Cutting Logs with Burl

It takes years of experience to get the hang of predicting what sort of grain figure may be inside a log, and how to saw it for the best value product. June 30, 2007

1. Is there a way to determine if a log is defective before cutting into it: burl, curly, fiddleback?

2. How can I determine the right direction to saw to get the most profitable wood out of a defective log? I have a Lucas sawmill.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor T:
When you get years of experience, you will be able to look at a log and tell what kind of wood is in it. With a Lucas mill, your cutting options are limited.

From contributor E:
Contributor T is right about the years of experience. But there are resources to jumpstart your training. Check out the link below.

What you call defect, burl, curly, fiddleback, are highly sought after figures that can raise the sale price significantly if sawn and marketed correctly.

Contributor T said, "With a Lucas mill, your cutting options are limited."

I thought a swing mill was supposed to be able to do things like cut around defects, grade saw and quarter saw easier than a band mill?

A Simplified Procedure for Developing Grade Lumber From Hardwood Logs

From contributor V:
It does take experience. I don't feel that it takes years to understand the best way to cut a burl, but rather experience of cutting a few burls of that species first. Dealing with a burl is one thing, and dealing with a burl covered log is a whole other story.

When I saw a burl, I always realize that I'm never going to get all the grain patterns out of it that are in it. I start by positioning it the best I can so that it enables me to get the best cuts resulting in the best figure. I have been sawing burls for a long time, and still every once in a while, one fools me. I cut a catalpa burl about 2'x3' last week and I found ray patterns on the plainsawn surface. This tells me that there is some sort of eye figure on the quartersawn surface. I haven't actually cut it to see because I don't want to destroy the natural edge. I find it hard to believe that this burl holds eye patterns on the quartersawn surface, but then again I have never found any rule to always follow when cutting a burl, just generalizations.

Quartersawn burl generally produces a ray effect (I'm not referring to actual quartersawn rays). These "rays" are generally eyes sliced down their center. If these rays were sliced as plainsawn, they generally produce eye patterns.

As for curly, and other grain patterns (including birdseye), you can usually read the bark, or better yet peel off the bark and read the surface of the solid wood. I have found trees that change over time, so this isn't always true to what is really inside a log. I have seen logs with burls that turned over to produce straight grain. I have seen logs with straight grain turn over to produce burl… I'm not saying any log can hold beautiful figures, but the rare and unusual does happen.

If a log has extreme patterns going on within, it sometimes shows on the end grain.

As far as sawing curly logs goes, the figure shows up on all surfaces, but generally on plainsawn the best. Quartersawn surfaces can exhibit curly grain, but usually not as well as plainsawn. Although, curly quartersawn patterns can exhibit an enhanced grain because it is curly, with a background of quartersawn that flows with the curl of the grain. I have even seen logs that are curly on one side but normal on the other.

Sorry, but a swing mill isn't the way to go for figured sawing. Lucas does makes a slabbing attachment that is ideal for this type of sawing, and does produce wide boards. I know it is like a chainsaw, so I imagine it must take a big kerf just like a circular mill. With the added value of wide boards, I wouldn't care about kerf too much, unless some technology came out for sawing wide with thin kerf.

Every log is different. No two burls are the same. And you are going to learn something for sure every time you saw one.