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Burr – A Very Special Wood.

Burr – a very special wood.

Recently I have been commissioned to carve several burr wood sculptures. Burrs are interesting and beautiful pieces of wood.

One of my favourite things in the whole carving process is when I finally get to oil the finished sculpture, and that is especially satisfying when dealing with burr.  Here is a video of the transformation which occured after oiling a sculpture of a manta ray, which is carved from elm burr.

We have probably all seen burrs on trees – the photo below is of a tree near my studio which has some amazing burrs.

Basically burr is an area of abnormal growth. In American English it’s known as a ‘burl’, so you may find it referred to as both. This growth is a mass of shoot and bud tissue that grows manically and forms a distinctive mass on the trunk. It’s not unlike a benign tumour in an animal.

Burrs are thought to be a response to stress, but the stressors can be difficult to identify. The growths usually form over a wound which heals over and causes a period of irregular growth. The burr protects the tree from any further damage at that site. They don’t harm the tree, they are simply a unique feature of the tree in question. Below is a photo of a piece of burr wood after I have sliced it with a chainsaw.

The random nature of how the growths form, their shape and quantity gives the wood a unique quality.  Because it is usually confined to the outer layers of the wood, (some form on the roots but we don’t usually see these for sale) it is difficult to get hold of burr in any size. One piece that I have recently carved has been on hold for me for several years.

Burr wood is difficult to carve: it is usually very dense and hard; the grain is very swirly; it can have holes and crumbly areas.  All these factors add to its beauty but also to its unpredictability.  You could get half way through carving a sculpture and discover that the centre is very fragile or maybe has a hole.

The colour and pattern is random – it is best not to have preconceived ideas when carving burr wood or when commissioning a sculpture carved from burr, but to know that this piece of wood is unique and special in its own way.  As it is difficult to find a piece that carves well and is of any size – pieces of burr large enough to produce sculptures such as “octopus” (particularly in the UK) are very special indeed. I recently carved a Spinnaker sail from the same piece of wood, and as you can see (left) the final outcome is indeed beautiful.


Please contact me to discuss options if you are interested in commissioning a burr wood sculpture.  I do have a couple of  burr wood sculptures in stock:

Ibis Skull

Ibis Skull – Elm Burr









Spanish Dancer – Chestnut Burr Spanish Dancer