Expensive types of wood – Karelian birch (komel, cap, suvel, shpalt).

Birch wood has different sections of the tree, with different densities and internal wood patterns, this is caused by disease and bacteria. Many readers of our article will be surprised that in this section they will also see Karelian birch, but that’s right, Karelian birch is not a species or subspecies, this is a genetic disease, it was identified and proven by the Forest Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the Republic of Karelia.

Karelian birch in the forest.

Karelian birch is an ordinary silver birch (warty), which undergoes strange metamorphoses during growth caused by genetic changes. Under the bark it is all lumpy, blistered, uneven and unsightly in appearance. It can grow up to 15 meters, or it can remain a three-meter frail tree. It grows in Karelia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Central Europe, Belarus, in Russia its habitat is from the Kola Peninsula to Moscow, the entire North Western part of European Russia.

Karelian birch bars.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the “forest expert” Ferdinand Gabriel Vokel came to Russia from Germany. While driving around the Olonets province, he noticed some unusual wood with a patterned texture on some birch trees and later described it in his writings. Almost a hundred years later, in 1857, the Russian scientist Karl Merklin named the tree described by Vokel Karelian birch. In Latin – Betula pendula var. carelica.

Stabilized Karelian birch bars.

The fibers of Karelian birch are twisted (experts call this curling) and have dark inclusions in the form of ticks, spots and winding lines – real “wood marble”.

Vase and three apples made of Karelian birch.

Patterniness is conveyed by inheritance, but not always, the most common silver birch trees can grow from the seeds of the “Karelian birch” and only 40% pass on their properties. “Karelian birch” is also valuable because it is rare. It does not form groves, grows singly or in small groups, and loves open places. And, oddly enough, it often reaches out to a person’s home.

Cup, saucer and spoon made of Karelian birch.

The Finns even had a saying – “Karelian birch grows where the voice of church bells is heard.” Karelian birch is scarce not only because it was once cut down uncontrollably. She is very capricious: she demands there is a lot of light, it is easily “clogged” by other trees.

Box made of Karelian birch.

It also actively crosses with other types of birch – the offspring are completely different from the parent. The only way to guarantee a marbled wood texture is through cloning. In fact, the Karelian birch is a sick tree, so it only lives up to forty years and does not have time to grow large.

Furniture made of Karelian birch.

Why does the article so often indicate wood in bars 140 millimeters long, 45 millimeters wide and 35 millimeters high? This is a standard block for making a knife handle and weighs approximately 100 grams. All wood listed in this article is sold not in cubic meters but in grams. The price starts from 2 dollars per bar and ends at 20 dollars per bar, depending on the material and its quality.

Knife with a handle made of stabilized Karelian birch.

KOMEL – is the lowest thickened part of a tree trunk, starting from the surface of the ground (zero cut), a transitional link between the root and above-ground parts of the tree.

KOMEL – birch (a section of wood at the root).

In ecological terms, it functions as a “power” part, keeping the above-ground mass of the tree from breaking, and also functions as protection from external damage (for example, ground fires) due to its highly thickened bark. In forestry merchandising, it is characterized by high quality wood – density, viscosity, beautiful structure.

KOMEL – in section.

Therefore, the butt part of the trunk (“butt ridge”) is often considered the most valuable and is used for the production of numerous special types of forest products – plywood, skis, gun parts, and also a very sought-after material by wood carving masters. In some trees, the butt at the soil level turns into something like shoots, close in hardness to stone.

KOMEL – in bars.

Among the northern peoples, the butt of the spruce has a magical meaning. This tree is considered sacred; it is the tree that connects the upper and lower worlds. And the butt turns out to be on the border of the worlds.

Shotgun butt from KOMEL.

KAP – is a kind of growth on a birch tree; it usually has a round shape. People often call the cap a “witch’s broom,” and the word itself came to us from Old Slavonic speech, where the word “cap” was translated as “head.”

KAP – on a birch tree.

This formation is covered with bark, sometimes small branches with buds can sprout from it. Burl has an incredibly high density (specific gravity), which is always greater than that of the birch itself. Sizes can also vary, there are both very small growths and giant formations reaching 350 kilograms (downy birch).

On the right is KAP and on the left is SUVEL.

Birch burl is widely used for making various crafts such as souvenirs, dishes, and larger items. Craftsmen create handmade masterpieces from it, which can serve as both a household item and a decorative element.

Sugar bowl from KAP.

Birch burl is a unique phenomenon, and it is highly valued among craftsmen. If you cut the growth, an incredibly beautiful texture will become visible, consisting of large concentric circles and small dark dots. No two identical formations can be found in nature, so each burl is special. At the same time, burls growing on trunks will be more attractive than those growing at the roots.

Vase from KAP.

A burl can grow for various reasons, the main one being the emergence of a bud under the bark that cannot grow outward. The tree feeds it, and adnexal elements begin to form around the bud. They all try to get out from under the bark, and that’s how the cap appears.

Furniture from KAP.

The burl is a heterogeneous formation: it has many nodules, bumps, and not fully developed buds. The burl has numerous “wormholes” on the cut; these are dormant buds; the texture resembles a malachite pattern. Suvel always has an even and smooth coating.

Two types of bars are presented: upper SUVEL, lower KAP.

SUVEL – (sometimes they say svil) – is nothing more than a rounded growth that can be found on birch trunks, this is a type of malignant or non-malignant tumor.

SUVEL – on a birch trunk.

It grows quickly and consists of twisted or deformed wood fibers. Suvel can be located in a circle of a tree, can be represented by a group of growths at once, can be strictly on one section of the trunk or on several.

SUVEL – in the form of a ball or a large cone.

What the color scheme of the suvel will be depends on the specific species of birch, on the conditions where it grows, and on its age. If the suvel was taken from a birch tree that grows in a swampy area, a dark color with a greenish tint will be natural for such a formation. If it was found on the butt part, and the suvel is overgrown with moss, it will most likely be dark brown with pink streaks.

SUVELI bars.

Or maybe yellowish-golden with expressive dark annual rings.

Two cups from SUVELI.

The first difference between suvel and burl is that it grows quickly, while burl grows slowly, lasting for decades.

Vase from SUVELI in Chinese style.

There may be several burls on one trunk, or maybe just one, in this they are similar to suvel. In suvel, the texture resembles a marble, mother-of-pearl pattern, which is why suvel is called wood bone.

Shell from SUVELI in decorative style.

It is this soap dish from SUVELI that conveys the message of ivory color, which is typical for products made from this magnificent material.

Mylinitsa from Suveli.

SPALT (L ‘ORATORE) – are colonies of fungus or bacteria that form colored spots or streaks uncharacteristic of the breed. You may be surprised, but often different types of fungus
they place it on the workpiece with their own hands, and subsequently stabilize it in order to preserve this beauty and increase the strength of the wood (severe damage can significantly reduce the strength). The striking color of spalted wood, or, as it is often called, “spalt,” is the result of rotting wood.

Cutting down a tree with SPALTE.

As is known, many hardwoods are characterized by low resistance to damage by fungi that decompose one of the components of wood – lignin. In the struggle for life, the mushroom strives to protect its feeding territory from competitors – other mushrooms, therefore, at the border of its habitat, it forms a compacted dark-colored mycelium (mycelium), creating something like a “fence”.

Wood blocks with SPALTE.

These dark “zonal lines” stand out especially clearly against light wood because the decomposition of brown lignin usually causes the main part of the workpiece to turn white (it is not for nothing that this type of rotting is called “white” rot). In addition, the main, non-compacted part of the mycelium of lignin-degrading fungi has a bright white color, and in the center of the “feeding zone” of the fungus, the accumulation of such mycelium forms a bright white “pocket” with a black border.

Bowl made of SHPALT.
Two cups from KAP and a tray from SHPALT.

So we have completed our journey into the woody world of Russian birch.
The article was prepared by Andrey Kichaev, LLC. “GeoBuro” 29.05.2024

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