What Is Spalted Wood?
Spalting is most commonly found in hardwoods such as beech, birch and maple and adds a true one-of-a-kind finish to wooden furniture pieces like wardrobes, mantles, tables and chairs. But what is spalted wood, and how does spalting happen?
Spalting is the natural colouration of wood, often in the form of a marbling effect that’s caused by the presence of fungi on the tree. Usually, ‘fungi’ isn’t something you want to hear when talking about wood for furniture - but the intriguing patterns and dark contrasting colours that occur during the spalting process make it a highly sought-after quality with woodworkers, craftspeople and devotees of quality wooden furniture.
The line patterns that spalting causes are called ‘zone lines’ and aren’t the result of any specific organism, but are actually the point within the wood where different colonies interact and meet with each other. These lines can come in a variety of colours and patterns depending on how the wood has reacted to various experiences, such as the fungi itself and insect interaction. Because of this, no two pieces of spalted wood will be the same.
In addition to zone lines, spalting can give parts of the wood a white, almost bleached effect. This desirable colouration happens because the process consumes lignin from the wood, which is the slightly pigmented part of the wood’s cell wall – leaving the cell white.
If a tree is left to spalt for too long, it will eventually become too far decayed and the wood rendered useless. This means that acquiring workable pieces of spalted wood can often be down to luck, further adding to the appeal of the finish and the rarity of the item itself.
Once spalted wood has been treated and worked with, the final product is as food and home safe as any wooden item. Spalted wood is often used for dining tables, wooden cooking/eating utensils, picture and mirror frames, wardrobes, etc - just about anything that could be made from wood, but for those who seek a more decorative and exclusive pattern than the usual wood grain can offer.