Alaskan Birch Burl

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Project by Stonekettle posted 09-19-2014 07:59 AM 2560 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I tell people that the best part of being a turner is that if you screw up, you can still heat your house with what’s left. This piece, however, started in the firewood pile.

Each fall I have a couple cords of split and seasoned firewood delivered. Here in Alaska, that’s typically birch, which is about the only “hardwood” that grows in my part of the state. I typically have several tons of birch turning stock seasoning/spalting in stickered piles under the shop eves, but I alway pick through the firewood when it arrives, you never know what you’ll find. I came across this burl in the pile, it had gone through the splitter and was pretty busted up. I’ve got dozens of burls and hundreds of turning blanks stacked up in the shop, enough to keep me busy for years, but I never let a burl go by.

It’s too bad it was split, I would have loved to have the complete piece of wood.

I tossed it in the pile and let it dry for several years and forgot about it. This morning I was pulling out pieces of wood for turning and came across it. It was pretty ugly, dry and cracked and oddly shaped. Perfect. I like a challenge.

I flattened one side with the chainsaw, then cut a large round blank on the bandsaw. As a bonus I got some pen blanks and a smaller piece I’ll use for turned earrings. The various scraps went into the tinder pile, because, well, you know.

The blank was heavy and seriously unbalanced, but my big lathe is an old industrial machine and it’s bolted securely to the floor of my shop with concrete anchor bolts, so I could spin it up without vibration. After I got it rough shaped and the bark off and I could see the grain, I decided on a closed form – because, hell, look at that grain, it would have been a crime to turn that away and make an open form bowl somebody would use to put fruit in or something worse.

The final piece is about 12” in diameter, finished in simple walnut oil and rubbed with Mahony’s oil wax.

-- Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

6 comments so far

View BobWemm's profile


2865 posts in 2694 days

#1 posted 09-19-2014 08:06 AM

Man, you gotta luv Burl of any kind.
Congratulations on a great save from the firewood heap.
The grain and finish is outstanding.
Thank you for sharing.


-- Bob, Western Australia, The Sun came up this morning, what a great start to the day. Now it's up to me to make it even better. I've cut this piece of wood 4 times and it's still too damn short.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 3625 days

#2 posted 09-19-2014 09:40 AM

Nice, very nice.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View bushmaster's profile


3939 posts in 3051 days

#3 posted 09-19-2014 01:37 PM

Very nice work and birch burl. Hard to find birch with that much figure. Not common here in nothern B.C. lookingnfprward to seeing more of your work.

-- Brian - Hazelton, British Columbia

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 2193 days

#4 posted 09-19-2014 02:05 PM

Beautiful piece of wood and a craftsman that obviously knows what to do with it.

It looks great.

-- Brad, Texas,

View peng's profile


38 posts in 2676 days

#5 posted 12-25-2015 03:49 PM

Wonderful piece!!!Great job!!!


View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3635 days

#6 posted 12-25-2015 03:55 PM

Wow! It’s very beautiful.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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