“Spalting refers to a fungal infection of wood which typically leaves black streaks in the wood which can be quite striking, especially against a very light wood such as Hackberry or Maple, another commonly spalted wood. Wood turners especially prize spalted pieces since the turning process reveals more of the spalted effect. However, spalting is a process of decay and especially in an already soft wood such as Hackberry, the structural integrity of the piece may be compromised due to the spalting process.”
I have enjoyed working with unspalted Sycamore in both spindle and bowl formats so I was eager to work with this striking looking spalted piece of Sycamore. It was a surprise to say the least. While regular Sycamore cuts beautifully the spalted wood was incredibly soft with large areas of very punky soft wood in addition to significant insect damage, most of which I was forced to cut away because it was not able to hold a decent cut or finish due to the damaged nature of the wood.
Granted, the appearance is visually striking because of the dramatic streaking but sycamore to my mind is a lovely wood as it is due to the ray flecked pattern that is so pronounced even on wood that is not quarter-sawn, so I don’t know that I think that any added appearance quality justifies the level of difficulty added by the spalting.
As I had experienced with the Hackberry and the Maple, the spalted Sycamore did not sand evenly because of the different densities between the areas of greater and lesser rot and decay. This has the effect of leaving divots in the surface that are not visible but which I could detect when running my hands over the surface. I know these developed with sanding because they were not present when I made my final tool cuts.
The final insult to me in relation to this spalted wood was in the finish process. The more heavily spalted areas absorbed the finish quite differently from the lightly or non-spalted areas so the finish appears, to me at least, to be splotchy and of poor quality despite my best efforts.
I would admit that there are likely wood turners of greater skill and experience than I who could work with spalted wood of this type and yield amazing results, but in my experience I either lack the knowledge, the supplies, the experience, or everything in fact that is required to achieve a level of result that I would be most pleased with. Because of this I seriously doubt that I will attempt to work extensively with spalted wood in the future unless it is commercially stabilized, a process designed to mitigate or eliminate exactly the concerns and pitfalls I have experienced to date.
All that said, it is just my humble opinion and shouldn’t be taken for fact until you try it for yourself I suppose. Spalted woods are fairly widely available and although they are sometimes more expensive due to the added visual appeal, they shouldn’t be beyond the reach of most wood turners. If you haven’t tried working with spalted material and you are curious about it, by all means give it a try and form your own opinions!