Australian Red Mallee Burl

I have to be candid with you:  I’m not the most experienced woodturner around. Oh, sure I’ve been putting in my time, learning all I can from lots of skilled mentors and generous fellow turners. But I’ve amassed just 18 months of experience and that will only take you so far, even if you’ve been trying to turn every day as I have. 

When I was contacted by Exotic Wood Zone, asking if I’d be interested in trying out some of their wood blanks, I jumped at the chance—even though privately I was a bit fearful that I’d screw it up. My fear doubled when the timber actually arrived. Holy cow, it was gorgeous!

I danced around it a few days, eyeing it but feeling intimidated and fearful to dive in. Finally, it was GO time! 

 

Australian Red Mallee Burl  Australian Red Mallee Burl

Because I’ve always chainsawed my own timber, picking up discards from tree services or friends’ downed trees, it’s a rare day that I have the convenience of a fully waxed and prepared blank! That was a luxury right from the start… no bark to turn off and flat sides! (You don’t wanna see what I normally produce. Haha) I didn’t even bother to round the edges on my handsaw, but instead dove right in on the lathe. 

Oh my goodness the colors and sheen immediately began to pop! It was my first exotic timber and I guess it hadn’t sunk in just how beautiful it would be. It taught me something important.

Australian Red Mallee Burl  Australian Red Mallee Burl

I found that, because the red mallee burl was precious and has a price tag, I slowed my process and was far more intentional and deliberate. I was shocked at the difference that yielded in my turning! Oh, sure I still played my music loud, as I normally do, and enjoyed the relaxed view of my sheep grazing in the pasture just beyond my lathe. I was having fun. But I was not going to waste this treasure! 

I carefully turned a graceful curve for the outside of the bowl, taking my time to repeatedly step back and check the arc, then measuring to reduce my base to a third or less of the overall bowl width. I love looking at images of fine pottery and following its graceful standards. Finally, I meticulously sanded my way through many grits. (I’m notoriously slack about that typically.) As I eyed the emerging beauty, I was stoked!

OK time for a true confession:  The inside did not go so well for me. It was a battle. I’m sure it was my inexperience, but I just couldn’t seem to keep my gouge on the bevel and it showed. I seriously began to fear that I’d screw up the bowl and leave egregious tool marks. One misstep skidded my tool precariously toward the rim (with the end benefit of reducing my rim thickness more than I’d planned—ultimately an improvement. Lucky me!)

Australian Red Mallee Burl  Australian Red Mallee Burl

Determined to succeed, I stopped and called one of my woodturning mentors, leaving a distraught message. His reply scolded me, reminding me of the importance of staying on the bevel and good tool control. He also suggested increasing the speed.

That made a big difference. I’ve since learned that Australian red mallee burl is notoriously hard (in density and difficulty) to turn. Higher lathe speeds definitely help. 

Oh, my word it is worth it!! Any tool marks were sanded away and with them my worries. The bowl is absolutely beautiful and one I’ll cherish for a lifetime. It definitely will go into my permanent collection and lesson cache.

When you invest in fine wood and care deeply how a piece turns out, and suspect you won’t likely get another bit of wood like it anytime soon, you pay more attention, take your time, shape as gracefully as possible and your turning improves!

At least mine did… and I’m grateful!

I finished it off, as I do with most of my turnings, with Mahoney’s Walnut Oil. I love the glossy sheen it adds and I never have to worry about it yellowing, peeling or needing meticulous reapplication later. Of course, there are tons of options for finishes; that’s just my personal favorite! I love how it perfectly set the colors aflame in this red mallee burl from Australia!

In the end, successfully turning this beautiful block of timber into a bowl that I’ll treasure made me realize that it’s not how many years you’ve been turning that matters. It’s loving what you do, diving in enthusiastically and feeling excited each and every time a new creation is brought to life!

Thanks, Exotic Wood Zone for the opportunity to experience such beauty and to be part of creating something special!