Burl Wood: The Proper Tools for Burl Woodturning

Burl Wood: The Proper Tools for Burl Woodturning

19th Nov 2020

burl woodturning

In his story Under The Greenwood Tree , British novelist Thomas Hardy said, "To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature." That is one of the joys of woodworking. You learn to listen to that voice and discover the unique spirit of each piece of wood.

That is one reason that burl wood is so trending at the moment. The unique properties of burl wood make burl wood furniture, art, and decor some of the most distinctive and striking pieces you can find. It brings its unique challenges along with it, however.

To help you get started, we have compiled a guide of the tools you will need for burl woodturning.

What Is Burl Wood?

To understand some of the tools and techniques specific to burl woodturning, you first need to understand what burl wood is. To those that do not know a lot about woodworking, wood is interchangeable. This myth could not be further from the truth with burl wood, which is different from soft pine as concrete.

To understand burl wood, first, you need to know what a burl is. A burl is a growth that protrudes from the trunk of a tree from unsprouted bud tissue. This process makes for a knobby growth on the base and the trunk of the tree. These growths can cause all manner of strain, injury, or infection among the rest of the tree.

These strains can create truly wild effects among the rest of the tree's wood, with epic whorls and vivid coloration, for example. Some of these effects mean that burl wood needs to be treated before it can be worked in earnest to make sure it will not splinter or fray. This effect is another reason why you need to have the right tools for burl woodturning.

Tools For Burl Woodturning

Although burl wood is unique among types of wood, burl woodturning is not an entirely foreign discipline. The tools you need for burl woodturning are not that dissimilar than you would need for regular woodturning. Some are just going to be more critical than others.

Gouges, Chisels, and Scrapers

If woodworking were painting, hand tools, like gouges, chisels, and scrapers, would be your brushes. Other burl woodturning tools might be flashier or seem more impressive, but you would essentially be trying to smear paint on with your fingers without these basics.

Manual tools like gouges and chisels are particularly important for burl wood due to its hardness. The knotty, warped grain of the burl wood makes it much more dense and compact than your typical softwoods, with the grain going in a single direction. Depending on what you are hoping to turn your burl wood into, you might have to really dig with your chisels, so make sure to get some rugged tools that are up for the job.

Scrapers will help you remove the traces of your chiseling as your piece nears completion. This option will help give a much smoother, more polished look to your burl woodworking project.


Obviously, it is called woodturning, so you will need a tool to turn your burl wood. This tool is particularly important for burl wood, which is unusually dense due to its grain pattern. This grain pattern can make it especially resistant to hand tools, as it is difficult to penetrate with a chisel or gouger.

Burl wood is especially prized for decorative pieces like bowls. Turning a bowl by hand is challenging, time-consuming, and inefficient at the best of times. However, it is so difficult to be next to impossible with burl wood, especially when you consider its tendency to chip or splinter.

All of these factors, together, make a lathe especially important for burl woodturning. Do not skimp on the expense if you are planning on working with burl wood with any regularity. Your life will be infinitely easier and more pleasant using high-quality tools.

Safety Equipment

When working with burl wood on a lathe, you must remember that you are essentially poking a very hard piece of wood that's spinning very fast for extended time periods. Safety is imperative, especially with burl wood, which can be hard to work with due to its hardness and irregularity.

You will want to make sure that you are as well-protected as possible, even more so than you would with a regular woodturning setup. You will likely want more extensive eye protection than simply wearing goggles. It is a good idea to have a full face shield if you turn burl wood, as it is prone to splintering due to the whorling wood grain.

You will also want to secure a protective apron for similar reasons. Not only will this prevent you from injury due to flying shrapnel, but you will also be protected from itchy, uncomfortable sawdust, and wood scraps getting into your clothing.

Finally, you may want to get some respiratory protection if you will be doing a fair deal of woodturning, especially for long periods of time. Wood turning can create especially fine sawdust, for one thing. This sawdust can get into your lungs and respiratory system and do some real damage if you're not careful.

Burl wood can be found in some rather exotic species of wood at times, which can make you sick if you breathe in the sawdust. Use breathing protection if you plan on doing a lot of burl wood turning, to be safe.

You can make so many fabulous things with burl wood once you get used to working with it. You'll be able to make some of the most striking, beautiful, artistic wood creations once you get up and running!

Looking For Burl Wood?

We have exotic woods from all over the Earth! Many of the tools and resources you will need to work with them! If you are looking to get into burl woodturning, sign up for our newsletter to make sure you never miss an announcement and for even more inspiration!

Global Wood Source is a family-owned and operated lumber yard and mill specializing in exotic woods from around the world and rare domestics. We personally acquire and inspect each piece of log and timber obtained from forests and jungles worldwide.