Burls yield a very peculiar and highly figured wood, prized for its beauty and rarity. It is sought after by furniture makers, artists, and wood sculptors. There are a number of well-known types of burls (each from a particular species); these are highly valued and sliced into veneers for furniture, inlay in doors, picture frames, household objects, automobile interior paneling and trim, and woodturning. The famous birdseye maple of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) superficially resembles the wood of a burl but is something else entirely. Burl wood is very hard to work with hand tools or on a lathe because its grain is twisted and interlocked, causing it to chip and shatter unpredictably. This “wild grain” makes burl wood extremely dense and resistant to splitting, which made it valued for bowls, mallets, mauls and “beetles” or “beadles” for hammering chisels and driving wooden pegs.
Some burls are more highly prized than others, including ones from rural areas in central Massachusetts, northeast Connecticut, and as far south as Philadelphia. Some resemble an explosion in which the grain grows erratically, and it is these burls that the artist prizes over all other types. These spectacular patterns enhance the beauty of wood sculptures, furniture, and other artistic productions.
Burls are harvested with saws or axes for smaller specimens and timber felling chainsaws and tractors for massive ones.