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Wood has played an important role throughout human evolution, even before humans learnt to use it to fuel fire, and it continues to clothe, house, and feed us even to this very day! Different applications require different types of wood, and we have even been able to create new types of wood by combining and processing different wood species in the form of particleboard, veneer, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). However, a very popular but rarely mentioned wood type is burl wood. Burl wood is thought to be one of the most coveted wood types available in the world! But the general public does not know much about burl wood, and it is normally used by wood enthusiasts and avid crafters. In this article, we will have a look at what burl wood is, where it can be located, how burl wood is created, what it can be used for, and why it is such a special, sought-after wood.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Burl Wood?
- 2 What Are the Different Types of Wood Burl?
- 3 What Is Burl Wood Used For?
- 4 Can Burl Be Removed From a Tree Without Damaging it?
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Burl Wood?
You may be wondering, what is burl wood? It may all seem unusual to you, but basically, burled wood can be located on an assortment of different tree species, and is a type of grain wood. So, burl wood Is not another species of wood, but rather an offshoot of standard tree that has grown with time. This may seem quite confusing, so to clarify it a bit better, burled woods are small (or big) knotted growths that form on trees due to a result of bud tissues that have not sprouted.
What causes burled wood to form? Much like humans develop growths or bumps that are thought to be irregular, burl wood forms as an outcome of things such as stress to the tree, damage, viral outbreak, fungal infection, a simple genetic disorder, insect infestation, in a tree or a family of trees. These conditions result in the wood growing irregularly and some stunning grain patterns form on the interior of the wood.
Why do trees form burl wood, as opposed to new roots or branches instead? One could consider it a defense mechanism. When a tree faces foul weather or is pruned it will do all it can to compensate for the removed appendages either by sealing the section off or re-growing. Should it seal the section of a callus tissue appears in the form of burl wood. Burled wood is very durable and provides defense against insects and critters hoping to create their home in the tree.
So, burl wood is found where there is any change in the tree’s natural cycle of growth, or where the burl tree has experienced any form of damage. Tree burls are not only located on the tree’s trunk, but also on the soil at the tree’s roots, and joined to the root system underground. You may be wondering what types of trees will grow burl wood, what follows are a lot of common tree species that normally develop burl wood:
- Ash trees
- Cherry trees
- Maple trees
- Elm trees
- Walnut trees
- Oak trees
What Is the History of Burl Wood?
Burl wood has its own unique origin story, and sadly, it all starts with tragedy. As the second industrial revolution came to an end in the 1900s, larger lumber suppliers required redwood to build functional furniture. They sadly only wanted to use the wood that was found at the trunk of the tree, thanks to it being straight-grained. This resulted in big pieces of burl wood just being thrown away.
Luckily, artisans and wood enthusiasts quickly noticed the unique nature of the burl wood and how it could be incorporated into some stunning workpieces. The popularity of burl wood grew quickly, as everyone wanted their own unique burl wood piece. The popularity of burl wood grew in the 1970s and through to the 1980s.
Sadly, due to the high demand for burl wood, poaching began. Poachers accessed protected federal lands and stole a significant amount of burl wood, which left the trees damaged. Fortunately, there are now strict protocols in place that protect burls on trees and the land that they are grown on.
How Do Burls Grow?
There is so much more to a wood burl than some strange growth on a tree. There are many different types of burls available. In the wild, you will find predominantly live burls. This type of burl wood normally grows on the tree’s trunk or the branches of a tree, these wood burls tend to be relatively small.
You may find crown burl as another type of burl. These types of burls are found to grow near the stump and the roots. They are much larger than live burls and can even continue into the root system and form burls on trees. Due to this crown burls can prove difficult to harvest.
It can prove to be hard to find crown burls. Another option that provides a similar grain pattern and is roughly the same size is stump burls. While stump burls may not reach down to the root system of the tree, they are still located at the tree’s base, much like a crown burl. This type of burl each has different types of density and grain patterns depending on the types of stress that the burl tree has been under.
How do these wood burls grow? Think of a wood burl as a tree’s method to aid long-term survival. In case of damage, the burl will allow the tree to pass on its genetic code. How does it achieve this? Wood burls develop as a result of tree saplings that form if the tree encounters damage or perceived hostility for its immediate environment or from the weather.
This way if the tree falls over, or loses a branch, it will have the opportunity to grow once more. Consider if you would be able to grow a whole new version of yourself by simply planting a small portion of yourself in a little bit of soil. Keep in mind a sapling will not simply remain a sapling, with time it will develop into the grained wood much like the rest of the tree, which is what is perceived as a wood burl.
What’s Inside Wood Burls?
Every thought about what is inside a burl on a tree? We are sure you have, as they are particularly interesting and quite strange to look at in comparison to the rest of the tree. As previously mentioned, wood burls are small saplings that have sadly not sprouted, so they integrate themselves into the sapwood of the tree and create their bark.
Within the tree, a burl is a unique form of wood with a variety of grain patterns, colors, sizes, densities, and shapes. Keep in mind that the wood burl has not grown in tandem with the rest of the tree’s wood, therefore has not formed the same structure and growth integrity.
Due to this, no two tree burls are the same, or even remotely similar Every wood burl is unique, which is what makes them such a sought-after material. Wood burls can even contain minerals, air pockets, soil, sediments, or even foreign objects that during the growth process have become trapped.
Now that you are aware of what you are going to find when you cut open a wood burl, these unique rain configurations make searching for wood burls similar to hunting for treasure. The uniqueness also makes wood burl sought after, so you may find yourself paying quite a bit of money for furniture made from burl wood.
What Are the Different Types of Wood Burl?
Due to tree species having unique sapwood and heartwood, the burl wood found on them can have different grain patterns, density, qualities, wood colors, applications, and durability. What follows is a list of tree species, and if they produce wood burl or not:
|Tree Species||Does It Produce Burl?|
|Sweet Gum Tree||✘|
Cherry Burl Wood
As mentioned in the name, a cherry burl is found on a cherry tree. This wood is normally used to create top-quality, high-end furniture, which can be sold at a high price on both the private and commercial markets. Cherry burl is characterized for its ease of use, and durability, which makes it very popular amongst woodworkers throughout the world.
Taking its characteristics into consideration, it is not surprising that cherry wood is often classed with the likes of mahogany. Black cherry wood is available in abundance, so this is the more commonly used type of cherry burl, particularly in North America. Cherry burl offers a stunning finish and will give your workpiece a gorgeous unique look. Many woodworkers feel you should finish the cherry wood burl off with some wood stain or vanish to lighten up the muted tones.
Oak Wood Burl
One of the most commonly used burled woods is burled oak, and this is not surprising as the burl is both versatile and strong. As you can deduce oak burl comes from the oak tree. Burl oak and oak wood offer many of the same characteristics, however, due to oak burls being some of the smaller burls out there they are often the most expensive.
It is not only the durability that makes this type of burl so sought after. Burled oak also has the most stunning natural color tones of all the burl types available. Due to the nutrient-rich samplings that oak burls form from, burled oak has a rich yellow or golden-brown color that has become quite a trademark. Due to the coloring, furnishings made from burled oak are easily recognized.
Redwood trees are one of the oldest tree species found in the world. They are the iconic symbol of coastal America and produce some of the best wood burls available. One aspect that is unique about a redwood burl is that they can grow up in the canopy of the tree, this can cause them to be quite difficult to harvest.
Redwood burls unfortunately do not carry the tree’s heartwood, like that of the oak wood burls. Rather, they are pale red or deep red, much like the tree’s sapwood. These wood burls can be utilized to make wooden furniture pieces, but they can also be used to form stunning trinkets, veneer surfaces, and even ornate interior trimmings for your house. Redwood burl is very heavy as a result of it being extremely dense and durable.
Walnut Wood Burl
If you are searching for a wood burl that is different from the normal, and can be thought of as highly exclusive, then burled walnut wood is the way to go. Of all the burl woods available on the market, walnut wood is the most expensive. Burled walnut is so exclusive that it is incorporated into the interior trim of luxury Rolls Royce cars.
This would not be the wood you would purchase if you were working on a budget, but if you can get your hands on some of this burl wood you should consider yourself lucky. Burled walnut wood is a rich brown color and once the wood is treated and polished the color of the wood only improves. You will need to seal this wood burl once you have finished polishing it to preserve the natural aesthetic.
Birch Wood Burl
This is another high-priced type of wood burl. Due to Birchwood only growing in the Alaskan wilderness this particular type of wood burl is difficult to find and needs to be imported. This naturally increases the cost of the wood burl.
In terms of wood burl, Birch wood burl is quite rare. It is interesting to note that when Birchwood burls form, they increase the value of the wood automatically. How much does Birch wood burl cost? For just a small piece it can cost you up to $1300. What does one use Birch wood burl for? It is mainly used in the manufacturing of top-end furnishings and ornate decorative objects such as figurines and bowls. The color of Birch burl is a unique light brown to brown color that is easy to identify.
Maple Wood Burl
Of all the types of burl wood out there, maple is thought to be the most interesting type. While basically, any type of tree can form burl under the correct conditions, none of them can produce the great volume of a variety of wood burls iterations that maple can. As indicated by the name, burled maple is found on a maple tree, and is found throughout North America, though this does result in it being less expensive.
Burled maple wood tends to be significantly bigger than burls found on other tree species. Burled maple wood comes in an array of colors from brown, to red, orange, cream, and even off tan. If you are looking for a more affordable burl wood option then we recommend maple burl.
What Is Burl Wood Used For?
Across the world, there are many different tree species, each is utilized for a specific application of their characteristics. Different species of wood burls are used for an assortment of applications depending on their weaknesses, strengths, and aesthetic appeal. With this in mind, let us take a look at a few objects you can make using wood burl.
If you are someone who enjoys making jewelry and is looking to create something unique, you can use wood burl to make something one of a kind. You can make a variety of jewelry pieces, from rings to bracelets, necklaces, and even a gorgeous wooden tiara out of your wood burl. You will need a lot of patience and it will take some practice before you can attempt any intricate projects.
While burl furniture may be quite pricey, it is completely worth the expense. Burl is a stunning medium to work with and will allow you to create unique furniture pieces which will last a lifetime. You can make anything from chairs to benches and tables and even a complete bed frame should you be able to acquire enough wood.
Ornate Burl Kitchenware
If you are someone who loves hosting a dinner party, then creating some kitchenware and/or cutlery using burl wood is a wonderful option. You can make anything from salad forks to plates, bowls, and even drink coasters. You want to be certain that your burl wood piece is food safe, so before it comes into contact with any type of foodstuff you will need to apply a layer of epoxy resin and allow sufficient time for the resin to cure.
Burl Wood Art
To be honest, anything one presents as art, can be considered art, but if you are hoping to create an installation art piece using a good-quality material then why not look at using some wood burl? It is less brittle than other types of wood (such as driftwood) and it will naturally offer plenty of unique grain patterns to create a custom piece.
Can Burl Be Removed From a Tree Without Damaging it?
As you may have realized wood burl is a valuable material, particularly in the woodworking industry, and like any type of scarce resource, people will go to any length to obtain some for themselves. Sadly, the illegal distribution and poaching of burl for profit is relatively common and is harmful to the tree they are removed from.
Should you cut a wood burl off a live tree it will result in irreparable damage to the whole tree. Infections and rot will form which will cause the tree to slowly die. Understandably, you should therefore never remove a wood burl from a live tree, as it could impact the integrity of the whole tree.
Are you able to procure burled wood from another source than a wood supplier? Of course! You can remove wood burls from trees that have been allocated for felling, or from downed trees. This may be time-consuming, but it is a sustainable and ethical way to source your burled wood. You want to do all you can to ensure that your wood supplier has sourced their burled wood ethically.
How Do You Select High-Quality Burl Wood?
How does one select high-quality burl wood? Thanks to each piece of burl wood being unique in its color, and grain pattern, it is practically impossible to outline a standard that all burl wood can be measured against. You could potentially use the same standards that one uses to assess the quality of conventional pieces of wood to determine the quality of the wood burl that you have.
As all pieces of burl wood are interesting to look at, you could look at the integrity, grain density, the presence of knots, and water content, or try doing a scratch test on processed burl to assess its quality.
Now that you have a good understanding of what burl wood is, what species of trees produce burl wood, the different characteristics of burl wood species, and some interesting things you can create using burl wood, you can purchase your burl wood and get started on an exciting and unique burl wood creation. Remember to never cut burl wood off of a live tree and that any burl wood you buy has been sourced ethically.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Burl Wood Good for Furniture?
This is a relevant question when looking at the high prices that burl wood is sold for. So, the answer is yes. Wood burl is a wonderful material to use to build wood pieces. This is thanks to its resistance to splitting, and how you can work with it with ease. In addition, each piece of furniture will be guaranteed to be unique, thanks to the intricate unique grain pattern of the burl wood.
Is Burl Wood Valuable?
In the current market, burl wood is one of the most expensive types of wood available. While there are maybe some species of tree that are pricey in terms of standard wood, burl wood is extremely expensive regardless of which tree species it has been cut from.
What Is a Burl?
What is a burl? A burl is either an individual sapling or a collection of saplings that are attached to a tree that has failed to sprout into another tree. These saplings, as a result, will develop into what looks like wooden lumps on the root system and trunk of a tree. These burls contain stunning and unique grain patterns.