The sticks most commonly used are hazel, chestnut, ash and blackthorn, but any stick will do. The right time to cut sticks is after leaf fall when the sap is down and it is best to stop cutting when the new shoots appear as this is a sign that the sap has started to rise. If you do cut when the sap is up, you need to season with more care, eg so keep them in a cool dry and shady place with a good air flow. Most sticks will season and dry out in one year but the denser and harder sticks need up to two years, blackthorn and holly.
To cut sticks you will need a folding pruning saw, secateurs and gloves. Always cut sticks as long as possible. Look for sticks over 1” thick at the base with no dog legs. All sticks will shrink on seasoning and may also shake on the ends, so by cutting them longer than required you have covered all your options. When you season your sticks in a shed or a garage lay them flat low down on the floor on supports, do not put them up high on the rafters, where they get far to hot and dry out too quick.
If you only cut a small amount of sticks you can straighten them with a hot air gun. Heat about 12” at a time until hot enough that you cannot bare your hand on them for long. Better to practice on a rough stick first. Then use the straightener, heat and straighten the whole stick 12” at a time, when you are happy with the straightness either lay them flat or stand them as upright as possible until cold.
If you cut large quantities of sticks it is worth making a steamer that will hold about 15 sticks. Do not fill up the whole steamer until you are confident at getting them straight. I have had sticks in mine for up to one hour without any damage occurring to the sticks. As a general rule about 10 minutes steaming will make sticks pliable enough to straighten and 15 minutes for denser sticks. Again lay them flat or stand as upright as possible until cold preferably overnight. The steamed sticks will need a few days to dry out before they can be used. To make the steamer and stick straightener see the pictures.
The straightener is made of 2 pieces of oak. One is cut into 2” diagonal sections with the corners slightly rounded and the sides slightly concaved and screwed and glued to the base timber, with an assortment of spacings. The reason for this is to use the gap that fit’s the section of stick you want straightening without putting ripples into the stick.
For the steamer you need an electric wall paper stripper, they are available at most DIY stores, a length of tubing or a wooden box to hold your sticks with a base fitted to stop the sticks from falling out, an Inlet for the steam about 6” from the base and an old towel to cover the top. Fix the steam tube at 45 degree angle. Use gloves to remove the sticks as they will be very hot and pliable.
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