Processing Oak Burl

Recently, Ed was contacted by Nick Nichols, a turner who specialized in segmented turning.  He was a member of our club when I first joined 10 years ago, and had our club tour his shop way back then.  We lost touch with him until his recent contact with Ed.

Nick said he was having to give up turning larger pieces, and had a lot of wood that he would like to donate to someone who he knew would use it to create something beautiful, rather than for firewood.  So, about 8 of our members got in our trucks and cars and caravanned to his house.  Upon arrival, Nick  and some of his family greeted us, and he took us through his house, showing off some of the beautiful segmented turnings he had created over the years.  What a joy this experience was.

Nick then took us to his garage, where he had a huge pile of oak burls.  There must have been well over 1,000 pounds of this wood.  In addition, he let Kathy McCall clean out the scraps of board stock he used for his segmented pieces.  She now has a full pick-up load of wood in her barn just waiting to be turned into bowls, vases and jewelry.  He then brought tears to her eyes when he gave her some jewelry he had made.  She will never forget his generosity.  He even gave me his prized collection of stained wood samples, in an old wooden box.  It will become a central piece in my wood library.

I set aside a few pieces of cherry and maple board stock, then went to work on loading up much of the oak burls.  It turned into a feeding frenzy, with 8 turners vying for the best pieces, much like a school of piranhas battling over the leg of a young water buffalo who had wandered into deeper waters!!  Actually, everyone helped everyone else load wood into their cars and trucks, and the sweat poured freely.  Someone did, though, take the boards aside.  I don’t want to mention any names (Keith) but I still wound up with plenty of wood.

I knew when I got home I had to resist the temptation to drop the burls in the back yard, take a shower, and drink a beer.  I would never get the burl cut up into usable pieces.  So, here is how you process an oak burl.

First, you start at the hottest time of day, in full sun, after 2 hours of loading, driving home, and unloading a truck full of wood.

Then, carefully study all sides of the burl, looking for cracks, bark inclusions and insect holes.  Look carefully at the grain patterns.  It is best to “cherry pick” the burl to get pieces of the best wood grain, not just get the most wood out of it.  After much study, I decided this burl would best be cut into blanks to make hollow Christmas ornaments.

Use a piece of chalk to mark out the cuts you will make, on the flat faces, and on the back of the burl.  This is rather tricky, so take your time, and visualize where your chain saw will be cutting on the back side of the burl.

By this time, you are ready to have a stroke, and are saved by a visit from the teenage twins next door.  Sit down and have a long chat with them, drink some water, study the spider they found, drink some more water, and marvel at the way a teenage mind works.

Finally, they are called home and you get back to work.  You are so near collapse you forget to take more progress photos for this blog.  But, you fire up the old chainsaw, cut along the chalk lines, make a few refinements as you discover new features of the burl, and wind up with a pile of chunks of beautiful oak burl, just waiting to be turned into Christmas ornaments.

Your efforts will be rewarded when a family member looks at the ornament you gave them for the holidays, tells you how beautiful it is and how skilled you are, then hangs it in a place of honor on their tree.  You will know right then that your close call with heat stroke was worth the risk.

Thank you, Nick.  We all wish you well and hope we have done you proud with your generous gift.

1 comment to Processing Oak Burl

  • Peggy

    I’d like to see the ornaments you made with your burl. I have a piece of a oak burl from a tree we had to take down. I’d love to do something with it that can be enjoyed for years to come. Thank you for sharing your story.

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