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Full Version: Burl - but not Ives
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If you're old enough to appreciate the attempt at word play that is represented in the title of this thread then you, like me, probably sport a few gray hairs on your noggin. 

When I first discovered the growths on the trunk of my majestic American Elm, I didn't know what they were. A year later the 50 foot tall massive old elm was clearly suffering and the following year it had expired.  We cut the tree about 12 feet up from the ground to keep the dead branches from crushing the adjacent shed. 


I also trimmed one of the bumps off the trunk with my chain saw and took note of the strange grain at the saw line. That's when someone more familiar with wood than me told me that "that's burl". 

That's when I decided to turn the trimmed piece into a serving platter.


And here is a closer look at the grain:


Pleased with the results, I lopped off several more growths of various size and shape and produced various bowls and serving pieces from them.  This was all three years ago. The event that prompted this post occurred when I inspected my old burl trunk this year. I discovered that the old trunk has gone back into burl production again  and some of the new growths are quite massive:


Anyhow, seems like this stuff would make some pretty nice tool and knife handles as well.
Burl Ives eh?  Wow.  You really dug one up there Mr. Mike.  My noggin is grey enough but I must say those memory synapses have not been accessed since childhood.  Amazing what sticks in there.  Apparently Burl made an impression.

There used to be tons of elm trees in Michigan but when I was young Dutch Elm Disease (DED) killed most of them.  I remember it happening.  The tree canopy was destroyed in many neighborhoods, leaving streets empty and barren of shade.  Though I was young I remember seeing many dead trees.  Really sad.  I Googled it, and American elm was one species devastated.  It killed something like 77 million trees worldwide 1970.  Due to it's stately nature and open canopy it was a favorite street tree in Michigan and it's loss changed the gestalt of many neighborhoods.

Imagine this minus the trees.  [attachment=919]  That's what happened.

"DED (Dutch Elm Disease) is caused by a fungus called Ophiostoma ulmi (formerly Ceratocystis ulmi) that was introduced to the U.S. in the early 1930s. The American elm, Ulmus americana, is extremely susceptible and the disease has killed hundreds of thousands of elms across the U.S.... The disease is still a threat today, but fortunately, several resistant American elm and hybrid elm selections are available or being developed."

Interestingly, DED does not kill the roots, and many elms not physically dug up for removal still survive decades later.  Roots sprout suckers which die, but the roots continue.   Gotta hand it to the elms for that survival mechanism.  Hopefully that will work for the elm, and someday it can return to it's original glory.  

Apparently your "stump" Mr. Mike is still alive and producing beautiful burl wood.  How cool is that.  Gotta hand it to the elm trees.
Really very nice serving platter, Mike!
Equivalent of burl in UK English is bur or burr. Wink

That's an outstanding piece of work, Mike!

I can't think of a more popular natural material for knife handles. I must have about 40 blocks, and I can get at least two handles out of a block.

Almost all burl is dyed as it's being "stabilized" with cyanoacrylate type resin. Often times it's double dyed or even triple dyed. All light colored burl takes dye beautifully, and comes out rock hard, so it's very difficult to know what kind of wood you're working with.

When you buy a block of burl there will usually be some sort of indication as to what type of wood it is, but if I've taken a slice of it off, chances are that information would be removed.

I was at a Bark River hammer-in many years ago. They had a ton of every sort of burl you could imagine. I picked up a nice piece and asked Mike what it was. I've been calling any unidentified burl "Milton" since then. After all, it very rarely matters if it's been dyed.
Thank you very much Jan and Mark. That bit of woodworking was done with a drill press, a Forstner bit  and various sanding mechanisms. All I applied, once finished, was olive oil. I'm pleased that none of the pieces I have made have ever cracked and it's been a few years now. "Knock on wood" is appropriate here now I suppose.
Nice wood and nice work, Mike.

Burls are wonderful. As are varied grain patterns that are not quite burls. I have collected a variety of woods, including burls in the search for beautiful reel seats on fishing rods - specifically bamboo fly rods. I make and sell a mandrel tool for turning reel seat fillers. I also have been getting into woodworking a lot more lately and have been collecting interesting grain woods for making small boxes and such.

You're too kind Rick. I have built and created plenty of furniture and wooden objects over the years but, to date, no one has ever accused me of being a wood worker. I do have the good fortune of having quite a few home grown materials available to me in Kansas as well as a 2.5" band saw with a 18" throat. My Uncle Don was a cuckoo clock maker and I ended up with some of his tools.

While I'm feeling expansive - here's another "wooden object" story that I'd like to share. The picture here is of a 54" round oak table with the leaves in it. It's surrounded by 6 solid oak chairs that came with the table. 


Nothing much special about the table - oak veneer and no claw feet. The table's history is special to me though. We had an elderly farm couple for neighbors who were selling out and moving to town. This all occurred when I was about age twenty. The table and chairs had been presented to them by her parents as a wedding gift in the very early 1900's. They sold the table and chairs to me and the set resided in two of my homes in Kansas and then in Arizona. It fell out of my wife's decorating scheme about ten years ago so all went back to Kansas where it was  "on loan" to one of my nephews for his young family's use. My youngest daughter and her husband recently moved to Phoenix and bought a house so, now, back to Arizona it goes. 

The picture was taken in my shop in Kansas just a few weeks ago as it was being readied for transport. It currently resides in my daughter's dining room here in Scottsdale. So, how many meals have been shared around this table by how many people these past 100+ years?  We can put all the plastic bottles and glass jars we want in our special little garbage receptacles but the story behind this table is what I call recycling.
(10-25-2019, 10:27 AM)Mike Brubacher Wrote: [ -> ]...snip...
We can put all the plastic bottles and glass jars we want in our special little garbage receptacles but the story behind this table is what I call recycling.


Great story and provenance.  I love it.  So glad you are keeping it alive and useful.

I have a similar old table and chair set, but I don't think it goes back as far as yours.  Came from my former wife's grandmother, so it is at least in the 1930s, I think.   

I also have two pieces that were made by my great-grandfather (in Ohio), a student's rolltop desk and a cedar hope chest.  I don't know exactly when they were made, but I'm pretty sure around 1900.  The rolltop was made from walnut boards salvaged from an old barn.  I don't know if that means the boards were part of the barn construction, or just something that was "in" the barn.  The hope chest I do not have even that much information.  It doesn't matter as these pieces mean a lot to me and I hope my daughter and granddaughter appreciate them once they become theirs. 

That's an even better story Rick. Pieces made by your great grand father are special for sure.
I've been stuck in Mexico this past year remodeling a condo so just got caught up on the BESS forum. Those are nice looking pieces Mike and love the rest of the stories as well. Spend a year out of the country and home looks real good.