Rex B. writes in, “Is burl wood acceptable for chairs, seats, and backs, and if so, are there any special techniques that should be used with burl wood? Obviously, it will vary from tree to tree and species to species, and shouldn’t be used, and should be without cracks or inclusions.”
Well, that’s for sure true. Rex, I would recommend checking out Bob Erickson’s site at ericksonwoodworking.com. Bob and Tor are doing some beautiful chairs there. Bob’s a friend of mine from over the decades, and he’s a master chairmaker and does really nice work, and he’s one of the few that I know that’ll dare to use burls.
I would not recommend burls for someone just starting into chairmaking. There’s just too many judgment calls you have to make about the integrity of the specific blank that you’re considering using, so in general, I would try to avoid it. When you get to the point of mastery and you feel confident that you can make a really good assessment as to the soundness of a specific burl, then the fact that it is a burl is not going to destroy your chair. There’s just a lot more judgment that comes into play when you’re using something as cantankerous and potentially unpredictable as a burl.
It’s just you’ve got to really be on your toes, and so what you’re doing by introducing a burl is not necessarily causing failure, but you’re certainly increasing exponentially the ways in which your furniture can fail. It’s not necessarily going to cause failure, but it’s just, brings in a whole other bag of worms that … Mixed metaphors. Can of worms that you don’t necessarily want to be dealing with unless you’re a real crackerjack chairmaker, and Bob’s certainly one. I would recommend to everybody, just go check out his site. They’re doing some really cool stuff.