They say beauty lies within, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to burls. These round bulges may look unattractive growing along the outside of any tree, but on the inside burls reveal colorful swirls of woodgrain.
Artisans love burls for the unique beauty, and you’ll find many inlays, bowls, furniture, veneers and other crafts created from burls. But the first step is finding and harvesting a burl.
Burls occur due to some sort of stress upon the tree, whether from an insect infestation, fungal infection or other injuries. It can happen to any type of tree, although certain trees seem to be predisposed to burls. There is no creating a burl—it will only happen naturally—and the largest burls will develop the most unique patterns. This is all part of what makes burl hunting so thrilling.
Burl hunters look for bulbous growths near the roots, or sometimes on the branches of a tree. An “eyed burl,” sometimes called a basal burl, can be identified by its round shape on the outside of the tree. These growths are more valuable than “onion” burls, layered burls that grow bark to cover an injury. Generally, there is little solid wood within these rounded growths.
Because a burl may reach to the center of a tree, it’s best to harvest an entire mature tree rather than attempting to cut the burl from the tree. Leaving some wood on either side of the burl can make it more valuable to potential buyers who may have specific requirements for how to slice the wood. Depending on the tree species and target use, your end user may have a preference for slabs or blocks. If time isn’t an issue, allowing the burl to dry slowly as a whole can lead to color changes that will make the burl even more unique.
Burls from certain trees such as cherry, ash, redwood, walnut and maple, tend to be highly valued compared to other species like oak that are more likely to contain holes or rot. A good eyed burl can bring anywhere between $20 to $200 depending on its size and the tree species, although some reports go as high as $500 for a large burl.
Because burls can bring high prices, there’s a market for poachers to illegally strip burls from living trees. Removing a burl will often kill the tree, so it’s important to have permission to harvest the burl or work with a trusted vendor. But most burl hunters will agree that there’s little better than finding that perfect burl and getting the first look at the unique patterns within.