Figure Types

“Figure” is the wavy textures across the face of the wood veneer. Different Figure Types give the impression of an uneven surface even though it is flat and smooth. The effect is due to reflected light on the uneven arrangements of the veneer’s fibers.

Figuring may be a result of wrinkling or bending of the growth rings. This can be due to wind, uneven bark pressure, indention on the surface of the tree by vines, fungi, etc. The value of wood can increase greatly when figuring is present.

Walnut Burl veneer with near black detail of the swirls

Burl

Burls are abnormal growths or a wart-like phenomena. Due to irritation or injury, interwoven, contorted, or a mass of dense wood, fibers are formed. They give the appearance of tight clusters of dormant buds. Each has dark pith is caused by stunted growth that failed to develop into a branch. In most species the burls are large and decorative. Because of this burl veneer is highly valued and sought after for high-end applications.

Pommele

Pommele is a small to medium sized blister figure. Heavier and more uniformed blister results in a higher valued veneer. It is usually found in very large trees of African species, namely Sapele, Bubinga and Makore. Pommele is sometimes referred to as “blistered.”

Example of the Asian Tamo Ash with pommele figure

Fiddleback

Fiddleback is clearly visible, regular streaks running across the grain. The more regular the streaks, the more valuable the veneer. Logs for fiddleback veneers are typically quartersawn. This consequently produces nearly perpendicular patterns running from edge to edge. Fiddleback is most frequently known to occur in Anigre, Sycamore, and Makore. Fiddleback gets its name because it’s often used for the backs of violins. It is also sometimes called “crossfire.”

Birdseye

The name itself best describes this type of figure. There are a few theories as to what causes the Birdseye effect. Some say it is from a worm infested tree and some say it’s caused by birds and insects. Others think it is caused by a disease. In any case, it is considered a highly valuable veneer. However this was not always true, it was once deemed defective. Birdseye is typically rotary cut to produce uniform round eyes. Birdseye is usually found in Maple, but can be found in other species on rare occasions.

Sample of the North American Birdseye Maple veneer
Sample of a natural mottled Nyatoh veneer from south Asia

Mottle

Mottle is an irregular form of figure that runs across the entire surface of the veneer. It is typically identified by its wavy spiral-like grain. This causes the veneer to have a wrinkled or blotchy figure. The mottled figure can be very random, often referred to as “broken mottle”. It can also be referred to as checkerboard-like, or “block mottle”. Trees such as Mahogany, Sapele and Bubinga all have a tendency to be mottled.

Crotch

Crotch comes from the intersection of a main limb or branch and the trunk of the tree. As a result the appearance of this figure varies. The more precise and distinct the curl or crotch, the better the quality and in effect more valuable. Crotch is seldom found in large sizes. The likes of Mahogany and Walnut Crotch veneers are the most well known.

Sample of a highly sought after Mahogany crotch veneer
Sample of a quilted Kosipo veneer native to parts of Africa

Quilted

Crotch comes from the intersection of a main limb or branch and the trunk of the tree. As a result the appearance of this figure varies. The more precise and distinct the curl or crotch, the better the quality and in effect more valuable. Crotch is seldom found in large sizes. The likes of Mahogany and Walnut Crotch veneers are the most well known.

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