlox tung oil brought it right to life.

The trick with diamond willow is NOT to go too deep and go past the reddish coloration. If you can carve the bark off just down to the layer of red/brown it comes up beautiful. Go too deep and it all just gets bland and white. A little cutthrough isn’t bad for contrast but not too deep.

My father carved a little green man (not representative of anything you may recognize …) for the top figurehead.

We’ve done quite a few walking sticks in diamond willow. I’ll post more at some point – I have one in progress for myself that is just about as nice as this one. Can’t decide how to top it though, someday before I get to the point where I need it I have to finish it!

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

9 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117234 posts in 3722 days

#1 posted 01-08-2012 08:14 AM

Unique material and project .Well done.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Cindy Vincett's profile

Cindy Vincett

7 posts in 2650 days

#2 posted 01-08-2012 11:28 AM

They are simply stunning. I would love to learn how to recognize diamond willow. I live in an area rich with willow, but have no clue what I am looking for. Could you possibly give me some pointers for looking for these beautiful sticks? Thank you so much

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 3393 days

#3 posted 01-08-2012 01:36 PM (Extract from)

Diamond willow grows best along river beds in cold areas, Minnesota and Alaska are two very common sources. You need to be in a state that has the conditions to grow the proper fungus on the saplings to get the right size for walking sticks. Ticker ones make lamps, bed posts, furniture parts, etc.

Everyone we know who hunts them has secret areas along rivers and streams that are usually hard to access and loaded with bugs during the times of year they can reach the locations. We usually go online and look through ebay or have a few other scouts who find is good specimens. – This has some good tips! – Don’t forget your rifle you’re in bear / moose country, bug repellant, and misc saws and tools. Sounds crazy – but you’re going into some nasty areas to find the best sticks. Read this article!

Enjoy your hunt – if you find anything good let us know!

==== From Wikipedia

Diamond willow is willow with wood that is deformed into diamond-shaped segments with alternating colors. This is most likely the result of attack by a fungus (Valsa sordida, and possibly others), which causes cankers to form in the wood in response to the infection.[1] Diamond willow is prized by wood carvers and furniture makers for its strong contrasting colors (red and white) and its sculptural irregularity of shape.

There are at least six different species that have been identified as being susceptible to diamonding, including Salix bebbiana, the most common diamond willow,[2] plus S. pseudomonticola, S. arbusculoides, S. discolor, S. scouleriana, and S. alaxensis.

The diamonding is usually found with a branch at its center or is found in the Y of a tree. Diamonding in willow does not seem to be specific to an area that willows grow in, and where one bunch of willow will have diamonds, the next clump of willows may have none at all. Although diamond willow is often thought of as being a northern phenomenon, of the boreal forest, there is mention of diamond willow growing as far south as Missouri.
[edit] Diamond formation and shape

The tree grows diamond-shaped cankers in response to the fungus. The cankers seem to result from the tree growing away from the site of attack. This usually happens at the crotch of a branch on a larger branch or main stem. If the branch is relatively small it seems to die very quickly. If the branch is larger, it may continue to grow and the diamond is formed on the branch and the stem. By growing away from the fungus, new layers of growth occur further and further away from the site of the fungal attack. Thus the affected area gets larger and deeper. If the tree has been affected in several places close together, then the diamonds run into each other. This can result in pronounced ridges if some sapwood continues to survive, or it may strangle the small ridge of sapwood, which then dies.

The shape of the diamonds seems to vary from one clump of willow to the next, although there may be some general tendencies within a single species. Some stems will form long narrow diamonds; others will be short and wide. Usually all the diamonds on the stems in one clump will have similar growth patterns. If the new layers of sapwood do not move back very much each year, then the diamonds will be deep bowl- or cleft-shaped. These stems will be able to survive longer than those whose diamonds are flat and open.

Diamond Willow is an amazing piece of wood, that brings pleasure to any carver, or wood worker. Could be used as a rustic cottage railing, could be made into table legs. So many possibilities.

The bark that is left overtop of the diamond changes quite markedly from the bark over the living sapwood. Depending on the species of willow, the living bark is usually smoother and slightly lighter in color. The bark over the diamond usually becomes rougher and somewhat darker. It also becomes tougher and adheres much more to the underlying wood. The sapwood is white to cream in color—again depending on the species, but also on the location. The heartwood is reddish-brown. This color tends to darken with exposure to light over a number of years.

If one stem in a clump of willow is affected, then all of them are likely to be. However, the neighboring clump may be completely without diamonds. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) has been known to bear depressions that resemble diamonding.[1]

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

View onelegged's profile


42 posts in 2704 days

#4 posted 01-08-2012 03:42 PM

Now that is a rare find. Nice work. I have caved a few spoons and made some picture frames out of diamond willow, every stick is a surprise. Maybe one day I’ll find one as nice as yours.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3448 days

#5 posted 01-08-2012 03:57 PM

its always a real pleasure to have these pieces, as they do male stunning walking sticks, i lived in alaska for a long time, and did really pay that much attention as to where it was, i was not involved in wood working at the time, i wish i would have been…i do have a large piece that i cut in half and have it in my kitchen, my measuring cups and thinks hang from it…so im reminded of alaska every day..i like how this one turned out…grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Arnies's profile


126 posts in 2653 days

#6 posted 01-08-2012 09:48 PM

Beautiful piece of wood and even better looking walking stick.

-- arnies

View Dave Haynes's profile

Dave Haynes

203 posts in 3499 days

#7 posted 01-08-2012 11:35 PM

My nephew lives in Duluth, MN and my brother has a summer home on about 7 acres northwest of Duluth near a little community called Brookston. Two summers ago I visited them and found out that the nephew found and carved quite a few of these diamond willows. While at the brothers place, we went into the woods and he got me two of these diamond willow pieces that I brought home and they are good for carving now. Never had the guts to dive in just yet. I’m going to add your project to my favorites and return later when I get ready to tackle the job…..just in case I need some input (if you would be willing).

Great job….nice walking stick.

-- Dave Haynes, Indiana,

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 3393 days

#8 posted 01-09-2012 01:09 AM

Don’t be afraid to dig in – just go slow. What I’d suggest to start is get a good pocket knife – carving jacks work good the spring steel ones. Just peel away the bark you’ll get a feel for how deep to go as you get going. Remove layers of bark until you see the reddish/brown coloration and try to stay within that level.

The first of it may be soft you can sand that down until it gets harder or slowly scrap away with the pocket knife or actually use small scrapers. Gun/restoration scrapers are good with contours on them, etc.

It’s up to you if you want to bring the diamonds up by undercutting them or leave them flush. All you have to do is run a parting tool around the diamond on a bit of an angle to create the feeling of raising it up. you can then even out into it tapering or a variety of techniques.

The stick will kinda guide you through it. Some sticks seem to want to jump out others get a better look leaving the diamonds naturally flowing.

Two years, the sticks have been sitting for a couple year’s that’s good they have had a chance to dry out.

Shoot me a note when you’re ready to go!

Alaska and Minnesota are both good sources, Canada, etc … cold and kinda wet areas. Someday I’ll get out to Alaska and stick hunting is on the agenda while I’m out there. Been to Minnesota but didn’t get to go looking while we were there.

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

View ktmext360's profile


6 posts in 1540 days

#9 posted 07-31-2014 07:36 PM

Beautiful Stick, the more diamonds the better. I count Diamonds before i cut them down

-- Matt, Michigan, Never Push a Loyal Person to the Point that they no Longer Care

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