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How to Harvest and Sell Burls

February 28, 2015
Cored stack of ash bowls

Nested set of Black ash burl bowls, all cut from one burl. This burl tree yielded hundreds of burl bowls, all cored out this way.

I get a lot of responses to my website from people who have burls and want to sell them. Here’s the advice I usually give them.

First, do some careful measuring of the burl and be able to describe it well when you make contact with someone.  A few photos would be helpful, especially if you have a ruler or yardstick as a size reference.  If the bark is gone it’s probably rotten and not worth much.  A big factor for me if I am looking for or buying burls is if they are an “eyed burl”  or a “layered burl.” Here is some information to help you figure that out, but if you can’t, just tell your seller you are not sure if it’s a layered or eyed burl

Cutting oak burl 12-04

A large oak layered burl. You can see this is a layered burl because there is no circular shape but rather random. Note also cutting a bit above the burl to protect the burl from splitting.

A layered burl is the result of an injury to the tree.  That might be a frost split (caused by a sharp frost when the sap is already running), very common on maples, physical damage done the tree or a broken off branch that the tree grows over to protect itself.  The layers are the way the tree protects itself from further damage by sealing off the hole in the tree’s bark.

An “eyed burl,” sometimes called a basal burl, is really a tumor on the tree.  An eyed burl is much more valuable and can usually be identified by the round or dome-like shape it makes on the outside of the tree.  Note that the burl can be made up of multiple round shapes stacked close to and overlapping each other but the basic building block shape is still round.  I understand that is true because the eyed burl develops from a very small burl earlier in the tree’s life which grows larger but still radiates symmetrically each year as the tree grows in diameter.  I observe that the burl wood from a larger burl on a smaller tree is more dense, uniform and of higher quality  than the same size burl on a larger tree.  The ultimate I have found are “ball burls” which are like a ‘tootsie roll pop” on a stick.   To harvest those, leave 6-8 inches of wood on both ends of the burl to protect it from cracking.

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

This is the right way to cut a burl, with some length of log on either side of the burl. This is a high quality cherry “ball” burl.

This is a Boxelder eyed burl built up of many rounded shapes.  It's tricky to keep your saw sharp cutting so close to the ground, but worth it for a fine quality burl.

This is a Boxelder eyed burl built up of many rounded shapes. It’s tricky to keep your saw sharp cutting so close to the ground, but worth it for good  burl.

To harvest a burl, it’s best to harvest the whole tree.  That’s because most of the burl is inside the tree, often reaching all the way to the center or pith.  To cut the burl off even with the bark, which I call a “cow pie” is both wasteful and damaging to the tree’s health.  When someone offers me “cow pies” I assume they were poached (cut without permission) and I am very hesitant to buy them.   I prefer to wait until the tree has reached maturity and cut down the whole tree.  Then the best way to harvest them is to leave some normal wood on either side of the burl, maybe 6-8 inches.

Cutting a black ash burl into sections.  I try to cut on natural fault lines in the burl.

Cutting a black ash burl into sections. I try to cut on natural fault lines in the burl.

If you absolutely need to cut up the burl, you risk losing lots of its value.  If you can, let the buyer supervise the cutting up of the tree.  If you can’t, then look carefully at the burl and look for “fault lines” in the burl.  In eyed burls they are  formed when smaller burls push up against each other and form a defined boundary between them.  At least for bowl stock, I generally would try to cut from the outside of the tree directly to the pith of the tree.  That could be either vertically or horizontally.  I often use various sizes of cardboard discs to lay out the best use of the burl.  If the burl will be used for slabs instead, you will have to visualize how the slab will be cut out of the burl and cut accordingly.

Now, as to finding a buyer, I’m partial to woodturners and they tend to be good customers for burls.  To find them, Google “woodturner” along with the name of your town or nearby larger city.  You are likely to find a listing for woodturners who sell their bowls and likely buy burls or know who would be interested.  If there is a specialty woodworking shop in your area, like Woodcraft, check with them.  They tend to know who would buy burls.

If that doesn’t work, then you should go to the American Association of Woodturners website,  http://www.woodturner.org/  In the “Find a Chapter” section under “About,” fill in your state to find nearby chapters.  There are 350 of them so there should be one relatively close.  There you should find a website link or the email of an officer.  Contact them and ask who they could contact about selling a burl.

For example, I found from my Google search a  good resource directory for Minnesota at the site http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/um/sfp_htm_directory.pdf   It has lists and information for both harvesters and sellers and for buyers of burls and other forest products like diamond willow, crotch and other specialty wood.

Finally, don’t have unrealistic expectations about the price.  Most burls, especially layered burls, are not particularly valuable.  On the other hand, a larger eyed burl in good condition should bring $25 to $200 depending on size, species and condition.  I have had burls up to 8 feet in diameter, and many in the 4-5 foot range. Those can be worth $500 or more.  It may be worth it to seek more than one offer on your burl if you think it is particularly valuable.

A bowl turned of spalted Boxelder burl with amazing color and a pleasing shape.

A bowl turned of spalted Boxelder burl with amazing color and a pleasing shape.

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From → Celebrating Wood

48 Comments
  1. Andy Saunders permalink

    We live in eastern North Carolina. We have a very old water oak with a huge root burl. This tree is probably close to 100 years old. On the burl root base there is a 10 foot root base width and is approximately 65 foot tall. If anyone is interested in harvesting this tree we would be like to speak with them!

  2. larry white permalink

    I have a very large splitter capable of splitting a 5 foot diameter I thought to sell it to a burl company is there a directory of companies?

    • pnance permalink

      a wood splitter would not work well with Burl because of the grain inconsistency

  3. Barbara permalink

    Hello I love in Virginia and I would like to know who I can sell Burks to. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • Please read this blog post carefully, about wood turning clubs and woodworking stores. That’s the best way to find a buyer.

  4. Robert uresk permalink

    Hello my name is Rob I’m live on long Island in new York, I was recently given a very large red oak burl, it’s about 4 ft high and 6 ft wide, I didn’t measure the diameter but it’s about 6 ft wide , just wondering what the value of something like this is worth, thank you for your time,
    Rob

    • Robert, read my blog and take that advice about turning clubs and woodworking stores. That is the only way I can help you.

    • Jason Wallace permalink

      I live in southeast Louisiana i need a buyer for burls any jeep help would be appreciated thank you

      • Jason, please use the information in my blog for the American Association of Woodturners nearest club or a local woodworking store. Those will be your best options. Read the blog carefully and follow the instructions. I personally don’t know any folks there.

  5. Jacodi Pruett permalink

    I live in western Maryland and I was wondering what is the best way to sell burls and how to harvest them correctly.

  6. Barron Stargel permalink

    Lmao sorry no one reads I cut my own and make all kinds of stuff tables and chairs cutting boards book ends pretty grains for sure

  7. Phil: you are the best! Thank you so much for talking to me and for the great info! Valerie in the UP
    val@LakeSuperiorrocknjewelry.com

  8. Beverly permalink

    I have some oak burls I was needing to sell. I am located in Atoka Oklahoma.

  9. C. Maye permalink

    I have a neet red cedar burl that looks like someone praying with their hands between their fists.It’s pretty large

  10. dan smith permalink

    I have come across something strange. It was inside a 4ft wide red oak that fell over it was all that was left sticking out of the ground. I cut it as low as possible to the ground. Im pretty sure it was hit by lightning since its charred black. Its approximately two ft wide and a ft tall it seems it was the heart that burled over. The grain is extremely tight on what wood you can see. Do i have a gem or a dud thats my question. And yes the tree was still alive it fell at the base and this ugly thing and a little bark was all that was keft in the ground.

  11. Michael McCarter permalink

    I’m a logger in southern Ohio and I know where to get some white oak, hickory, cherry ash, and all kinds of burls you can contact me at 7405178456 my name is Mike McCarter thank you

  12. Ashley Allen permalink

    I’ve got one I’ve had for years like a football size, it came into a composting yard I worked in, didn’t know I can sell it

    • Too bad you didn’t know to find a buyer more quickly because they lose value when they get old. They are best green.

  13. Hi there I have a tree that has football to softball sized lumps(around 30 total lumps) all the way up the sides and is probably 60 to 80 feet tall. At the base of the tree the They look like big warts…

    • Yes, probably burls. Too small for most of us Woodturners, But they will have interesting grain and would be interesting for someone who makes small things. Good luck.

  14. Love burls made a beautiful burl hand railing have alot and enjoy every one love to learn tomake bowls

  15. Steve Adcock permalink

    I live in eastren ontario,can.I have come across a large burl on a large cedar tree.Is there value in the cadar burl.

  16. Bob permalink

    Hello. I have a tree on my land which is other than anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like about a 5ft burl with another entire tree growing out of it. I have pictures I can email. Is this common? Has anyone ever seen that before? Would that oddity be particularly useful for something?

  17. darrah permalink

    i have thorn honey locus berls looking for some one who might be interested will provide pictures
    live in camp verde az

  18. Zach Essick permalink

    Awesome information about these beautiful pieces of art in nature…. God is amazing artist

  19. Tim Balcom permalink

    I have about 100 white spruce burls in anchorage AK.

  20. Paula Hall permalink

    I live in eastern North Carolina and have a heavily burled maple tree for sale.

  21. Doug Craig permalink

    I got a huge cottonwood with a 5′ by 3′ from tree burl is it worth any thing the tree above it a5′ is 50″ across 660-373-0445

  22. Patrick phillips permalink

    I have a red oak burl im wanting to sell

    • Patrick, read my blog on harvesting and selling burls in your area. It’s mostly a local and regional market.

      Phil

  23. Patrick phillips permalink

    I have a red oak burl im wanting to sell 270-875-6919 have photos of it

  24. Eric Thomas permalink

    Wonder what cinnamon burl (campfor tree) goes for? Have a large burl at the base and was going to have the tree removed. Hard to find buyers in northeast florid though.

    • Sounds pretty amazing. It all depends on finding someone who wants to use the burl. Look at my “Harvesting and Selling Burls” blog to find buyers.

  25. Bob permalink

    Thanks for this useful, informative article. I need to cut some oak burls and they are going to be huge and heavy if I don’t cut cowpies.

    • Bob, it is often necessary to cut up the burls to use them. It would be best if you cut them perpendicular from the outer surface, not horizontal. The value of the burl, the sweet spot, goes all the way to the center of the tree in cone shape pieces.

      • nogerobob permalink

        I made a little youtube video of this oak tree. Does this look impressive or is it just a yawn?

      • It would have been impressive and useful in its day but it is very spalted, likely beyond all usefulness. But it’s a living thing, magical in its way. Thanks for sharing the video.

  26. Jon permalink

    I’m clearing a area and found a burl will be harvesting it to look at sellin diameter is about 8″ wide and 16″ tall. How much tree above and below should I leave? No chance in letting it grow. All trees must go.

    • Jon, you should leave at least 6 inches above and below to make sure not splitting occurs. Good luck with your burl.

      Phil

  27. Loretta permalink

    I’m a property I like to know I’m a property I have Black Oak I believe burl it’s huge Mungus you know anybody that would like to buy it or how do I go about selling it if you help me out

  28. Shona permalink

    So you buy burl?? I have a pretty big piece that was in the ground,, on the root of the tree. My mom said she THOUGHT the tree was Lombardy poplar..it is almost 3 x3 foot…still has part of the tree or root..we haven’t cut into it..I’m dying to. But I did peel a part of the bark off and it looked like A fantasy waterfall,, pattern..what u describe maybe an eye??? Burl..anyway. Where I live there are no body that buys them so I’m curious about what u think? I can send pictures or we can text
    Oh the thing has been cut and drying for about 8 months to MAYBE a year

    • Sorry, I do not buy burl that is not close to me geographically or the wrong burl for my interest, which lombardy poplar definitely is not. Please read my blog on Harvesting and Selling Burls and I give you lots of ideas for finding a buyer.

      Sorry I couldn’t help you.

  29. Michael Gerard Haase permalink

    I have meny Burl’s in all different sizes and wood. I would like to sell them

    • Michael, where do you live? I am not in the market for many bowls, but the instructions I give in my blog, How to harvest and sell burls is the best general advice I know of how to sell burls. You have to find buyers in your area and that will mostly be up to you to research and make contacts.

      I may be able to help you in the 3-state area of North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but not beyond that.

      Phil

  30. I was given 2 cherry ball burns very sI’m alarm to the one you showed above. I want to turn something nice from them. Do I need to remove the pith like a regular log?

    • The smaller the burls, may not be necessary, especially if you need the whole burl to get your desired shape. A burl, with less grain directin, is more forgiving.

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