Discover Spalted Wood
This photo gallery demonstrates that when cutting lumber, it's important to remember the old saying - Never judge a book by it's cover. Spalting is a naturally occurring process in trees that have died or are starting to die. It occurs most commonly in dead trees that have fallen over and are in contact with moist ground, but it can occur in unhealthy trees that are still standing. Spalting is technically defined as "incipient decay", and this definition is useful because in certain wood species such as maple and pecan, the early stages of spalting (decay) can create some of the most dramatic and beautiful color changes in the wood. Similar to the ambrosia signature in maple, spalting causes the wood to change color due to the infiltration of bacteria, fungus, and other organisms that feed on wood fiber. The problem is that if it's not harvested at exactly the right stage, the decay will become so pronounced that the integrity of the wood fiber is lost and the lumber can be crumbled with your bare hands.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), spalted logs never make it to mainstream sawmill operations. Just as with ambrosia maple, these logs would be considered trash and would normally be ignored by loggers or ground up for mulch by most sawmills. Luckily, small sawmill owners like myself recognize the beauty and tremendous value in logs like these and utilize this wood to it's fullest potential.
(Click any photo below for a close-up view)
Although somewhat difficult to see in these two photos, you are looking at a short section of maple log about 3' long and 18" in diameter (sitting on some cherry logs). You can see all manner of fungal growth, especially on the end grain where small organisms can most easily penetrate into the log. When "prospecting" for spalted wood, you actually want to find logs that are this ugly since it's a positive indication that the wood will be highly figured by the spalting process.
After sawing a thin slice off the end of the log, the photo on the left reinforces our hopes that the spalting process is well underway in this maple wood. This fact is confirmed when we slice open this log section, revealing the beautiful spalted lumber hiding inside (right). What would originally have been plain, cream-colored maple wood is now richly-colored and scribed with fine black lines that delineate some of the grain structure in the wood.
These two photos show a series of bookmatched pairs of boards all cut from this particular section of spalted maple. Even more impressive is the degree to which the coloration and figure changes as you cut boards from the log. If you look at the close-up views of these photos, you can see a much better indication of the spalted character in this wood.
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