Spalted Maple Bowls

I’ve finally been able to return to wood turning recently.  I’ve been working on some spalted Maple bowls that I’d roughed out at the beginning of the year.  At least I think they’re Maple.  I picked this wood up off the side of the road after some folks had cut down a tree.  This was back before I was into turning and I had planned to burn it as fire wood.  As a result, I didn’t pay much attention to the tree.  A friend of mine and I split the wood between ourselves, but after I started turning it, I asked if I could have the rest of it.

After I’d picked up my lathe, I started looking for wood to turn and noticed these logs that had been sitting around for a year outside.  I split one and noticed how beautiful it looked.  Spalted is a nice way of saying rotting.  I figure it’s named this way because no one wants a bowl made from rotten wood.  Spalted though, that sounds fancy and indeed it is.  Some wood species will spalt while others will rot in a non-spectacular fashion.  One of the species that spalts well is Maple.  The fungi that starts to break down the wood will leave an inky black marking that looks nice against the light colored wood.   Here’s a close up of some spalting on one of my most recent bowls.



I have several of the spalted bowls in various stages.  Shown below are the ones I’ve finished.  Ok, so there’s a tiny box as well.  They’ve all been finished with Shellac as it is a quick and easy finish.  The bowl in the lower right is my most recently finished bowl and the others are several months old.


This bowl is one of the largest I’ve turned out so far.  It was one of my earlier bowls and the walls on it are fairly thick.  The spalting reduces the structural integrity of the wood, so I didn’t want to make it too thin.  In retrospect I could have gone thinner.  Oh well, you have to learn somehow.


Here’s a view of the bottom.


While spalted wood is pretty, there are some downsides to it.  It is “punky” or soft in spots since it is kind of rotten.  As such, it doesn’t cut cleanly which can lead to tear out.  Tear out is when the wood fibers are ripped out as opposed to being cleanly sliced.  You end up with little pit marks, seen in the picture below, near the end grain areas.  I’ve tried several methods to prevent it, but have so far been unsuccessful.  I might try some techniques to harden the wood in the future.  Right now I just sand the heck out of the surface.  This too, has a down side.  Since the wood isn’t a uniform hardness the surface of the bowl can become lumpy with a lot of sanding.


This bowl was made before the previous bowl and has even thicker walls.  It also suffers from being too thick where the sides transition to the bottom.  It is pretty heavy as a result of this. It does look pretty though.



Here’s a little turned box that also suffers from walls that are too thick.


This is the smaller bowl that I recently turned.  It has thinner walls than the previous bowls and the transition from side to bottom is better.  The inside is a little plain but the bottom looks nice.


My most recent bowl has been turned to the final shape but hasn’t received a finish yet.  It is going to be a gift to the person who gave me the other half of the wood we divided.  It’s probably the nicest bowl I’ve turned so far.  The sides are thin, the transition is well done, and I sanded all the tear out from the surface.  I post some pics of it up after I have given it.  I think healthy wood is better to begin with but you use what you have.

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7 Responses to Spalted Maple Bowls

  1. Jami Bodkin says:

    You are doing some beautiful work. Good Job.

  2. Beautiful work. I don’t understand why some people get so much talent and I am just me. Oh, I guess you survive with what you are given!

  3. Spalted wood looks great. A shear scraper sometimes gets rid of the tear out. I don’t use spalted wood that is too soft now, there is enough wood to choose from. I have some nice spalted timber on my wooden bowl pages

    • davidjbod says:

      Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to give that a try next time. You’ve got some nice work on your site. The mushrooms are very unique. I haven’t seen anything like that before.

      • Thanks! Some turners who make mushrooms leave too much bark and don’t get the edges right, at least it seems that way to me.
        You are right about people needing to try!

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