It's a Burl's - Burl Source

Burl Wood, Highly Figured Wood, Spalted & other Very Unusual Woods
for Custom Knifemakers - Luthiers - Artists - Fine Woodworkers

redwood burlspalted oakbuckeye burlspalted maple burl

 Working with Burl and Spalted Wood
Working with burl, spalted and highly figured woods can require different methods than how you would work using traditional woods. Many times burl may require a little extra work, but the dramatic results are more than worth the extra effort. The purpose of this page will be to tell you a little about the wood and to give some helpful suggestions you can use to make the wood look it's very best. If you have any suggestions you would like to add, send them to us at

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Burl & Spalted Wood
Information and woodworking tips
The Wood We Use
Information about different species
What is 76D Stabilized Wood? Information about the stabilizing of wood


The simplest explanation of a burl is that it is a mutated growth that forms on some types of trees. The growth of a burl on a tree is a rare occurance. Usually a burl will occur as a round growth if on the trunk above ground. Underground burls can be like a large onion starting at ground level and expanding outward underground, or as a mishapen bulging growth among the roots of a tree.

The exterior of the burl underneath the bark will be either pins or mishapen bulges. The pins are what cause the birdseyes that are so appealing in some burls. These are usually the result of hundreds of dormant shoots concentrated into one area.The bulging type burls will form swirling grain and reflective chatoyant figure. Some burls will have a mixture of these characteristics. One thing for sure is that burls give us some really cool and unusual wood to work with.

Burls will often have characteristics that would be considered flaws in traditional, straight grained woods. Some of these are; bark pockets, voids, checks and cracks. Some or all of these may occur within a burl. Usually where the figure and coloring is the most bizarre.

Woodworking Tips

 When there is a pocket of bark in a piece we like to secure and harden the bark area by saturating it with CA glue (super glue). If there are any small voids or gaps in the bark are you can put dark sanding dust in the gaps and then saturate with the CA glue. When you sand it blends together and looks natural without the gaps or voids.

Checks and cracks are an easy fix. Narrow checks can be fixed with a dab of 5 minute epoxy into the check smoothed in with a putty knife or similar tool. With larger cracks you can mix a little sanding dust with the epoxy for a fill that will blend in with the wood. I recommend 5 minute epoxy because a short time after you do your fill you can sand and finish the wood and complete your handle without a long wait.

Natural voids can be dealt with a few different ways. Small voids can be just filled with epoxy or left natural depending on the look you like best. With larger voids you can mix the epoxy with a darker sanding dust to make it look like a bark pocket. For a different look, you can mix with crushed turquoise for a natural freeform inlay.

After you perform any of these procedures you just sand and finish your piece as you would normally. When you have done these once, you will see how easy it really is to get dramatic results from this unusual wood.

If you are using our 76D Stabilized Knife Handle Wood you can ignore most of the tips mentioned above. The stabilizing process will harden bark pockets and soft spots as well as fill most small checks and voids.

Spalted Wood

When wood becomes spalted there can be some really wild looking colors and patterns you normally would not see in that type of wood. Some woods will produce blues, reds and a variety of other colors looking like an abstract painting. Sometimes you will get blackline which looks like randomly drawn black ink lines. Spalting is part of the decomposing process in injured or dead trees. The colors and patterns are caused by the different types of bacteria.

Most of the time spalted wood will be softer than the wood would be normally. The more advanced the spalting, the softer the wood becomes. Also, the more advanced the spalting, the wilder the colors and patterns become.

With spalted woods you will usually want to use a wood hardener or have the wood professionally stabilized. Once again, extra work but the bizarre results are more than worth the extra effort. Wood stabilizing companies like stabilizing spalted woods because it is more porous and saturates easily with their stabilizing solutions. If you prefer to do it yourself, I have had good results using over the counter products available at most home improvement stores.

Do it yourself - Wood Stabilizing

Before we had a professional stabilizing system built for us, these were a couple of the ways I experimented with. They both worked well for my own projects. If you want to do it yourself without spending a lot of money, here are a couple options.

Minwax has a product called of all things "Wood Hardener". It is usually in the same section of the store as stains and varnish. Wood Hardener is solvent based so be sure to use it outside or where there is plenty of fresh air. The fumes are the biggest drawback to using this product. It also tends to darken the wood and gives light colored woods an amber color.

Protective Coatings has a product they call "Wood Petrifier". I found it at Home Depot after checking the Protective Coatings website. Wood Petrifier is waterbased and environmentally friendly. You could use this stuff in the kitchen without getting into trouble. Very slight amber with light woods but for the most part keeps the true color of the wood.

Both of these products were created to fix areas of rotten wood in architectural restorations. I have used both on a large variety of woods with results I was very pleased with. I like minwax for the darker and oilier woods and protective coatings for light color, soft and spalted woods. (just my opinion, both work great)

If you will be hardening just a few sets of scales or blocks a mason jar works great. For larger batches I used a flat bottom rubbermaid container. Trim the wood to about the size you need then place in the container. Then pour the solution into the container to cover the wood. The wood will try to float so you need to use something to hold the wood submerged. Try to use something that won't soak up the solution and will hold the wood under when you put the lid on. With scales it soaks all the way through in about 2 days. Blocks should soak a couple days longer. I usually swish the container around a couple times a day. After the wood has soaked long enough take it out to dry. I lay it out flat on a piece of cardboard with another on top with scales. Then I place a board with some weight on top to keep the scales from curling while they dry. After 2 or 3 days the scales are usually dry enough to sand and use. If you ever have scales curl, just flip them over and apply a little weight and they will normally correct themselves within hours.

*A suggestion from one of our regular knife wood customers:
He uses an old pressure cooker with an auto vacuum pump to vacuum saturate the wood a lot faster than allowing the wood to just soak up the solution. I have not tried this myself but his knives look amazing so I have to guess he knows what he is talking about.
If you think you might want to stabilize wood with a professional wood stabilizing system, you should talk to the people who designed and built our system at Ironwood Forge. You should be able to put together a system and get the chemicals, all for about $1000.