Spalted Wood. How wood spalts.

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017
Natural edge Grisilinia bowl. Spalted wood

This was felled as it had honey tree fungus killing it. The light patches are where the fungus hadn’t yet got into the living wood.

Spalted wood.

Spalted wood is where fungus or more usually several different fungi have been introduced to the wood. This is most commonly after the tree has been felled but sometimes it is a fungus which has killed the tree so the timber has already been spalted. Spalted wood can be created deliberately or can occur by accident as I have found out several times over the years!

Spalted wood can be created as easily as:- Leaving the freshly sawn wood out in the weather, popping it into a plastic bag or burying the wood in wood shavings.

However, knowing when the wood will be spalted enough to work but not too spalted is as tricky as :- Knowing when to take a cake out of the oven without a temperature gauge or knowing when to put fuel in a car without a fuel gauge.

But it is so very exciting to see if you have got it right. And when it is right it feels like hitting the jackpot. Since I have become old and boring it is about as exciting as I wish life to be.

Spalted beech bowl. Spalted wood

Spalted Beech

The ease with which I can glibly say the above is because over the years I have unintentionally spalted much wood. All the wood I use is local and fell naturally or had to be felled or coppiced for some other reason and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to buy the wood. So if for example I’ve had a short piece of wood which I knew would crack if left out I’ve wrapped it in plastic intending to turn it within a couple of weeks only to forget it or get distracted and not get round to it for months and then wonder of wonders, it was beautifully spalted. Other wood has waited months outside in the rain until I plank the tree trunk. So, no fuss and worry seems to work well. There has been wood tightly wrapped in plastic excluding all air, loosely wrapped allowing air, left in a damp environment without cover. They all work. The biggest hit and miss is deciding when to use the timber thereby stopping the spalting process.


Spalting Wood.

The best and easiest way to create spalted wood is to use green wood as this is the most natural way the fungi would be going  into wood to start the decay process. Over time and with experience it might be possible to try to regulate it by noting how long it had been left in different environments. However, in my experience there is a massive difference between different wood species and even different trees of the same species. All it needs is for one tree to be felled in the winter and another when maximum sap is rising and the difference in the wood is enormous. So there will always be an element of surprise.

I have never tried spalting a dried/seasoned piece of wood. Air dried wood would be slightly easier than kiln dried as it has a slightly higher moisure content and the cells themselves won’t have collapsed so much. To spalt dried wood I would make sure it had enough fungal spore by introducing them rather than my happy go lucky way of leaving wood around or just popping it in a bag. Pick up a few handfuls of rotted leaves or a rotten piece of wood if you can to put in the plastic bag and the wetter they are the better as you would have to re-introduce moisture too. Even more important with kiln dried wood. But it is always more difficult to reintroduce moisture to wood. Firstly it is the area around the cells which lose moisture. But after you get down to about 30% moisture it will be the moisture within the cells themselves that is coming out and the cells collapse. So creating a suitable environment for fungi to do their work on well seasoned wood is much harder.

Natural edge Gorse bowl. Spalted wood.

Natural edge Gorse bowl. The colour near the pith occured while the bush was growing. The dark areas around the bark were caused by my leaving the wood outside for a few months.

I prefer to work the spalted wood as soon as possible after planking it or taking it out from the plastic. I find that the structure of the wood through its alteration by the fungi means that it is more likely to crack than either green wood or seasoned wood. The moisture within the wood is water not sap as it is the sugars in the wood which the fungi have been eating. So it will dry quickly on exposure to a drier atmosphere.

Spalted wood and what causes it and when and how is a little understood and much misunderstood subject. But it is just nature trying to do her thing. And the results are so beautiful, aren’t they?


Origin – A Makers’ Co-operative

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Origin, a maker’s co-operative in Carmarthen, is a shop I am very involved with as many of you who have “liked” my Facebook page will know. Origin is a wonderful shop and I am so pleased and proud to be part of it. And it is such a really nice bunch of people.

When I first joined Origin last year I spent time looking at all the work of the other makers, trying to memorize the products to help customers. I felt humbled by the wealth of talent. And then I thought about the hours of work and the years of experience, designing, altering, developing of skills and styles that had gone into these finished articles. By now I have also been privileged to see how some makers’ work is altering and evolving over time.

The Origin Makers.

Obviously there are talented painters (list below), photographers, ceramicists (both functional ware and sculptural) and jewellers working in silver, glass, celtic beadwork to recycled copper pipe and water tanks. There’s a felt artist, a glass artist, a pen maker, a willow weaver, Jude specialises in marbling on a variety of materials. Rob is a highly skilled cabinet maker who has developed a wonderful range of turned and carved spoons recently, Aled makes very stylish, simple, elegant pieces out of Welsh slate. Then there are textiles – felted clothes and the most delicate knitted and woven work. I use the beautiful hand forged hooks to make the coat racks shown in the photos.



Roni Roberts in Origin window 2Roni Roberts in Origin windowThere are commitments to being part of a co-operative. We have to contribute towards the rent and rates and we take turns stewarding the shop. Regular meetings further the progress of the shop. We have to clean, change the window displays, organise the displays in the shop, keep on top of packaging, finance, updating paperwork, the website, Facebook page and so on. Some people have been involved for many years and have contributed so much time and energy, some are new or maybe shy about contributing… Guess that is like a cross section of life really. And who knows what else is going on in people’s lives? Also we are in a rural area so many of us are an hour’s drive from the shop which doesn’t make it easy.

Roni Roberts' woodwork display in OriginI have always chosen to sell more through shops than craft fairs for several reasons. I value the high street and think that if I want to be able to shop locally I should try to sell locally. My work might be wanted for a birthday or wedding anniversary and these don’t neatly fit into when fairs happen. Also, when I started selling I was caring for my partner’s mother so was not really free to set up, steward and take down stands at craft fairs.

When I heard that Origin were looking for new members last year I was interested as I was by then free to steward and Carmarthen is a different type of town from the places I am used to being in. It has a larger catchment area but not so orientated towards tourism. I have always been in favour of co-operative so that was the icing on the cake.

Eisteddfod Chair

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Miniature Eisteddfod chairFor several years now I have had the honour to be commissioned to make a chair for a local Eisteddfod. This is the first of the miniature chairs I made and the wood chosen was Elm.

An eisteddfod is a cultural festival, a celebration of the arts and with competitions in all sorts of arts from poetry, literature, music, dance, performance… The original eisteddfod happened in 1176 in Cardigan only a few miles from me. It was held by Lord Rhys of Deheubarth at his castle. Major work has been happening there for a few years now, both archaeological and restorative, since Cardigan castle came into public ownership. (There is also a shop there which includes a selection of my work on display.)

The National Eisteddfod is a very important cultural event for many people. There are fields and fields of caravans and acres and acres of tents of people staying for the week. All the local bus companies organise buses for the important days such as the Crowning and the Chairing ceremonies. The Maes (literally field), which is where the main pavilion is situated, also has representatives of all the major organisations in Wales, major businesses, charities, individual shops, organisations, anyone really who can afford it and wants to show a presence has a stall so it amounts to hundreds. The main pavilion is a very large marquee but there are smaller marquees for various other activities such as arts and crafts, the Welsh learners’ tent, technology, drama, one where the people compose poetry all week long. There is more than one “maes” too. There is one that appeals more to younger people which has bands and musicians. In the evenings there are plays and concerts. The main pavilion is where the main competing happens and include reciting, singing, playing instruments, dancing, choirs, short story as well as the various poetry competitions in free verse and “cynghanedd” which is strict metre. There is plenty of other competing going on elsewhere on the “maes”, especially writing poetry and verse. This cultural week moves each year between the North and the South of the country. It is the largest cultural festival in Europe and I think the largest in the world that moves from year to year. There are many who go who never go into the main pavilion and many who spend most of their time there. It is a chance to meet up with friends one only sees once a year. People will remember the year according to where the Eisteddfod was held or the particular Eisteddfod according to the weather.  It is many things to many people. There are people who come from all over the world. There are thousands of competitors and 150,000 or more visitors over the week. All the competitions are in Welsh and the main language heard throughout the National Eisteddfod is Welsh though obviously many non-welsh speakers also come and are very welcomed.

The giving of an Eisteddfod chair to a poet or bard is a tradition going back a long way. Lord Rhys gave a chair at the Lord’s table at his Eisteddfod. The ‘Chairing of the Bard’ at the National Eisteddfod is the highlight of the Eisteddfod and the literary highlight of the year within the Welsh language culture.

There are smaller Eisteddfodau (plural) held all over the country, for example in schools, chapels, villages and many societies, and indeed in other countries where there is a large Welsh presence such as USA, Australia and Patagonia in Argentina.”

The wikipedia entries for eisteddfodau are well worth reading for more information about these wonderful cultural events.

Marketing Woodturning

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Roni Roberts at workI have been woodturning for ten years now. In fact I even did a little before that, about fifteen years ago. However, most of this time I have also been a carer so not only was my time limited but also I never knew if I would have to drop everything else for a while if the person I was looking after needed more help. I therefore deliberately kept a low profile with the woodturning. I put my work into local shops and galleries and left them to sell on my behalf. I am grateful for this service. I do not begrudge shops their commission, I am a firm believer in the value of our high streets and independant shops and am as happy to provide them with my work as I am to shop there.

However, selling through other people meant that I lost out on the personal contact with my customers. Also, as I am passionate about trees, wood and woodworking I also felt the loss of a chance to explain to people that a particular bowl came from a tree that  grew a few miles away. I knew the exact spot, I knew why it had fallen or been felled, I had planked it up myself at home, delighted in it, stored it, dried it and worked it.

I am no longer a carer. This means that I can (and need to) dedicate myself more to the woodturning. However, marketing woodturning is a very different matter. I live in a very rural area therefore there aren’t that many shops/galleries around to display my work or population to buy. I need to go further afield to a certain extent. And I would like to share my enthusiasm for the wonders of local wood, woodturning and wood craft in general.

About eighteen months ago I finally got the internet for myself. I had always loved the idea of blogging about the wood as this would be a chance to tell the customers everything I’d never been able to in the shops. However, doing the writing has been a different matter. I feel self-concious, I don’t know how to express myself clearly, etc.

Then there has been all the technical problems – still ongoing. After all, I am not going to be able to learn all about the world of www overnight, am I? But I have taken a great leap forward. I made my first video and uploaded it to Youtube. Apologies about the quality – I still have lots to learn. But as my mother once said “We live on a learning planet.”

Enjoying Life

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Enjoying life. Not taking things too seriously. “Hard work never killed anyone, why take the risk and be the first one”. All statements that Huw has always felt. He is however a worker and even when he’s not in his workshop (he is a precision engineer) he likes keeping busy. And what better a way to spend a Saturday than making a coffee table.

Huw and Merfyn making a table from pallets So, enlisting the help of his friend Merfyn, who is retired and originally trained in woodwork before the dust forced him into painting and decorating, they set to work. Huw is very fond of the wood he rescues from old pallets. Much of his work is repairing parts for agricultural machines and he does a lot of work for a large agricultural contractor who also sells tractors and machines. These come on very large pallets which for safety reasons are one use only. As mentioned in the anniversary bowls blog these pallets have been put to numerous uses. But Huw has always wanted to make a table from them. As he says, after 45 years working with metal he rather likes a change now and again.

They are well dressed for a cold workshop. Huw has worn padded boiler suits in the winter for decades. Working with metal is cold anyway and on the lathe he often has to have coolant running over the work he is turning. Cold liquid, cold metal, cold workshop – a padded boiler suit and a body warmer makes a lot of difference. He introduced them to me a long time ago. But for Merfyn today was his first in his new padded boiler suit and he thought it was great!

DSC02058My large woodworking workshop is underused most of the time and with their combined skills and experience I was happy to trust them with the machines. I went off to my lathe shed and left them to it, just occasionally sticking my head round the door to see the progress. All that is left is some sanding and deciding on the finish. Enjoying life? He’s talking about making a dining table next…

Learning through Experience

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Learning through experience, both good and bad, is certainly the main way I’ve learned most of my woodturning. I was shown the very basics, bought a couple of books and a video. However, it was experience which moved me along and improved my work. Good experiences of achieving a goal, the lightbulb experience when something suddenly clicked into place but also the experience of getting things disastrously wrong.

thinly turned walnut bowlWood turning really is a case of hand/eye co-ordination. The shape of a bowl is made by free hand movements of the tool against the wood. (This is different from metal work on a lathe where the tool is set up and takes a pre-determined cut off the metal.) So the shape of the bowl is totally up to the turner. When I turn the inside of the bowl I usually match the shape to the outside, (not always, sometimes it can work well to have a totally different shape inside). The thickness of wood left can be checked by eye, fingers or by calipers. I hardly ever use calipers and with experience can judge pretty well how thick it is. I have also enjoyed turning bowls extremely thinly! I like thin china and glass so I was bound to try turning the wood thin. It also works very well for green wood as this allows the wood to move slightly as it dries. Leave it thick and there is more chance of the wood cracking.

Before I had enough experience to judge reasonably accurately disasters did happen! I have misjudged the angle and gone through the side wall. I have also misjudged how much wood is left at the base and gone through that. It is a lot more difficult to judge the base as this is where the work is being held on to the lathe so there is a limit to how well you can see or feel the thickness. One time I turned an extremely pretty bowl out of Yew and made a tiny hole in the base. Apart from that the bowl was beautiful and I was very reluctant to throw it on the fire. I had a few old coins and put a silver three-penny piece in the hole. The bowl was admired and bought. I was offered more old coins and so started a whole new string to my bow. See examples of my work.


The History of the Tree in the Wood.

Friday, October 24th, 2014

The history of the tree is in each piece of wood but it can not always be easily read. One of the easiest stories to read is when a tree has been cut across the grain. Because the wood has to shrink as it dries (a living tree is about 60% water and this will come down to 10% or below for a centrally heated house) when it is cut like this it inevitably cracks. When it is planked along the grain it can move in different ways so does not necessarily crack.

150 year old Ash tree slice showing the history of the tree

This circle of wood is 31″ diameter at the narrowest point and over 3′ at the widest which makes it an ideal size as a coffee or a side table. The history of the tree shows clearly. Having counted the rings and making it 151 excluding the bark even if my eyes went a bit funny trying to count all those lines we are still talking about a tree over 150 years old.

Ash is a light coloured wood when it is young with no visable difference between heartwood and sapwood. However, as it grows older it the inner wood becomes dark and it is known as olive ash as it looks similar to olive wood. The figuring at the middle of this tree however is more complicated than that. The lighter marking in the middle is where the tree is just starting to rot. If this tree hadn’t been felled it would have become hollow in the centre.


close-op of an Ash goblet showing the growth rings

The history of the tree also shows clearly in this wood. This photo, also ash, shows how much difference there can be in the growth rate from one year to another. This tree grew under a cliff by the edge of a river where there was no soil. It therefore grew very slowly. Most years the growth is so slow it is difficult to count the years without having magnified it as in this photo. Yet one year stands out with significantly more growth. Which year? How was it so different?


The way the growth rate varies from year to year has been used by scientists in a discipline called dentrochronology or tree-ring dating. I have come across it due to an interest in prehistory, especially megalithic cultures. The dating of these cultures was by radiocarbon dating but this is not totally reliable and dentrochronology has now calibrated these dates, actually finding that the cultures were older than previously thought. It has also been used to look at past ecologies and dating ancient buildings due to the wood used.There are living trees that are over 5,000 years old (bristlecone pines in America) which has been a great help in dating as these are then matched with dead trees to go back further in time. There has also been lots of work in Germany which has definately dated back over 12,000 years using oak and pine.

It Is All About The Wood

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

There is a beauty about working with something as wonderful as green wood.  I like to think that it is the ultimate tribute to a tree that, though its growing life has ended, its beauty and usefulness can continue.


No tree is ever specifically felled for my work.  Most have fallen as a result of storm damage or old age, some have been felled for health and safety reasons.  Many are hedgerow trees that have been pollarded or trimmed back and will regrow, prolonging their lives.

All my wood is sourced locally, the majority within 15 miles of my workshop.  The wood is used green or air dried.

Hello world!

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

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