One of the nice things about wood is that it comes in so many different varieties and because it's organic, all of those varieties can be further modified in structure by heat, fungi, and various other elements. In this video, I took my electric bike into the forest to harvest, what I hoped would be some spalted wood.
Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/BkjjVNQL7u4
The one thing I was counting on was that even if the wood was not fully spalted, it would still be modified in its coloration and therefore would be another interesting wood to work with ...
Where I live there is a lot of rainfall which makes for a lot of cool damp weather and an ideal environment for fungi to thrive in. Any wood will spalt give the combination of time, moisture, and fungus. It is the fungus that actually spalts the wood, but the fungus needs moisture to survive and grow, and to penetrate the wood. Spalting is the beginning process of rot. This means that any spalted wood does not have the strength of the same wood without spalting. The more spalting the softer the wood becomes.
All wood will spalt, both hardwood and softwood but typically softwoods, although they will spalt, are harder to find in a state that they still have enough strength to use in woodworking projects. Hardwoods are often better candidates for using in woodworking projects because they take longer to spalt and therefore keep their strength for longer periods.
There are a variety of different fungi that produce different effects with different woods so if you are looking for naturally occurring spalting, you often end up with whatever you can find ... and all of it is useful for a variety of woodworking projects.
You can find spalted wood anywhere ... but more moisture than the wood is subjected to the better chance you have of finding it, and if it is in small pieces like branches or off-cuts of milled wood, it may spalt too quickly for it to be usable. Finding larger pieces, like logs, will give you a better chance of finding something usable within the log. It is common that finding spalted wood in a log means that a portion of the wood is too far gone for any usage and is just waste.
What you look for in searching for spalted wood, is first of all wet areas if you can find some. Next, you will look for some kind of wood, like logs that will probably not have any bark left on them, and will be dark in color. That is the first clue that you may have found a log of other wood that might have some interesting wood inside.
If your wood needs cutting, you can pretty much use anything from a chainsaw to a hand saw. The length of what you cut will depend on how you will mill the wood when you get back to your shop. If you have a chainsaw and some sort of a mill for it, you can harvest whatever length you can manage. If you will be milling wood on a bandsaw, it normally will want to be cut in 14 to 20-inch lengths, depending on your bandsaw and a jig.
Remember - If you cut longer, you can always trim it down once you get back to the shop.
Regardless of whether you are going to mill the wood right away or let it dry for a time, it is important to end seal the end grain of the wood. And when you end seal, you need to make sure you are sealing the wood because you want to prevent moisture from wicking out the ends of the wood. When moisture is allowed to exit the end grain of the wood, it does so quickly and will, in almost every case produce cracks in your wood. End sealing may not prevent this altogether, but it will reduce it to a large percent .. and if you need proof, test it yourself, you will be astounded how much better wood remains that have been end sealed.
The younger the wood, ie: trees that have been just cut down, should be end sealed immediately ... even right after cutting. It is NEVER to early to end seal newly fallen trees. I have frequently been called to look at potential trees that have been cut down to see if they would be good to mill up for lumber. These trees are never end sealed because unless you are a woodworker you are not aware of it. And in so many cases I have seen so much wood that could have been good, that was ruined by cracking. A while ago I was called to a massive Oak Tree that was felled because it was a hazard tree and much of the inside of the trunk was hollow with rot. The branches ... some of which were 16 to 20 inches in diameter, were cracked beyond use, and the tree had only been down for 48 hours. There was almost nothing of use, even for turning. Very sad to see a massive tree-like end up as firewood.
Identifying spalting after the initial cuts can be hard but what you are wanting to look for in the end grain of the wood, is what looks like someone has drawn squiggly lines and circles in the end grain of the wood. If you see this, there is spalting inside. If you do not see this, don't despair, there could still be spalting inside, but even if there is not spalting, often there is a modified look to the wood making it an interesting wood to work with, even if not spalted ... so all is not lost.
If you cut your logs of wood early, there is a chance your wood may warp as it dries. In most cases, you will want to get your moisture content down to around 10% plus/minus before you start using the wood ... just like any wood you are using. This will help reduce wood movement and further cracking.
What you do with your wood will depend on how strong it is. Spalted wood is seldom strong enough to use as the structure of the project, except for smaller boxes and such, but it's often ideal for feature wood indoors, lids, and similar applications, so go out ... snoop around and see what you can dig up for spalting.
Copyright Colin Knecht