Mother may I go out to swim?
Yes my darling daughter,
Hang your clothes on a hickory limb,
But don't go near the water.
You may look cute in your bathing suit,
But act just as you oughter,
Now and then you can flirt with the men,
But don't go near the water.
A hickory chain is a chain made from hickory wood. Sounds hard to do? It isn't!
The title may be somewhat misleading as this little craft project will work with any type of tree that makes "water growth". This refers to the fast growing, succulent shoots that may form after heavy rains or after a tree is heavily pruned. I use hickory shoots because they form the strongest chains. The best place to gather material for this is a clear-cut which contained hardwoods and the best time is mid-season after it is cut. If there have been heavy rains so much the better. If no clear-cut is available, you will sometimes find water growths sprouting right out of the trunk of a mature tree. In a clear-cut there will often be clusters of the shoots around the edges of the stumps. Do I need to warn you to get the property owner's permission before cutting anything on private land? I didn't think so. My experience is that in a clear-cut the owner won't object as long as: 1. they know what you're up to and 2. they don't fear litigation if you are injured.
Select the longest, smoothest shoots that you can find that are roughly the diameter of your pinky. Bundle these "hickory sticks" together and keep them in a cool place out of direct sun until you are ready to make a chain. If you don't get to them soon enough and they become brittle, you will need to soak the sticks in water for a day or so before proceeding. Soaking them isn't a bad idea anyway unless you work with them immediately while they are still green and pliable. The process will be familiar to anyone who has ever done any basket weaving.
Now take a length and tie a simple overhand knot in one end of the shoot so that it forms a loop. An overhand knot is the one you tie in your shoelaces before making the loops. Size of the loop should be such that there is a fair amount of tension on the knot, but not enough to snap the wood. Use loppers to cut the long end back but leave a few inches sticking out both sides of the loop. We will trim these back later when the wood has dried. Now see if you have enough left over from that stick to make another link. If there isn't, get a new piece. Either way, pass it through the loop of the first before tying your knot. You now have two links of your hickory chain. Continue until you have the length of chain wanted or until you run out of material.
Chains created this way are surprisingly strong (once cured) and pleasingly natural-looking. They may be used to suspend hanging baskets with plants, to just decorate or whatever use your imagination provides (not recommended for towing vehicles!).