Many different funghi will attack and break down any wood left out in the open. Funghi such as dry rot; wet rot; brown rot and heart rot. There names are pretty descriptive and are the reason timber often requires heavy duty preservation if it is going to last in roles such as roof joists, fence posts or external cladding. Some woods such a red cedar or sweet chestnut are very resistant to rot, but that's a different story.
While a problem for some, these funghi can do wonderful things for people like me and can turn a relatively ordinary piece of wood into something magnificent. As the funghi work their hyphae into the wood, they stain it with a variety of exquisite hues. This is the spalting, and for me, spalted wood can produce some of the most stunning objects. My favourite piece to date is the spalted beench bowl featured on this page.
Like much of this game, spalting is an art and an unpredictable one at that. The trick is to leave the wood in the right conditions for long enough to spalt well, but not so far that the funghi have rotted the wood beyond a point where it can be turned. I leave a small number of my gathered pieces of timber under the yew tree behind my shed and check it from time to time to see how it's getting on.
Turning a spalted piece is always a little more exciting than a fresh chunk of wood. You really don't know what to expect and if you're unlucky the spalting might have gone too far and the piece disintegrate on the lathe.
A really good source of spalted wood is commercial firewood. I have turned many elegant small object such as a tea caddy, wine stopper or trinkets bowl from a piece of wood I spotted moments before throwing it into the log burner.
If you want to learn more about spalting this is a relatively straight forward document giving a good overview of the process, Producing Spalted Wood
(Pdf file, opens in a new window).
"Wood does not need embellishing, merely revealing"
All text and images copyright Toby Murcott 2013.
"Each bowl is unique The feel of the tool on the wood, the aroma of the shavings, the shape that emerges is always different.
My speciality is simple, clean lines and elegant curves. No harsh angles and no unnecessary detail. Wood does not need embellishing, merely revealing."