To Turn or Not to Turn? A Decayed Maple Burl.

A friend provided a very large maple burl that came from northern Minnesota. The first image shows the two halves of the burl. Each weighed over 100 lbs. There is a lot of decay in both pieces but after all the effort of getting this burl to my shop during the winter, I decided to give the piece to the left in the first image a try. This piece is also shown in the second and third images. I am sure most wood turners are faced with the decision of turning or not turning a questionable piece of wood. Click on an image to see it enlarged.


This piece was trimmed into what appeared to be the most solid part of the burl. The next three images show this trimming process. The image on the right was the starting point for the turning project.


This piece was further trimmed into a round bowl blank shown below. There was a deep crack in the proposed base or bottom of the visualized bowl. This crack was filled with about 6 oz of dark colored epoxy resin with the hope of keeping the entire piece from flying apart during turning. This resin stabilized base would also serve as a stable base for turning a tenon. The third image shows the piece inverted and with a face plate attached. You can now see my plan for turning a live edge round bowl. The bark was long gone from this burl.



Finally the turning!!! The first image shows the stabilized and trimmed piece on the lathe. I did use a live center tailstock for the turning of the outer profile of the bowl. I always do this for safety! The turning was not an easy process. Large pieces did fly off so the bowl became than planned, but at least there was enough stable wood for a tenon on the bottom. There were many cracks and many punky areas that needed to be stabilized and filled with cyanoacrylate resin and wood dust. Each of the lighter colored wiggly line shaped areas are soft and punky. The red-brown areas are solid. I spent 4 hours turning (and stabilizing/filling) the outer profile of this bowl, and another 3 hours hollowing. I am amazed a decent looking bowl emerged. The wood needs some time to dry. Sanding will be an issue since the soft areas will need additional applications of CA glue and wood dust.

This bowl is 11" in diameter and 6.5" deep. The bowl came from the only semi solid piece of wood in this 100 lb burl. Was it worth doing it? We need the finished (sanded/oiled) bowl to help make that decision. I will update this post when the bowl is finished. The grain figuring and colors are not great as is usual with wood this far decayed. The mix of the lighter stabilized elongated areas and the darker solid area is interesting and could make the bowl quite nice. It is unlikely I will turn the other 100 lb half of the burl. It is sitting in my garage frozen solid, but one never knows, I may get desperate for a burl to turn, so I will hang on to it for now.

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