What Makes Wood Look So Good?

Posted by Eric on Dec 10th 2016

As a woodworker, I find all wood beautiful. The pattern of the grain, the variations in color, and variation between different wood types and even different pieces of the same wood type never cease to amaze me. For those that don't have a special love of lumber, it takes a unique piece of wood to make them take notice, and those are the types of wood I want to discuss today. 

You may have heard the terms figured wood, burled wood, spalted wood, and ambrosia maple, but do you know what they mean? I'm going to talk to you a bit about what they mean, and what causes them, so let's dive in!

Figured Wood

Figured wood is something that I hear a lot. Wood's figure is just the appearance of the grain on a piece of wood. While every wood has figure, a wood that's being sold as figured wood has an unusual character to it. It's a non-specific term for a piece of wood with more visual interest than normal. 

Burled Wood

Burl is a very specific type of growth on a tree, that produces a swirling pattern in the wood. It is caused by environmental stress during growth, such as that caused by an injury, fungus or virus. Burls are usually visible on the tree, and often look like a large bump or wart on the tree. Burled wood is highly prized by woodworkers, and tends to sell at a premium cost. 

Spalted Wood

Spalted wood is wood that is colored by a fungus. It often presents itself in the form of black lines through the piece of wood, but can be other colors, such as blue, green, and even purple. Because the fungus has begun to decay the wood in the process of spalting, this type of wood is seldom used for lumber, and is generally used for wood turning, or as slabs. 

Ambrosia Maple

Ambrosia Maple is an interesting type of figuring. It's actually a type of spalting that is caused by an insect. An insect called the ambrosia beetle infests the soft maple wood, and as it burrows through the wood, it leaves a fungus in it's path. This fungus causes blue to grey streaks in the wood, without destroying the integrity of the wood as many other types of spalting can do. It is often used for flooring, guitars, and wood turning. 

Below are some photos that illustrate some of the character we've discussed above. I hope I've been able to clear up some of the mystery when you hear some of these terms. 

(From left to right: Boxwood Elder Burled Pen, Ambrosia Maple Board, Spalted Tamarind Pen)