Utilizing Material Effects In Wood

What are effects in wood ?

Utilizing Material Effects In Wood is our topic today. What are effects in wood ? How do we use them to make a piece stand out ? Are the effects difficult to work with ?  How will I determine what species to use and for what project? Is the species I’m looking to work with available in my area ? If not then where ?These questions I asked when I wanted to fabricate unique pieces.

Utilizing Material Effects In Wood

In our woodshop spalted materials are used more than any other. Spalting creates a uniqueness like no other and when used correctly its effects are stunning. This is only one effect in wood, we’ll discuss others. The placements as important as the project itself. The wrong effect in the wrong area will take away from the piece not add to it. Let us see what we can do to prevent this from happening to you.

Below let’s discuss the more common effects in different species of woods. We’ll discuss not only the hardwoods but softwoods as well. Each species having its own uniqueness and setting it apart from the others. This brief walkthrough will help to give a better understanding of these effects.


Robbie Sproule Flickr

Utilizing Material Effects In Wood is definitely a conversation when discussing spalting. Spalting is the discoloration of wood caused by fungi. The colors are determined by the species and the level of decomposition. There’s 3 primary types of spalting and they are the pigmentation(colors), white rot and zone lines. The species can dictate one or more of these symptoms. Certain species will only generate a single effect.

Moist high humidity is a perfect enviroment for spalting wood. When the colder climates begin to drop in temperature the spalting process stops. These regions of the country take longer for materials to exhibit the effects of spalting. Mother Nature knows how to do things naturally and at a controlled pace.


tree-burlWhen discussing Utilizing Material Effects In Wood burls certainly come to mind. What is the crazy looking growth anyways ? A tree burl is nothing more than the wood grain growing in a deformed manner. This is caused by stress, injury, fungus or a virus. Burls are adored for their grain figure and beauty. Burl wood packs a big dollar amount, this material is prized with wood turners and other speciality woodworkers. As an engraver the items created from burl wood are spectacular.

Birds eye

damian penney Flickr

This effect is most common in hardwood Maple. It looks likes a pattern of small birds eyes. This phenomenon has researchers stumped, just what causes this crazy effect ? Is it the species ? The soil or nutrients ? Is this just a genetic mutation that only occurs in a select few species of trees ?  I can’t answer these questions since they’re beyond my educational experience. Like burl wood the grains uniqueness makes this material costly. It’s used for everything from fine woodworking items to trim in yachts and vehicles. The more birdseye the material possesses the weaker its integrity becomes making it harder to work with.

Tiger Stripe

Richard Flickr

Tiger stripe or also referred to as flame maple, curly maple or ripple maple. This effect is caused by wood fibers distorting in a way that visually creates this effect. Where it’s more of a figure than a grain effect in the material. This material is readily available at a price and have created some of the most spectacular pieces. Gibson Les Paul manufactured many guitars out of tiger stripe maple. Curly maple was the material of choice in the fabrication of the kentucky rifles. This effect is also seen with in burls of certain species. There’s no doubt, there’s a place in every home for a piece of furnishing made from this material.


Utilizing Material Effects In Wood includes knots. I don’t believe there’s a species of tree that can’t offer up a knot or two. How do knots happen ? As trees grow there are branches that emerge from around the tree. These branches grow but the trunk of the tree does as well. In time the trunk will overtake branching in growth rate and the appearance of knots are present. There are different types of knots and we’ll discuss them below.

  • Closed Knot: A knot that has no hole in the facia or back of the material where the knots present
  • Open Knot: A knot with a small pin hole or equally solid crack on one or both sides.
  • Loose/Unsound Knot: A knot that moves, wiggles or could be removed.
  • Pin Knot: Small solid knot.
  • Sound Knot: Just like the name implies, solid , sturdy knot. No holes, cracks, part of the material
  • Knot Cluster: A grouping of smaller tiny knots

Live Edge

Indo Gemstone Flickr

Fabricating projects with live edges is one of my personal favorites. Be it beds, tables, nightstands or benches a live edge is beautiful. It displays the natural contours of a piece of material making it the ultimate rustic home decor. Many furnishings are constructed from pine or cedar but hardwoods are used. Live edge materials have many other effects but edges are missing the sharp 90 degree angles. Cracks are usually present in live edge pieces but add to the piece. Find a project today that uses live edge and you’ll be hooked.

Wormholes, Grub holes and Insects

Insect Damage

No tree is safe from the different environmental effects but critters are a concern too. Insects will do their fair share of damage to standing timber. This for a woodworker or engraver is great news. If you have a project that requires such effects than your in luck. These slots and holes give a piece character beyond the normal presentation. Fillers can be added like brass shavings to give the appearance of a gold vein. Small stones or pebbles for another effect, go crazy.

Natural Environmental Effects


The last effect I’ll touch on are the natural environmental effects has on materials. Not all trees live in the exact same settings. Daylight, temperature, water are all environmental factors that vary. What one tree is growing in for soil another doesn’t have. Excessive minerals or lack thereof also offers effects. Staining or streaking in the materials happens when these factors come into play. Too much of one thing and not enough of another.

Timber that falls into bodies of water and gets knocked around puts great effects into materials. In the spring after the snow melts, this is a good foraging time for materials. Lakes, ponds, streams and rivers all offer up great pickings. Material that floats off of beaver huts to the water’s edge is already cleaned by Mr. Beaver. It’s a win, win ! Don’t limit your woodworking or carving ability. Trying new things is not only challenging but creates new marketable items to sell. Please take the plunge and try something you have never done before.

Thank You for taking the time to read

~An Engraver In The Woods

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