Be a Burl-Hunter
One of my greatest joys is “bagging the big burl.” It has the joy of the hunt to it, because the really good burls are quite rare, and you need to have permission to harvest the tree when you do find it, which is unusual. I have a number of ways to find burls. Sometimes loggers will sell them to me directly. Sometimes I get calls from people or talk to them at shows and they have burls for me. The more people know you and of your interest in turning burls, the more they will let you know what burls they may have.
And it isn’t easy to know what they have. Often I have to sort through their information to find exactly what they have. It sometimes helps to tell them that the kind of burl I am looking for, an “eyed” burl, always has a dome-like, circular shape. Even if it is built up of multiple smaller domes, you can generally see that underlying pattern. The other kind of burl, and “onion” or layered burl, is often the result of an injury. For example, sugar maples often get a frost split when the sap rises up into the tree too early in the spring and a sharp overnight freeze will crack that trunk from top to bottom. That crack will develop a “barky” growth that will cover the crack, but it has little solid wood in it and won’t amount to good turning blanks.
Sometimes I still won’t know if a burl is an eyed or layered burl until I cut it open. This huge oak burl had good color and figure, but it wasn’t an eyed burl and therefore I didn’t use the burl for bowls but used it instead for stool tops and other lower grade projects.
This burl, posed with the forklift, is unusual for its quality, yielding dozens of fine bowls and also that it came from the Wisconsin Dells, while most of mine are from short miles around my shop.
When I find the burl, I usually have a big cutting job ahead. This very fine eyed burl, which is boxelder, is very close to the ground and I carefully brushed away the dirt from the lower edge in order to cut as low as possible without dulling my chain too badly.
This was a very fine grained and beautifully spalted boxelder.
I cut it into smaller pieces in order to haul it home and because I need manageable chunks for my lathes too. But I try for the largest quality pieces I can. When I cut them, I look for “fault lines” in the bark that indicate that there is a crack or a bark inclusion between two burls that have grown together. That is an obvious place to cut. I often use cardboard circles of various sizes to lay out the best way to cut up the burl.
What a rush!
From → Celebrating Wood