Burl wood is a type of wood used by artists to create sculptures and other items, such as clocks and even some forms of furniture. It is highly prized by artists because of its unique shapes and ring patterns. This wood is a type of fast growing, abnormal growth found on some trees. It grows because the tree has experienced some sort of environmental stress or damage, and it is often caused by either a fungal attack or an attack by insects.
The number of trees that produce burl wood is quite low. In addition, certain areas tend to create more than others, because all or many of the trees in a particular location are likely to be attacked by the same fungus or insects. Certain species also tend to be more susceptible to attacks and, therefore, more likely to develop burl wood. For this reason, certain types are more rare and prized than others.
Often, a tree that has developed burl wood is still quite healthy. In fact, many of these trees can go on to live for many more years. Other trees develop burl wood offshoots that are so large and heavy that they create additional stress on the tree and can cause it to die.
When used in woodcrafting, burl wood is removed from the tree, preferably after the tree has already died in order to avoid killing it. It is then cut open in order to review the pattern inside. Sometimes, a single offshoot can produce several different pieces for an artist to work with.
Some burl wood offshoots develop regular growth rings that simply grow at an accelerated rate. This type of burl wood is not as sought after by artists as other forms because the patterns are not as interesting to look at. The majority of woodworking artists prefer burl wood that grows in irregular patterns that swirl and contain what are referred to as eyes — small spots that develop on the wood. While pieces with unusual patterns are the most desired form, they are also the most difficult to work with. This is because the irregular patterns make the wood harder to saw, chisel, and cut without splitting the wood or accidentally cutting it in the wrong direction.