Processing a Green Burl (maple?) to use as a bowl blank

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodturning forum

Forum topic by TaliaferroVaia posted 11-21-2015 04:03 AM 1246 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View TaliaferroVaia's profile


8 posts in 889 days

11-21-2015 04:03 AM

Hello and thank you in advance for taking the time to read this post.

I am an amateur woodworker who has taken a recent interest in turning, especially in turning found treasures (ie: burls in my woods, and other nifty pieces of wood laying around my firewood pile or surrounding forests) I don’t yet have a lathe, but my wife will most likely be getting me one for my birthday next summer (hint hint!!) In assured anticipation, I have been scouring the woods on our land for interesting things to eventually turn.

After watching some videos and reading many articles online, I have started keeping an eye out for burls and other interesting pieces of wood that may eventually be turned into something… well something more than just a hunk of wood, and hopefully a pretty one at that.

To the point: I found what I strongly believe to be a burl at the base of a small, contorted (maple?) tree. After much digging and a badly dulled chainsaw chain, I recovered the piece pictured in this post. It should also be noted that rest of the small tree did not go to waste. I have a crotch piece that I plan on cutting into a bowl blank and about 4.5 feet of log that I will allow to season before milling into boards (trying to get some spalting). The rest – about 15 lineal feet of ~3” diameter will be used to roast marshmallows on our first spring camping trip.

My question: I have tried to give enough photographic information to formulate some good advice, because I have no idea what I’m doing here. First – This is a burl, yes? If so, and I’m pretty certain I have something pretty cool here, what do I do with it? I would like to allow it to dry naturally, and have read that sealing the sawed ends and letting it sit in a dark, dry place for a few years will do that. I have also read that I could cut it into a blank, seal all cut surfaces, and allow it to dry for … some amount of time.

I would really appreciate feedback anyone can give me on this. How to go about cutting it for a bowl blank, etc… I was pretty excited to find it, worked pretty hard to get it out of the ground and would like to do something cool with it.

Following images are of the bottom, close up, side, and front of my piece, respectively.

Thank you in advance – Matt.

11 replies so far

View Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2104 days

#1 posted 11-21-2015 01:30 PM

Welcome to this forum!

Whether get into wood turning or not information found in Forest Products Laboratory, “Wood Handbook,” should help you develop a plan for turning logs into lumber or bowl or spindle blanks.

Don’t know where you live but that will affect your choices. Hope information in those chapters helps you formulate a plan.

Not sure if have a start of a burl, burl, or just large root formation looking at photos. Do think dealing with some unstable grain!

Should you end seal, and store in cool dry place out of the weather for couple years? You could, and hope it works out for you!

If already had a lathe would recommend processing into bowl & spindle blanks, end seal. For bowl blanks, like to rough turn to uniform thickness and set aside to dry for few months or years before final turning. I do not seal roughed bowl blanks. Depending upon MC & time of the year might store in brown paper bag for short period of time before allowing to air dry.

Good luck with it.

-- Bill

View yvrdennis's profile


47 posts in 1047 days

#2 posted 11-21-2015 02:28 PM

+1 for Bill’s advice. In my climate I have good luck with roughing the blanks down to a thickness of about 10% of bowl diameter. I then let them air dry for a year in a double thickness of paper bag. With a single thickness I was getting some cracking. This is for big leaf maple.

It won’t dry much if you leave it whole. I have found that 3” thick slabs take about a 3 years to air dry in my garage, mostly at 50% to 70% humidity. Thicker pieces take much longer as the relationship between drying time and thickness isn’t linear. This varies depending upon species, humidity and air circulation, but the quicker wood dries the more likely it is to crack. Some species are more likely to crack than others.

As it dries the end grain and pith will crack, although this might take a long time. I’d split it through the pith if you can and seal the end grain. As soon as you have a lathe I’d rough turn it so it can air dry the rest of the way, hopefully without cracking.

View TaliaferroVaia's profile


8 posts in 889 days

#3 posted 11-22-2015 04:14 AM

Thank you both for your replies. We live in northeast Ohio, but will be moving a little south (central West Virginia) in spring.

Wildwood, I am not sure if “unstable grain” is a good thing or not? Do you mean unstable as in “interesting and potentially cool looking”, “challenging and difficult to work with” or both? From everything I read and watched, the “pins” coming out indicate a burl, or at least the birds eye grain, so hopefully it will at least look neat – whatever it is. Also, thank you for the links; seems to be a wealth of information that is honestly a little bit daunting at the moment, but I will save the .pdf files – thank you.

My initial plan was to seal it and let it sit for a couple years. Again, that is according to everything I read, but my curiosity may get the best of me, which leads me to yvrdennis’ advice: splitting it along the pith. Understanding that the more slowly I let something dry, the less likely it is to badly crack, maybe slicing it up a little will both satisfy my curiosity and allow it to dry a little faster.

Thank you both for the replies and feedback. I’ll do something with it in the next few days and post back.

View Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2104 days

#4 posted 11-22-2015 04:40 PM

Not clear on how much Burl you actually have looking at those pictures. Burls can grow on any part of the tree, root base, trunk, branches, and sometime many places on the same tree.

Burl growth is crazy with grain going in all different directions. Many believe this crazy grain arrangement leads to unpredictable shrinkage and makes drying burls difficult. Most burls sold come completely sealed in wax and sold by weight, MC not even addressed. Buyers assume all the risks of drying burls. Might be reason so many burls converted into veneers.

Yes those crazy grain patterns or figure is what we all covet!

Many years ago harvested a small burl and destroyed it trying to turn it. End seal & stored that burl for about six months before splitting and mounting on my lathe. My lack of turning experience did me in.

-- Bill

View TaliaferroVaia's profile


8 posts in 889 days

#5 posted 11-23-2015 02:53 AM

Thanks again for the feedback. I ordered some paraffin wax and I think I’ll bust it open in a few days. I figure the best way to learn is to try. I’ll post some more pictures when I cut into it.

View TaliaferroVaia's profile


8 posts in 889 days

#6 posted 12-21-2015 03:47 AM

Hello again. I’ve been kind of lurking and reading various posts and really appreciate the wealth of information available on this forum.

Since I started this thread, Christmas came early and my wife surprised me with a Jet 1221vs lathe. I’ve been lucky enough to have the time to log more than 30 hours on it in the past few weeks and it is unbelievably fun.

This afternoon I grabbed my chainsaw and hacked into the stump pictured above to the best of my ability and was pleased to find some burlishness (new word) inside. I cut it into three chunks and put a piece on the lathe to see what I could do with it. Before I post the pictures, a question: Obviously, it is very wet. I rough turned the small piece in the pictures and coated it with wax. Should I have done that, or should I have put it in a box with its shavings, or both… or does it matter? Anyway, thanks in advance for any feedback.


View Wildwood's profile


2300 posts in 2104 days

#7 posted 12-21-2015 01:12 PM

More helpful if took your bowl off the lathe so could get better view of what you have done so far. Doesn’t look like have turned inside of your bowl from pictures posted. Where did you apply wax?

Rough turning involves turning in & outside of a bowl to uniform thickness and setting aside to air dry. I only use plastic bags when wood on the lathe & stopping for lunch or the day. Paper bag/box storage with or without shavings also temporary for me before taking rough out and set aside to air dry.

Wood loses moisture thru evaporation due to air circulation; when seal wood completely in wax or other sealer how does that wood dry?

-- Bill

View TaliaferroVaia's profile


8 posts in 889 days

#8 posted 12-21-2015 04:40 PM

Doh! I did turn the inside. I’m sure it’s nowhere near uniform but it’s about an inch to an inch and a quarter thickness. I did coat the whole thing in wax, which I thought would make it just dry slower; it makes sense that it would completely seal in moisture. I guess I’ll put it back up, turn the wax off, and put it in a box with shavings.


View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2930 days

#9 posted 12-22-2015 11:35 AM

Try for some great help with wood turning.

View TaliaferroVaia's profile


8 posts in 889 days

#10 posted 12-28-2015 03:57 AM

Thank you Knothead for the link. I will look into membership benefits and probably join.

I decided to take another piece of the chunk pictured in the beginning of this thread and see what I could do with it. Pictured below is the rough bowl I came up with, and I have some concerns and a couple questions:

First, I have been experimenting with O.B. Shine Juice and put some on this piece just to see what it would look like with some kind of finish on it. As Wildwood pointed out, coating it with wax would obviously not help it dry, and I’m wondering if the light coating of shellac would hinder, help, or not matter in the drying process. (it is currently boxed with shavings).

Secondly: looking at the pictures, you can see some inclusions which I think in some places go all the way through the piece. Any advice or warnings, or is this something that I’ll have to assess sometime over the summer when I take it out.

Finally, I have read that within a period of boxing the wet rough bowls that the chips should be stirred and mixed up. Any advice on how soon and how frequently I should do this would be really helpful.

Thanks for checking in!
Without further ado…

View blue77's profile


140 posts in 877 days

#11 posted 12-30-2015 10:12 AM

Looking good! I am pretty new to the whole bowl drying proses myself. I had to get rid of the wood shavings because it held in too much water and some of my bowls started too mold. Now I just stack the bowls one on top the other in a card bored box. But I’m in the heart of Canada so maybe with your climate you’ll need them. Everyone I have talked to and everything I have read tells me something different about drying bowl. Some use shavings/ paper bag/ plastic bag/ cardboard box/ light cote of wax/shellac/ end grain sealer/ creative stacking/ nothing at all. My guess is it all depends on the humidity and tempter of where you’re storing them. If it cracks try something different, I hope all goes well! Not a very helpful comment but a truthful one :)

-- I make bowls and spoons.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics