We recently started a series entitled The Art of Furniture, an online encyclopedia of furniture and decorative arts. In our inaugural post, we looked at Queen Anne and the furniture associated with her reign. Today, we are focusing on a particular material: burr.
Top of a Queen Anne Burr Yew Chest of Drawers Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection
A burr or burl is a fast developing bulbous growth which protrudes from a tree trunk, believed to be caused by environmental stress or fungal infection. They commonly develop a rounded shape where the grain of the wood has been interrupted by the clustering of dormant buds, creating a knotted effect under the bark. Burls do not immediately threaten the health of the tree, although they can grow to such proportions where the extra weight strain on the trunk has been known to fell the tree.
Due to their formation, burls tend to generate a highly figured wood with a distinctive pattern often sought after by furniture makers and artists. The variety of tree species that are susceptible to burl growth is quite limited, making certain types particularly rare to find and therefore expensive to use. Patterns differ depending on the direction of the grain within the burl, from compact undulating ripples to the highly sought after dense ‘knotting’ effect, evident on exceptional pieces of English walnut furniture from the 18th century.
Burr wood is a challenge to work with using hand tools due to the density and intertwined nature of the grain, primarily it was cut instead into fine slices and used to veneer furniture, rapidly becoming a luxurious commodity to the discerning patron during the 18th and 19th centuries. The most popular tree species with burr wood which we see in furniture making include ash, elm, maple, oak, padouk, yew, amboyna and walnut. Burr veneer is one of the simplest yet incredibly effective ways of enhancing the surface beauty.
Have a look below at some of the pieces in our collection featuring burr veeners.