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Thuya Burl: the underground treasure.

Whoever first sliced a burl to discover the wondrous wood contained inside could easily have been the first to coin the phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover."

The dictionary defines burl as an abnormal wart-like growth or excrescence, often produced by stooling. Stooling refers to the throwing out of shoots from a tree stump to produce a second growth from the original roots. Irritation or injury results in the stunted growth, which develops into a contorted and gnarled mass comprised of dense and woody tissue. The surprise is that this contorted and twisted specimen can be unearthed and sliced to yield a dramatic and often beautiful piece of veneer.


Thuya burl is one of the highly figured woods cut from these burls. Burls from thuya trees are generally found underneath the ground. In the case of thuya trees, the pieces are dug out rather than cut down. In looks, it closely resembles the burls from redwood.

There is much speculation about what creates the interesting swirls and circles of the thuya burl. One theory is that the wood's contortions account for the distinctive appearance.


Al Matulevich of the David R. Webb Co. Inc., said his company inventories a small amount of the "expensive and small thuya burl" which is sold for uses such as furniture, jewelry boxes and the very popular cigar humidors.

Matulevich described thuya burl as a dark chocolate brown color with an extremely interesting burl figure. The uses for this very beautiful wood are "extremely high end. Thuya buff is the equivalent in price of amboyna burl and both are very expensive veneers," he added.

But unlike other veneers, thuya burl is priced by the kilo and sold by weight. "We convert the price to reflect the surface measure," said Matulevich, adding that his company purchases supplies of the rare, expensive, North African wood from Europe, already sliced.


According to Matulevich, the terms burr and burl are interchangeable. "In the United States we would most likely call it thuya burl while in the United Kingdom, you would likely hear it called thuya burr. It is the same for the term mahogany crotch. What we call crotch, other countries may call pyramid," said Matulevich.

Thuya trees come from North Africa, along the Mediterranean Ocean. The prime growing area is Algeria and Morocco, and the island of Malta. The tree has been transplanted in East Africa as well. The wood is scarce. What is sold today is mostly in veneer form and costly.

Thuya trees are coniferous. They thrive in dry and shallow soil. The trees yield the sandarack resin and so are sometimes referred to as sandarack pines. The resin is used to make varnish.

Thuya trees are from the genus Tetraclinis articulata. A similarly named wood, Thuya plicata (western red cedar) and Thuya occidentills (white cedar) are completely unrelated North American conifers.


Tetraclinis articulata of the Family Cupressanceae


Thuya burl, thuya burr, thyine wood, citron burl, sandarack pine


The thuya tree is small, averaging 4 to 5 feet in height with diameters of 30 centimeters. Weight ranges from 40 t0 43 pounds per cubic foot.


The wood needs slow kiln drying and care. The wood must be prepared before working because of its brittle nature. Care is needed to prevent curling. Thuya polishes and glues well.
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Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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