Spalted maple has to be one of the most beautiful woods available for both wood turners and luthiers.  It’s unique characteristics make each piece a treasure.    

 

Spalted Maple Guitar Top Bookmatched Set

Spalted Maple Guitar Top Bookmatched Set

 

What is spalted maple?

Spalted maple is created when the wood is infected by a variety of fungi.  Each unique fungus creates a different effect in the wood during the natural process of decay. If the wood is caught and processed at the right time, before it gets soft and punky, it can create a stunning mosaic of light and dark areas most often bordered by dark lines (inklines).  This provides a striking visual contrast.

Is spalted maple foodsafe?

After researching this topic in great length… this is what I found.  If the wood is kiln dried, the fungi will go dormant or die.  As long as you apply a durable foodsafe finish to your turning, the wood should be foodsafe. However, after having said that, I could not find any research with a solid conclusion either way.  I also could not find any reported illnesses from using spalted wood in this manner. The only cautions I could find regarding the use of spalted wood were workshop related. The dust from the spalted maple and the warm damp climate of your lungs make for an ideal breeding ground for the fungi to come back to life.  When you’re cutting any kind of spalted wood, please protect your lungs and use a respirator mask for your own health.

Here’s a list of some foodsafe finishes you may want to try:

Pure Tung Oil.  Tung oil comes from the nut of the china wood tree. Requires many coats and provides good water-resistance. 

Walnut Oil.  This oil is pressed from the nuts of the walnut tree and is sold as a salad oil in health food stores or grocery stores.  It’s easy to apply but requires frequent reapplication.

Mineral Oil.  This oil is available for sale as a laxative in drug stores and as a wood finish in hardware stores. It’s simple to apply but requires frequent reapplication and is not very water resistant.

Beeswax. This wax can be mixed with an oil like lavender to create a pleasant smelling finish. This smells great but is not very water resistant.

Carnauba Wax. This wax is from the Brazilian palm tree. It’s a harder wax than beeswax and a little more water resistant.

Shellac.  Harvested in India, shellac is a secretion from the lac bug. The most waterresistant variety is super blond shellac in flake form and can be found in most hardware stores and woodworking catalogs.

Raw Linseed Oil. This oil is pressed from flax seeds. It has a very long curing time and low water resistance. Linseed oil also requires frequent reapplication.

 

Spalted Maple Bookmatched Set

Spalted Maple Bookmatched Set

 

Quality spalted maple can be very expensive and is getting harder and harder to find.  Vedder Mountain Hardwoods has a good supply of both turning blocks in spalted curly maple and spalted maple guitar tops available. You can purchase direct through their website or from their eBay store.

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pentacrylgallonsmallSending your wood out to be stabilized can become very expensive. Here’s a few methods for stabilizing your wood that you can do from home to save yourself a few bucks and the inconvenience of shipping your wood out to be stabilized. These methods are perfect for sealing your roughed out green turnings to prevent them from cracking or stabilizing those beautiful spalted pen blanks to keep them from falling apart when you turn them.

For stabilizing green wood Pentacryl is a great product for helping prevent your wood from cracking during the drying process. Pentacryl was originally developed to preserve a number of ancient American Indian Artifacts. A number of Indian weir stakes were found in a lake by the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Some of the stakes were removed and found to be from 3000 to 6000 years old. Had the artifacts been left to dry out without being treated with a wood stabilizer, they would have cracked and deteriorated further, just as green wood cracks if is not sealed or treated.How pentacryl works. The siliconized polymers in Pentacryl penetrate into the wood , coating the cells and keeping them from collapsing. Pentracryl is envionmentally friendly, will not discolour your wood and cleans up easily with soap and water or mineral spirits. After it’s dry, you can finish your wood with any type of finish you like.

You can apply Pentacryl in two different ways. Larger pieces of green wood can be treated by brushing on the solution until the piece is completely saturated. While smaller pieces of green wood can be soaked in a container of solution… Be sure to save the remaining solution for another project. After applying the solution you will need to slowly dry the wood.  The ideal conditions for drying your wood is in a cool, damp room at 60 degrees F with 60 percent relative humidity. If you don’t have an appropriate room (which most of us don’t) for drying your wood, you can use a large cardboard box (like an appliance box). Set the box over the wood and this will slow the drying. The idea is to let the moisture escape slowly. Drying time is about 3 months per inch of slab thickness.

When turning green wood, after you’ve rough turned your project, use the brush-on method of applying the Pentacryl. This will help avoid the risk of cracks in your project caused by having the wood dry out to quickly. Keep in mind that this will change the density of the wood and it will feel slightly heavier once the pentacryl has dried.

Pentacryl is Available is 3 different sizes
5 Gallon Pentacryl
1 Gallon Pentacryl
32 oz Pentacryl

 

For stabilizing spalted or punky wood, a good product to try is Polycryl.

polycrylgallonsmall

 

Manufactered by Preservation Solutions, Polycryl is water soluble and works best when the wood is wet. Just soak the pen blanks in the solution for the recommended time and then let them dry. After using Polycryl you must use a finish on your wood to seal it. Also note that because this is a water soluble product, you should not use it for outdoor projects.

 

Polycryl is also available in 3 sizes.
5 Gallon Polycryl
1 Gallon Polycryl
32 oz Polycryl

If you have another methods of stabiizing wood that you’d like to share with your fellow woodworkers, please feel free to leave a comment.