Have you had the good fortune to walk in an ancient forest and see a burl? It is not often you find one. And if you do, you most likely cannot take it home. It is either on private land or too big to carry or too high on a tree trunk to retrieve.
Burls for the wood artists are hard to come by. If you are lucky enough to know of someone who works in the woods or know an old woodsman, you might be able to buy a few, that is, if they still have a woodpile out back with aged burls. It is much more fun to find a woodpile of burls than “googling” for them on the internet!
Perhaps an irritant, organic or otherwise, got under and into the bark which the tree then proceeds to isolate (in the same fashion as a grain of sand in the oyster), and grows cells around it, the tissues multiply and multiply, adding a new layer every year, similar to annual growth rings on all trees. Most burls have wonderful grain structure, with dense hard wood, and when polished are most handsome. Some burls are not symmetrical…they are full of swirls and grooves, lips, sink holes and bark inclusions. There are woods that “flame”, or they have tiger stripes or cats’ paws. Some patterns may be wavy, swirled, marbled, spalted or feathered; they may have birdseyes or be spotted.
These features, especially the “flaws” make for unique wood art.
Burls are seldom found on trees less than 50 years old. The burls themselves must grow for at least 50 years to be useful for the wood carver. The burls that Phoebe works with range in age from 40 to 300 years old. The trees from which the burls are found on are usually 100 to 400 years old.Occasionally Phoebe has found burls on trees that are at least 1500 years old.
Their high incidence on exposed headlands with negligible numbers on nearby protected trees has strongly suggested that salt spray or salt ground water or other water of low oxygen content might be a major factor in their origin.
Burls are an antiquity. With so little old growth forests left burls are becoming harder to find. If you’re able to buy burls, they too, are becoming rare, and the prices for some species have increased dramatically. Red wood burls in California now are priced between $75 and $300 a pound… a burl is indeed a treasure!