A full-figured burl: Redwood burl yields gorgeous figures, ranging from curly to crazy.

Redwood trees, a national treasure if you ask any visitor to Muir Woods, are prevalent in California and parts of Oregon, where the majestically tall trees thrive. However, not as prevalent is the redwood burl. Also known as vavona burl, redwood burl yields an especially dramatic and varied collection of figures.

David Yager, vice president of Sequoia Vista Enterprises Inc., with headquarters near Mendocino, CA, said typical uses for redwood burl include inlay and marquetry. “It is usually small dimensionally, so it is a good fit for specialty items like jewelry boxes or turned designs. Some people slice it and lay up plywood.”

Yager said redwood burl yields all kinds of figures from a simple curl similar to curly maple, to a bee’s wing and a cat’s paw, and a blister. “Redwood burl gives almost any kind of figure you would find with hardwoods and some I’ve never encountered elsewhere. Redwood burl gives very gorgeous, crazy looking stuff.”

Hurly-Burly

The glossary description for burl from the U.S.D.A. Forest Product Laboratory’s Wood Handbook, is a “hard, woody outgrowth on a tree, more or less rounded in form, usually resulting from the entwined growth of a cluster of adventitious buds.”

“A burl is a growth above the ground, usually found near the base of the tree,” said Yager, “although some burls are found way up a tree. Most people believe burls are caused by contact, when someone or something hits a tree, and are a consequence of damage. The burls can have bark inclusions, little holes or pinholes, or a cat’s paw figure, which looks like a cat made footprints across the grain. Redwood burl can also have a peck, like bird pecks you find in maple,” said Yager.

Sequoia Vista Enterprises Inc., which is headed by company president and Yager’s son Matt Yager, includes a tree farm. “Our timberland has been part of the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) since 1990,” said Matt. He added that the ATFS’ mission is to promote the growing of renewable forest resources on private lands while protecting environmental benefits and increasing public understanding of all the benefits of productive forestry.

Redwoodburl.com also is an advocate of productive forestry. “We deal in redwood burl as well as redwood lumber, using reclaimed wood from private property owners,” said Vic Arvizu, sales manager. The Eureka, CA-based company, founded by George Buck and now run by his son Landon, features on its Web site a variety of redwood and redwood burl products including: fireplace mantels, burl slabs, rustic tables, turning blanks, as well as carving blocks of all sizes and shapes.

Arvizu said the company also has been experimenting with flooring made of parquet tile pieces cut from redwood burls. Other products manufactured by the company include conference and end tables, chairs, desks and dressers.

More Than Just Burl

Redwood burl is typically from old growth redwood stumps left behind because the loggers cutting the trees in the late 1800s and early 1900s wanted the fine-grained, straight wood found higher up the tree, and not the curly material in the stump.

Arvizu said they also get old growth material from riverbeds and streams, as well as recycled from old barns and buildings. “The guitar makers love the reclaimed old growth material for its extremely tight and straight grain. We also see it used for surfboards.”

Salvaged material comes from a variety of sources including redwood water towers and old beams from massive old growth timbers. Yager’s company is one of many that reclaims and manufactures woods like redwood and redwood burl.

“When we harvest trees on the family property, we also salvage pieces left in the woods by the first loggers 150 years ago. Some of the original old growth redwood logs were too difficult to move because they were so big. Some were overturned with the roots still attached,” said Yager.

The redwood trees were named for their spongy red bark, according to author Hugh Johnson, Encyclopedia of Trees. Typical uses for the lumber, especially in the United States, include: exterior cladding, shingles, exterior joinery, wooden pipes and interior joinery, and other interior finish. The wood is sometimes rotary cut into veneer. Material with an interesting figure may be used for furniture and paneling.

Family Name

Sequoia sempervirens of the Family Taxodiaceae.

Common Names

Vavona burl, vavona burr, redwood burl, redwood, coast redwood, sequoia, California redwood

Height/Weight

The average height for this very tall species is 200 to 350 feet. Average weight is 26 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.42.

Properties

Kiln drying is recommended and should be done with care to avoid problems such as collapse.

Experts recommend slow drying to begin because of the tree’s high moisture content.

The wood works well with hand and machine tools. Takes nails and screw joints well.

The wood glues well, but alkaline adhesives may cause staining.

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