Spalted wood is a bit of a mystery to anyone looking at a tree and trying to imagine what lies beneath. It’s sort of looking for buried treasure in the ocean without state of the art technology. There’s really no way to tell what’s inside a tree until it’s opened up. Even then, the wood may be soft and rotten to be able to use except for some compost use in the spring…. and the bugs may enjoy it too.
Spalting is the result of fungi in wood which causes discoloration. It can be found in living trees in stressful conditions although it is primarily found in dead trees. Many woodworkers, interior designers and architects working on homes and commercial spaces around the globe are attracted to its unique figure, color and pattern. A Live Edge countertop, coffee table, dining table, end table, or mantel are just a few of many fine art furniture pieces we make at Live Edge Vail.
Finding spalted wood at just the right point is critical because if the wood decays too long it will be rotten, unworkable, and even useless as firewood. If the wood is found too early, it can lack character and seems bland like conventional wood. Once you’ve seen spalted wood, there is no comparison.
The absolute unpredictability, inconsistency of wood and its structure, the spalting, and the patterns and shapes throughout are what make it interesting. Each piece is completely different from the next, even six inches down the same tree. That too is part of the challenge of the material. One tree may have good workable spalted wood while the next slab appearing the same can be useless. So working with this particular wood requires patience, faith, stamina and above all else, experience. With each piece of spalted wood comes a program of rules and problems that need to be worked out. Only by working the wood from milling to the final functional piece, can one gain the knowledge, experience and understanding necessary to appreciate and succeed with the material.
One beauty of spalted wood is that it has been allowed to age. It is no longer green and needs only to dry out. For some reason, spalted wood caught in the right stage is stable enough to resist checking. This is attributed to the relaxation of tension within the wood that ordinarily causes splitting, thus making it a very stable wood to use as a fine art wood top or furniture.
The pictures within such wood seem to be a record of the tree’s history – the storms, the sunny days, cool moonlit nights, the wars that happened during its time, sunsets, pain and cold of the ever changing East Coast weather. There is mystery locked inside and infinite beauty making its last attempt to display its glory.
*Above pictures are recent photos of Spalted Maple that’s being worked on for a project or air drying in the current inventory of Live Edge Vail, in the Vail Valley of Colorado.