Turning and Drying Burls

Burls for bowl turning are best turned while green, and then dried. Here's a little detailed info. January 14, 2008

I cut down this oak burl in GA yesterday and would like to know if anyone has any good advice to give me about drying this out for turning on the lathe.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
I like to turn when the wood is green. You can twice turn a bowl. That is, turn your bowl down to about 1" thick walls, pack the bowl in its own sawdust in a bag, and let it dry. The bowl will dry much faster. When it is where you like it, remount it and cut it back to round and to the wall thickness you like. Nice burl.

From contributor J:
I turned a white oak burl a month or so ago. There was a large void that prevented it from being a closed vessel, and it cracked like heck. Despite what some will tell you, burls need to be dried carefully. I do all my turning green, and have good success drying, but you better talk to a local turner to see what methods work best in your area.

From contributor T:
You can pretty much turn anything and not have it crack on you. It's all about how thin you can make it in proportion to its size. A crack is the wood relieving itself during the drying process from tensions created from how the wood structure grew. If the wood is turned thin enough green, it will warp in many ways because the wood is capable of flexing, instead of holding itself from flexing, thus drying to the point that it simply cracks to release tension.

Turn a bowl or hollow form out of any piece of wood and place the pith in the center as a test. Make it consistently 3/16"-1/4" thick and then allow it to dry in the air for a few weeks. Come back and take a look. The pith may crack a bit, but that is expected for a few inches within its perimeter. Other than that, the piece will take on a football shape. Do the same with a burl (no pith likely) and there are so many possible shapes that can happen, it's amazing, from water ripple textures to large bumps. Some people turn green to achieve this affect. I love the effect of turning green and thin, but one of the major benefits is that it is so much easier to turn, and much more fun with the right tool.

The best tool for making bowls is the fingernail gind on a 1/2" or 5/8" bowl gouge, specifically David Ellsworth's version. It is the only tool you need for making basic bowls, and even complicated ones.