Burl Wood 101: Types and Uses for Furniture and Art

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Burl wood is highly prized for its unique and aesthetically pleasing grain. Because of the uniqueness and beauty of burl woods, they can cost up to three times more than normal wood pieces.

What exactly is burl wood? How do you identify it if you come across one? What different types of burl wood are there? We will answer all these questions and more.

So, let’s start with the basics.

What is Burl Wood? – What causes burl on trees

Multiple burls on a several-hundred-year-old cypress tree
Image: Laurent Bélanger, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also referred to as tree knots, Burl wood is a type of wood that has grown in an abnormal way or shape, which produces a cool-looking pattern on the inside. This deformity is caused by stress or trauma.

Stress on a tree can come from various sources, such as injury to the bark, causing burl to grow on it in order for it to heal, or an infection of certain parasites, viruses, and fungi that restricts normal growth, causing it to grow in an unusual way.

Because of the abnormal growth of the grain in the burl wood, it forms a twisted and interlocked pattern, which makes the burl wood extremely dense and resistant to splitting.

The most common causes of burl wood are insect and mold infestations. Burls grow at a much faster pace than other tree cells, and their sizes are never predictable. They develop at the same speed in all types of weather, whether it’s winter or summer, dry or moist weather.

Burls mature over time, becoming increasingly vivid in hue and pattern. It might take 30-40 years for a burl to reach maturity and peak.

Characteristics of Burl Wood

Size: Burl wood is found in a variety of sizes, from small pieces to big blocks that can weigh several tons. They can also be found in a variety of shapes.

Grain: Noted for its unique and interesting patterns, burl wood has an unusual grain, unlike that of normal wood. Each piece is said to have its own unique pattern, making it one-of-a-kind.

Sapwood: Burl wood can have sapwood, but the older the piece of burl is, the less sapwood it has. The more heartwood and less sapwood a burl wood have makes it more desirable. Good quality burl wood has almost no sapwood.

Lifespan: Though typically long-lasting, Burl wood does not have a specific lifespan as it depends on the species of tree from which it came from. Some burl woods can even last for over 100 years.

Types of Burl Wood

Below are eight common types of burl woods that grow naturally in trees:

1. Redwood burl wood

Redwood burl wood comes from the Redwood tree, which is highly prized for its beauty. It has a strong, reddish-brown color. Another interesting fact about Redwood Burl wood is that if a redwood feels that it may die, it creates burls that can sprout and create new redwood trees in its place.

2. Maple burl wood

Big Leaf Maple Burl 2.5" x 4" x 4"

Maple burl wood is known for its softer color and more intricate patterns, with a lighter hue of brown. It is also much more common than redwood burl wood. These burl patterns are said to usually resemble fiddle back spider webs and can range from cream, tan, orange, red, and occasionally brown in color.

Also Read: Types of Maple Wood

3. Walnut burl wood

It is noted for its strong, beautiful grain pattern. Its color ranges from rich light chocolate brown to dark brown. A Walnut burl is usually harvested from the base of walnut trees, where a large ball often occurs. This burl is famously used for creating classic-looking automobile interiors.

4. Oak burl wood

Sessile oak with a large burl in the Brohmer Bergen hills
Image: Botaurus, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Oak Burl wood is highly prized for its intricately patterned grain. The pattern is often compared to the swirls of classic marble, with tiny complex patterns running through it. Oak burl wood’s color can range from creamy tan to golden brown.

5. Cherry burl wood

Very popular for its lighter, creamier hue and slight red tint. It is a popular choice for domestic furniture. Its beautiful patterns add strength and character, while the wood itself is stiff, strong, and easy to work with with both hand and machine tools.

Also Read: Types of Cherry Wood

6. Birch burl wood

Birch burl wood has a distinctive, bright yellow color with typically circular dark brown grain patterns running through it. It is traditionally used to make small boxes and decoration pieces because of its lightweight strength, and resistance to cracking.

7. Elm-burl wood

Elm-burl wood is hard and noted for its color and grain pattern it has. The color ranges from light brown to dark red, occasionally green and near-purple. As for its grain pattern, with elm burl wood, there are usually no straight lines or pronounced grain.

8. Ash Burl Wood

Ash-burl wood is noted for its light creamy color patterns. Though it ranges from pale gold to medium brown, it is also noted for its pale yellow and olive color. The burl on its tree is often found higher on the trunk and is famous for its artistic grain that is both simple and elegant.

Uses of Burl wood

A bowl turned from a plum tree burl
Image: DoggerelBlogger, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Furniture Making

Burl wood is highly prized for its beautiful grain and pattern, making it an ideal choice for creating furniture like coffee tables, dining tables, desk ornaments, wall signs, picture frames, etc.

It is extremely durable with water-resistant qualities, making it a popular choice for outdoor furniture as well as any type of furniture that may often come into contact with water.

2. Wood Sculptures

An increasingly popular choice for artists, burl wood, has become a common material for creating sculpture due to its artistic grain and pattern. It offers more variety than other types of wood, which can be challenging yet rewarding to work with.

3. Decorative Items

Burl wood is used to create a wide range of decorative items. They have traditionally been made into small boxes or containers which can be placed on a shelf or desk to keep various items. Some other common uses for burl wood include pen holders, letter openers, candle holders, bowls, gun handles, etc.

Also Read: 30 Whittling Ideas

4. Automobile Interior

Burl wood was first popularized in car manufacturing because of its beauty and ability to be steam-bent into complex curves. It is commonly used for decorative purposes such as steering wheel hubs, shift knobs, door panels, etc. but has also been used in the past to create entire dashboards.

4. Musical Instrument

Burl wood is very popular for making high-end musical instruments. It’s often used to create the backs, sides, and necks of guitars, flutes, oboes, drums, and other popular instruments. The wood’s high quality and alluring aesthetic add a unique touch to these products.


1. How to find burl wood?

Burl wood can be found in a number of places; it isn’t just limited to forests or one species. It can, for example, sometimes be found in the parking lots of lumber yards. It’s also sold online on websites. Any kind of tree that gets stressed or has a deformity in its growth pattern can produce burls, no matter the age or size of the tree. Therefore, it’s possible to find burl wood in forests and even hidden away along sidewalks or a fence row.

Burl wood can be identified by looking for a bumpy, rounded outgrowth on the tree that has no clear beginning or end to its growth pattern. They can be harvested from the ground or directly from a tree’s trunk.

2. Why is burl so expensive?

Burl wood is often considered a luxury item. It’s prized because no two pieces of burl wood are the same and offer something completely unique to their owner. It’s often associated with fine art and the upper class, which is why it has become so expensive.

Another reason for its high price is that it’s not extremely easy to find and, therefore, more time-consuming to harvest. It’s a special type of wood that is very sought after by a wide range of people. In fact, Burls have become so valuable that poachers illegally cut down living trees, killing them in the process, to be able to get their hands on this valuable wood.

3. What is the most expensive burl wood?

Amboyna is the most expensive burl wood. It is considered a rare exotic wood native to Southeast Asia and countries that receive regular rainfall. This burl wood was also used for the first Rolls Royce dashboards.


Burl wood is anything but boring. The swirls, twirls, and eyes add a unique touch. Though crafted pieces of Burl wood will frequently contain filler or plugs to fill natural holes in the wood, it also gives the wood a natural appearance that adds character to the piece. Burl Wood is often used for ornamental purposes. However, it can also be incorporated into furniture pieces or wood sculptures. It is popular among artists, carpenters, and other artisans for the natural forms it can produce in finished pieces.

In conclusion, burl wood is used for all types of projects and products ranging from ornamental to purely functional. No matter what the intended use, burl wood can bring a sense of uniqueness and beauty wherever it is used.

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