Spalted Alaskan Birch

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Project by Stonekettle posted 08-14-2010 08:03 PM 3574 views 3 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

More spalted Alaskan birch burl. The blank for this piece was cut from the largest birch burl I’ve ever found, it was almost five feet across. It came from a tree that was damaged in the Miller’s Reach/Big Lake fire here in Alaska’s MatSu Valley about fifteen years ago. The tree lived for years after the fire and developed the burl in an area of the trunk that was burned in the fire. I found the tree maybe a year or so after it died, much of it was rotten by then and useless, but pieces of the lower trunk were still solid, including most of that huge burl. I got a number of large bowl banks from the burl and a bunch of smaller ones. The fire, which burned several hundred thousand acres, was so intense that winds in the middle of the fire reached hurricane force – as a result portions of the wood that had faced into the wind were embedded with sand and grit, which made for interesting texture, but dulled the heck out of my turning tools very, very quickly.

Because the wood was soft I mounted the blank on a turning plate with 3” screws and turned it at low speed leaving the base thick. Portions of the wood were almost pulpy, but when they dried they were the most beautiful. After turning I let the bowl dry for about 6 months, and then carved and sculpted it to resemble flowing water. The salmon were cut from hard pieces of birch burl stock (I never throw wood away, even when trimming blanks. Pieces of burl and heartwood are sliced into slabs on the resaw and put away in the stock cabinet for exactly this kind of thing). The fish are cut from stock on the big scrollsaw, and then hand carved and wood-burned. They’re finished separately from the bowl, so that I don’t get drips and runs. The whole thing is finished in about twenty very thin coats of wipe-on poly so that it looks like wet flowing water.

-- Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

22 comments so far

View Edward83's profile


161 posts in 4358 days

#1 posted 08-14-2010 08:07 PM

Very creative and an excellent display of talent

-- Praise God in all things, especially the bad things because they make the best learning experiences.

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 4479 days

#2 posted 08-14-2010 08:22 PM

Jim, I love your works, they are very breathtakingly beautiful, plus the fact that I have a special fondness for spalted wood contributes to my liking your pieces. Fantastic work!

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4764 days

#3 posted 08-14-2010 08:29 PM

this is a very beautiful piece…i just love it…i left alaska in 1996 after having lived in eagle river for 15 years…so i really appreciate your work and the spirit of this bowl..i really do love alaska and wish things were different that i could live there again, but i will enjoy work like yours to keep that feeling alive…you did a wonderful job here..

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View levan's profile


472 posts in 4440 days

#4 posted 08-14-2010 09:58 PM

Amazing work of art

-- "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right". Henry Ford

View Spoontaneous's profile


1340 posts in 4791 days

#5 posted 08-14-2010 10:25 PM

This bowl makes me wish I could enlarge the photos on this site. That contrast between the gold and pink wood is striking. Must have been fun to play with. Nice work, what is the finished size?

-- I just got done cutting three boards and all four of them were too short. (true story)

View Stonekettle's profile


135 posts in 4365 days

#6 posted 08-15-2010 12:07 AM

about 14” in diameter at the shoulder

-- Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

View swirlsandburls's profile


117 posts in 4857 days

#7 posted 08-15-2010 02:02 AM

Very cool

-- patience is a virtue ... in woodworking, cooking, and life in general

View TJ65's profile


1443 posts in 4511 days

#8 posted 08-15-2010 02:12 AM

OMG just beautiful. Glad you incorporated the info about how you did you fish as I was going to ask before I read it.
The fires you had there sounded pretty severe. We had fires here in 2003 that were pretty similar to what you described, our bush is still trying to recover form it. Some areas are simply dead while others are coming along nicely. I think it will take awhile to become what it was before the fire. It was pretty disheartning to see it all unfold and think of all the area just decimated.We stopped going bush for a while as it was too sad but we got back into going out there and we can now appreciate the immense undertaking what the bush has to do to recover.
Glad you reclaimed something from the fires and turned it into something beautiful.

-- Theresa,

View Stonekettle's profile


135 posts in 4365 days

#9 posted 08-15-2010 04:40 AM

Theresa, I was in Australia in 2004 and happened to see some of the fire damage. Pretty horrific. Glad to hear it’s recovering, albeit slowly.

-- Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

View imallchalkedup's profile


393 posts in 4442 days

#10 posted 08-15-2010 06:03 AM

Cool story about the fires, wow, did’nt know that they generated that kind of wind. Awesome bowl, love everything about it and the carved fish added to the side is just awesome, great job, you definetly are an artist.

-- RStadler

View Dark_Lightning's profile


5097 posts in 4570 days

#11 posted 08-15-2010 06:13 AM

That is astonishingly beautiful!

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4731 days

#12 posted 08-15-2010 06:15 AM

Another masterpiece. The carvings on your pieces are superb..(those salmon are so real that they bring back great memories of fishing) and add another level of eye candy to a beautiful turning. The coloring really brings out the textures. I have heard that saying that everything is big in Alaska….big sky, big trees….and now big talent – very impressive. I have been experimenting with textures lately….and multiple axis…..but carving is another level I will have to explore…especially after such extraordinary inspiration.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View scrappy's profile


3507 posts in 4891 days

#13 posted 08-15-2010 08:37 AM

Fantastic bowl. Great turning and carving. Very artful piece. Love it.

Keep it up.


-- Scrap Wood's the best...the projects are smaller, and so is the mess!

View RichardH's profile


295 posts in 4463 days

#14 posted 08-15-2010 03:13 PM

Great post – the exterior of this bowl is fantastic.

-- "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it...It's the hard that makes it great."

View Jordan's profile


1400 posts in 4586 days

#15 posted 08-16-2010 06:36 AM

Man, that’s so fabulous – actually ALL of your projects are so different and beautiful!


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