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Be a Burl-Hunter

August 15, 2011

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.

This is the right way to cut a burl, with generous length of log on either side of the burl.

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 is a very good boxelder burl with lots of crimson spalting, strong eyes, and a good shape for coring out multiple bowls from one blank.

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!


It's good to have some help when you're hauling the burls home.


From → Celebrating Wood

  1. Dan hart permalink

    Just felled a dead 140 year old oak with a 4 foot tall burl. It does not go all the way around the tree and some of the tree has already begun to rot. Hopefully the burl is intact. What is your experience with dead wood versus freshly felled?

    • Dan, it depends on how long the tree has been dead. For some reason, oak tends to rot very quickly and as a burl, it is not so desireable because it splits too easily. I think it is because it is very dense and the wood as it dries tends to fracture along the rays, which are at right angles to the grain. It takes me lots more gluing and fussing than any other trees. Another change that comes from being dead when cut is that the lighter colored character of the sapwood disappears and the wood becomes all heartwood. Some people like that and others do not.

      I wish you well as a burl-hunter. You just have to try them all.

  2. Teri Cayton permalink

    I would like to know if weeping willow is a good wood for burl hunting? I have found a great one if the wood is good for turning

    • Teri, weeping willow would generally be pretty soft for turning, but a burl tends to be more dense than the regular wood, so the burl should turn well. One of the nicest burl trees I’ve ever had was black willow and that was just wonderful stuff.

      • Teri Cayton permalink

        Thanks for the quick reply. If I take a picture of this tree could you tell me how much it is worth? I do not have a woodworking shop, but I would love to hunt burl for resale.

  3. Adrian Veach permalink

    I have a huge burl ( globe Shaped ) on a tree that is forsale! I’m from Oshkosh, WI email me asap

  4. Tim Smith permalink

    I have a number of basketball sized cherry burls that i’m going to have because of a land clearing project. Could you tell me about what they go for and some buyers in the area?

    • Tim, I don’t know where you live, but one way to find buyers is to contact your nearest woodturning club, which you can find through the website and ask them to email their club to see who might be interested. If I had a chance at them, and if they are solid and good quality, I would probably give you $100 each.

  5. johnnie smith permalink

    I have a huge burl oak tree in Louisiana how do i sell it and who do i even offer it to?

    • johnnie smith permalink

      Please email or call me. 3373752380 it wraps around the whole tree and is as big if not bigger than my atv

  6. Gene Schlosnagle permalink

    I ha ve access to a burl I think it is a white oak it is about15 feet across 10 foot deep. where can I sell it . or who will come and look at it . it is really big and about 15 feet off the ground.

  7. Damon Garcia permalink

    I have a boxelder with many bowl shaped burls on a property that i just purchased in Alamosa Colorado and was wondering who to contact so I can sell it.

  8. Douglas honeycutt permalink

    I have a California Pepperwood burl it is 6 to 7 foot tall 9 to 10 foot around do you know where I can sell that at

  9. greenteaminc permalink

    Hi Phil, I’m trying to find a buyer for some boxelder burl a customer wants me to cut down. It’s about 6′ high and 5 ‘ dbh. It’s completely covered with burls and is still alive. Any guess at the value? Greg from Oregon burls offered 600, but I think it’s worth more. Also, who buys this type of thing? Thanks, Tad

    • Please read my post on how to harvest burls and follow the instructions there. I don’t know your market and you need to do your own work on that.

  10. Trent Christensen permalink

    I have a maple that has 6 burls in a 10ft span. What would something like that go for!

  11. Jeff Lehman permalink

    I have many burls for sale cherry red oak white oak hard maple. I am a timber faller in Wisconsin and come across them very often. my phone is 563 6636 476

  12. jonathan permalink

    i have a nice burl on my land and i’m looking to sale it

  13. Patrick permalink

    I have a burl on a tree I want to get rid of. I’m willing to give the burl away if someone will remove the tree. No idea what kind if tree it is. I can send pics on request.

    • So where are you Patrick. I think people will need to know that before they answer your question.

    • Patrick permalink

      The tree I have has a baby burl, nothing huge like some of the pictures I’ve seen here. No idea of what kind of tree it is but I can send pictures. Its not an evergreen, has rough bark, and small purple flowers in the spring. Contact me at

  14. terry gans permalink

    we have burl that is a almost four tons looking for a serious buyer if any one is looking call 360 893 7027 and lots of fiddle back

    • What species is the burl?. And please describe the burl- is it a ball? On how big a tree? Bark on all of it?

      • Mandy permalink

        My husband has found a few burls as he has started cutting wood this year…in Wisconsin…if anyone would like some pics can email me at…not sure what there worth but by the time we do a good walk thru you could leave with a trailer full

  15. tim hackney permalink

    What about the burl hunters on the tv show “dirty riches” getting $10,000.00 for burls… Are they lying ?

    • I don’t know if people are really being paid that. I have paid $1000 for an extraordinary burl tree and I know that there are monster burls out there that would be incredibly valuable for veneer. That’s the magic word, veneer, because by cutting the burl into very thin slices, they can make acres of veneer from one big burl. That is very unusual, and I don’t really like that sort of story out there because it makes people with burls very greedy thinking that their burl is worth that much. Then they won’t take a fair offer and the burl rots and helps no one. That is sad. Most burls are in the $50 to $250 range, for a 12″ to 30″ burl with some small defects in it.

      Please read my “Harvesting and selling burls” to see how to find a buyer for your burl.

  16. Jeff coursey permalink

    I know where a ton of them are around my neck of the woods. Give me a call maybe we can help each other

  17. Brian Shuster permalink

    Call mr if your interested in buying burls

    • Brian, where are you located. I am in NW Minnesota but could come a few miles to buy.


      • Gina Delene Avery permalink

        I have a friend interested wanting to sale her tree

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