IMG_3932Once in a long while, I will encounter an interesting and usable burl on a fallen tree or branch.  They say that burls result from stress usually in the form of some infestation or injury.  The result is a wart of convoluted grain that can be quite unusual, beautiful, and tough.

I have encountered enough of them to know that it is a bad idea to remove one from a tree or fell a tree just to get one.  Not just because of concern for the tree, but also because burls often hold disappointing surprises.  There are often voids, bark inclusions, and other issues that can render it unusable for what one had in mind.  But once in awhile, I’ll find one that is ready to be rescued, and I can see what it offers.

I carved the kuksa in the photo from such a piece.  I usually change my tactics when it comes to burl.  While the burl is still green, I carve as usual with axe, adze, knife, and gouges.  I leave a lot of extra material before the drying stage, because I find that burl likes to twist and turn in unpredictable ways as it dries.  After it is completely dry, I turn largely to a rasp to refine the shape.  The dry burl has a hard and brittle texture that cuts well under the rasp but not under the knife.

IMG_3925I use card scrapers, some curved, to refine further, then finish up with fine sandpaper. That is very unusual for me, as I prefer to leave my pieces straight from the cutting edge.   But for this burl, finishing with abrasives made sense.  The kuksa is 5.5 inches long, 3.5 inches wide, and 1.5 inches high.

Who knows how long it will be until I work with another burl.  If you want to see the work of a burl virtuoso, check out the work of Norm Sartorius.  You might also enjoy this video on the efforts of Norm and others to honor the work of Emil Milan.

Although the burl kuksa is already spoken for, I actually have been catching up and working on some things, some of which I hope to post for sale within a couple weeks.  I’ll post some info here when I do.


One last thing: my last post focused on holding with holdfasts when working with gouges, but for many tasks I prefer hands and a knife.  I use a knife at some point on everything I make.

Below, I am making a slicing cut by pulling the knife along the underside of the handle of a crab apple bowl.  Great for controlled concave cuts.


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6 Responses to Burl

  1. sartorius2015 says:

    Thanks for the compliment Dave! I do use burl a lot and love the color and grain probably too much. Like semi-precious stones to me. Still breathtaking after all these years. That was a major confession regarding the presence of sandpaper. I may have missed it but what is the wood for the kuska shown? Are you aware that the 2015 AAW Symposium is in Pittsburgh this year? I know you are not a turner and with rare exceptions neither am I but these huge woodworking events include exhibitions and the famous ³instant gallery² where hundreds of makers put their best work out. Of course the common thread is the lathe but its quite something to see. I have always found it very stimulating to look at objects others make even though not spoons. Your 99% edge tool approach may not be represented either but there will be some human powered lathe work, treadle, spring pole, etc. There will also be a fair amount of nicely carved turnings, exceptional texturing, etc. You may be already on track for this but if not I think you should minimally consider going for a day just to take in the exhibitions. Norm

    From: “David Fisher, Carving Explorations” Reply-To: “David Fisher, Carving Explorations” Date: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 at 9:34 PM To: “Norman E. Sartorius” Subject: [New post] Burl

    WordPress.com dfishercarver posted: “Once in a long while, I will encounter an interesting and usable burl on a fallen tree or branch. They say that burls result from stress usually in the form of some infestation or injury. The result is a wart of convoluted grain that can be quite unusua”


  2. The wood is cherry, Norm. I guess I have done my penance. Now the burl is gone and the sandpaper is locked back in the cabinet. Maybe I should call that cabinet Pandora’s box.

    I was unaware of the AAW Symposium in Pittsburgh. I’ll check out the dates. I should show up with my axe.


  3. Bill Palmer says:

    David, I always count a successful day by discovering something new. The link to Norm Satorius’ web page made yesterday a tremendous success. I thank you for your new blog page. Bill


  4. John Thorson says:

    David, can you easily enable ‘social’ on your main web site? A number of people are ‘pinning’ items from your gallery and making this easier helps get the word out on the amazing work you do.


  5. Tone says:

    I was given several old, small, dry burred hawthorne trunks for firewood – the owner had been saving them for a woodturner but only one expressed interest and then never turned up to collect! I thought them all too small for my adzed bowls (I make big bowls) so, after leaving them a year or two more, burnt all but the largest as firewood. I eventually decided to attack the last remaining burred trunk, so that it was used or firewood, fully expecting it to split into many useless shards. To my surprise, it stayed together, for the most part, and my trusty Hans Karlsson adze worked even on this dry, dry burr. The limited, awkwardly shaped material forced me to work around knots and “burrlets” and adopt some unusual asymetic shapes but the end result was 2 remarkably usable and visually interesting, long, shallow bowls. I gifted them to family members and see them whenever I visit their respective homes, both in everyday use, which is good to see 🙂


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