Book Review: Spalted Wood

Everything you'll ever want to know about spalting, written in an informative and entertaining style, with stunning photography.

Spalted Wood

Spalted Wood: The History, Science, and Art of a Unique Material

PUBLISHER:Schiffer Publishing
AUTHORS:Sara C. Robinson, Hans Michaelsen, Julia C. Robinson
FORMAT:Hardcover, 288 pages

If you love the look of projects made with spalted wood, then I think you're going to thoroughly enjoy this book. It's a comprehensive treatment of the history, science, art, and craft of spalted wood. You may be surprised, as I was, to learn that spalted wood was widely used over 700 years ago. There are dozens of photographs of period pieces that show the use of spalted wood, primarily for inlays and marquetry.

You'll also find that spalting isn't limited to the few timbers we associate it with – most notably maple – but is fairly widespread, occurring in many dozens of species. And the colours are amazing – shades of green, gray, pink, blue, brown, and black. Spalted wood was essentially, the dye of the time.

The first two chapters describe what spalting is – when, where, and how it occurs – and how it's identified. This section will perhaps be of greater interest to the more science minded readers. The next four chapters cover the use of spalting from the 15th through to the 18th centuries. I may have embarrassed myself by drooling too much. The marquetry and inlay work done at that time – all by hand – is exceptional. I guess that's what you get spending your time at the workbench rather than the TV or computer screen.

The following two chapters cover the 19th and 20th centuries, where the authors describe how advances in science and industry impacted the use of spalted wood, and of course where the introduction of dyes introduced a whole new way of colouring wood. They also briefly cover the resurgent interest in spalted wood that resulted from the work of the woodturner David Ellsworth and cabinetmaker James Krenov.

The next to last two chapters cover recent developments in spalting research, while the final chapter gives a pretty good overview of how you can go about spalting your own wood.

The story of spalting is interesting and informative, and the photos (all 870 of them) are stunning. The book itself is very handsome. It's printed on thick paper and the binding looks to be of superior quality. While it makes a superb gift for your woodworking friends (or anyone interested in Nature) it also makes for a distinctive, visually stunning I would say, coffee table book.

By the way, the best source for keeping abreast of all things spalted is You'll find scientific information on spalting, DIY guides, lists of upcoming spalting events, and a menagerie of other spalting resources.

Carl Duguay
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