Thursday, April 17, 2014

Diamond Willow Roorkee - Part I: Materials

After three flights and a whole day of travel, I made it to Great Falls for a short visit with my folks. It has been far too long since I have been back to my hometown to visit my mom and dad, so I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with them.

I thought one great thing to do while I am here, is to build a Roorkee chair with my dad. While we're at it, why not make it something totally fantastic, and build it from a material that isn't seen often outside of these parts? Diamond willow!

My dad with his prize walking stick.
My dad has been making canes, walking sticks and the like for years from this material.  He says they are worth a lot of money, but he usually gives them away as gifts to people he thinks deserve one.  I have to say they are striking.

For those who have never heard of this stuff, here is what I know about it (which is not much):  It doesn't grow everywhere, and even in places where it does grow, it can be hard to find prime examples that look good enough for a project.  Dad will harvest a carload of these things, let them dry out for a few years, and work on them in his free time.
The rough material looks like this.

These are what the "diamonds" look like on the raw material with the bark on.
Dad will whittle the bark off, and do any shaping that he deems fit.  He has been known to color some of the diamonds when the contrast isn't exactly what he wants, but typically he will leave them the way they are.  Many of the willows have a wood that is a really bright, creamy, almost white color, with dark red inside the diamonds.
Here are a couple of sticks mid-progress.  The bark has started to have been removed.

Here are some of the potential chair legs.
Once the stick is the shape he wants and has the look, it will be finished.  I'm not sure but I think he usually uses a spray lacquer on them, which gives them a durable finish.
Here are a few examples of dad's finished walking sticks.

Here is dad's most remarkable stick to date.  It has an incredible number of diamonds.
Dad seems pretty excited to start construction of these chairs with me tomorrow.  He will teach me about the willows, and I will show him the steps in making a Roorkee chair.  This project will be special to us both, no matter what the chair looks like in the end,.

Tomorrow we will select what we will use for chair legs.  We will make one for sure, and possibly two.  I have two full shoulders of leather, which we might be able to make stretch for two chairs, if we are stingy.

I also have some red oak for the other parts of the chair:  I got some 1 1/8" x 48" oak dowels from the internet (against Christopher Schwarz' explicit instructions in his book!).  I have to send a shout of thanks and approval for the folks at Cincinnati Dowel and Wood Products Co. for sending me such nice dowels.  I took a gamble with them, and specified that it would be great if they could select some nice straight grained ones for me.  This is because being for chairs, they absolutely must be as strong as possible.  Any run-out could cause them to break at the worst possible time.  These nice people selected and sent me four dowels with perfectly straight grain with virtually no run out on any of them.  I ordered four, thinking that if I was lucky I might be able to get enough stretchers for one chair.  I fully expected none of it to be suitable, and to have to go get some more wood to turn dowels from.  Happily, those dowels are everything I could have asked for.  Those four dowels will have enough wood to make two chairs.

I also got some red oak from the local Borg that will make nice back slats.

I can't wait for you all to see what we come up with. 


  1. I am looking forward to seeing the chair. I bet it is going to look really spectacular with all the diamonds.
    Have a nice vacation.

    1. Hi Jonas, thanks for the kind words. I, too, am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

  2. Sounds like a fun project. I didn't know diamond willow grew in MT, lots of it up here in AK. Enjoy the time with your Dad.

    1. Hey Jonathan! I had no idea it grew so far North! So far it has been fun just chilling at home with the folks. I don't remember Dad ever having built furniture before, but it is fun to see how excited he is about it. He spent about an hour yesterday reading the chapter from "Campaign Furntiture" about Roorkee's, and then went out to his shop to organize all of his tools.

  3. Hi Brian, Enjoy your project with your Dad. I am looking forward to seeing the finished product as well. I knew nothing about Diamond Willow until you mentioned that wood to me. It looks extraordinary and each chair will definitely be something unique! Enjoy the time with your folks over the holidays and the home cooking from your Mom. Tell me - are your tulips blossoming?

    1. Hey John, there are a few tulips starting to bloom in the yard here. I think it has been a long winter in these parts.

      This wood does look extraordinary, and each stick is different. I think half the work will be selecting the bits we want to go where.

      Last night Mom cooked turkey and mashed potatoes.

    2. Next time i'm going to Montana with you!


  4. Sounds like it'll be a wonderful project no matter what it's made from. The Diamond Willow should be the icing on the cake.

    1. That's a great way to put it. It definitely will be unique.

  5. It's a great project for you both to work on together. I love watching out the kitchen windwo at the two of you working on it and enjoying each other's company so much. The diamond willows are beautiful as the legs. They have that much done now. I can't wait to see the finished project.