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Reel Seat Spacers - Roughing Blanks

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I've got a bit of a dilemma....  Unluckily for a friend of mine, lightning struck a cherry tree in his back yard and split off a big chunk of the tree.  Luckily for me, part of the chunk had some burl in it.  I've got a piece of the burl, about 1 1/2' long, by roughly a foot in diameter.  How do I start cutting this guy up?  It's darn near round.  My band saw has an 18" bed, and I've got a good resaw blade for it, but I'm not sure where or how to begin cutting it to make reel seat inserts.  I'd like to waste as little wood as possible, obviously, but do I cut it in half lengthwise, or do I cut it in half width wise to start?  Which way would give me the prettiest grain patterns?  Also lucked into a nice sized chunk of an almost blonde walnut, that's about 2' in diameter, and about a foot and a half long.  Woo hoo!  Gots lotsa neat woods to play with.  Once I get them cut, if anybody's interested in swapping, let me know.  The walnut is seasoned pretty good, but the cherry isn't.  (Mark Wendt)

    This how I have done it.

    First, if the chunk of wood is cut across the grain, most likely it won't look like much. Maybe you will notice some striations and some radial irregularities, but probably not the crazy "pigskin" burly look we like. If you cut through the burl with the grain and through these striations, then you will notice the swirly burly action.

    Anyhow, I cut rough 4"x4"x4" blocks out of the burl. Then I size up the pieces and cut it so as to isolate the best figure, avoid voids and rot and get the most blanks as possible. The nice thing about a 4" square is that you can cut blanks in any direction and still get 16 pieces that are roughly 7/8"x7/8"x4" after kerf and such (I oversize softer woods because of shrinkage). That is assuming the piece is perfect. When you rough out these chunks and look at the grain it will make sense to you how to cut it.

    The other thing I do is use a green wood stabilizer such as Pentacryl available from It helps to prevent checking, warping and some shrinkage and is non toxic and reusable. It is not a stabilizer in the sense of a waterproofing agent. All I do is soak my reel seat blanks in it for the rec. amount of time, sticker and stack them and in about 3 mos. to a year they are ready to go. Drying depends on the wood species.  (Eamon Lee)

    I'm certainly no expert on this matter, and want that to be clear going in.  But I've asked some similar questions in the past and am more than willing to share my experience.

    First, let's think about this cherry burl... 18" long, 12" around, huh?  How many reel seat fillers are you going to need in a lifetime?  Chances are good that you're set for life, or at least the next ten years.  Don't worry so much about wasting wood.  After all, it was free, right?

    I'd start by cutting the log in half, length wise, so that it's now 18 inches long, and half-round, with a flat side approx. 12" long.  At this point you'll be able to see what the grain of the wood looks like, and will be able to make choices about how to get the best looking wood.

    Next, I'd cut the sections across the grain.  Since I make my filler blanks about 4.5" long, that would work out to 4 cuts per half, or a total of eight.

    I'd then cut the sections into 1" x 1" x 4.5" blanks.  Store them in a plastic bag.   Poke one or two pinholes in the bag for ventilation.  In a few months, they'll be dry enough to work.

    I'd work in a similar manner on the walnut stuff.

    Cutting the wood across the grain seems to make it weaker, and more susceptible to breaking while turning and boring.  Keep the long grain along the long axis of the fillers, IMHO.  (Harry Boyd)

      It seems that some of the 'good things' come in bunches and usually 'just in time. In the past  couple of weeks I have acquired more burl walnut and maple than I could use in two life times. One walnut burl that was sliced from the side of a log (and dry) came from Oklahoma and was about 20" round and 9" deep. Another came from a sawyer (green) and was about 24" round and 12" deep. And just last Saturday, at a farm sale, I found two ((dry) 1x8's 36" long boards of absolutely great maple burl and tiger stripe. Before I came by all this stuff I did some experimenting with plain old straight grained black walnut and found that if I sawed a board off cross grain and turned it in my lathe that the grain was truly outstanding and looked nothing like it would have if turned with the grain. I learned to leave quite a bit of material to be removed with sand paper because turning it across the grain leaves little 'chip outs' even with very sharp cutting tools. These ! inserts drill very nicely and IMHO are as stable as any others when you consider they are epoxied to the blank. I've put several of these inserts on (ugh) plastic rods.  (Don Greife)

    I cut all of my cherry burl in round slabs. Let's say the burl is growing around the trunk. I cut that section out, lay it down on the ground and cut it across the burl. Not across the length. I highly recommend that you call Woodcraft and get some end grain sealer. Cherry is notorious for checking!!! 

    I should also mention that you should try not to cut too deep below the bark. A lot of the cherry burl I find has really nice grain right below the bark area.  (Randall Gregory)


I came to have in my possession a rather large chunk of Philippine Mahogany, and I want to cut it down to size for reel seat inserts.  What's a good size to cut the wood down to, for machining it into an insert?  Also, since I have a pretty good sized chunk, if anybody's interested in swapping a couple of pieces, I'd be more than happy.  If you're not familiar with this type of mahogany, it can vary from a deep, rich red, to an almost pink blonde color, and the grain is very closely spaced.  A lot of really nice furniture is made from this stuff.  Hard as nails, and finishes rather nice.  (Mark Wendt)

    The reel seat blanks I have are 1 X 1 X 6 inches. I purchase them from pen makers.  I always have to cut them down so I would recommend a length closer to 4 inches.  (Rex Tutor)

    1" x 1" x 4" seems to be an appropriate size block for turning.  (Bill Harms)


I recently received a burl that is a little smaller than a basketball and am wondering the proper way to cut it up into pieces for reel seats.  Do you cut it perpendicular to the way it came off the tree or continue cutting the same direction it as the cut off the tree? Or does in not matter?  I have done a search on the web but most info is for wood turners or furniture makers so any help would be appreciated.  (Rick Barbato)

    Burl's kinda an oddball thing.  There usually isn't a consistent enough grain pattern in a lot of burls to figure out a consistent direction to cut.  Best bet is to slice the "ball" in half.  Then take a look at both halves, and decide how you want to cut it.  I've gotten some really neat grain patterns out of chunks of cherry, walnut and other burls just by choosing a certain direction to cut the stuff.  (Mark Wendt)


I’ve acquired a bunch of oak burls the smallest about 6”x 6” x 6” the largest, still attached to part of the trunk, about 250 lbs. the burl measures about 2’x 3’ by 18-20, it’s huge.

A couple I can pass through the band saw, the rest are just too large to do that. Should I rent a  chainsaw? A large bow saw (36”er)? Cut lengthwise or the length of the trunk or cross cut the pieces?  (Ren Monllor)

    I'd use a couple of splitting wedges and a sledge hammer to split the big ones into usable pieces.  (Neil Savage)

      Problem with splitting wedges is they're designed to split something with the grain, like a section of the trunk.  With burl, there's no real grain to speak of.  I'd use either the big saw, or take it to a real lumber mill and have them cut it for you.  (Mark Wendt)

        I agree Mark.  With the splitting wedges he's most likely to either just destroy the burl or bury the wedges in said burl. I buried a wedge in a recalcitrant section of log one time and just had to throw the whole mess in the fireplace to get the wedge back finally.  (Larry Swearingen)

          I thank you all for the replies, I certainly appreciate it. I've checked here locally and there are no actual mills. They just have the lumber bought in by truck. I guess I'll make myself a 36" bow saw somehow, and go to it. I found plans on saws for 10" and 12" saws, so I'll increase all measurements and sizes by 3 and it should all work out. I don't want to wait too long as I'm afraid of getting splits and checks that might ruin the burls.  (Ren Monllor)

            Don't you have a rental place anywhere near you? If it was me,  I would just go rent a chainsaw for an afternoon, or even a bow saw or a limb saw if you don't like noise and gas fumes. I bet if you went in and talked to them they would have something that would work that won't cost a fortune or work  you to death in the process.  (John Channer)

            One other possibility is using a sawsall with a long wood blade. I've used it with small burls. Most of the larger burls I have seen are hollow so it is a matter of cutting through it in one place and working your way around from there.  (Rich Jezioro)

              I wish the one monster walnut burl I have here in the shop would be hollow.  No such luck though.  Sucker is solid all the way through.  (Mark Wendt)

                I once had a fellow rodmaker with a bunch of burl chunks bring them over and we cut them up. Then we split them up, he was more than happy to do that since he wound up with a bunch of 31/2 x 1" blanks instead of some large chunks and I was also very happy cause I ended up with the same. I would think you could find someone to  do that with you, I would, and be willing to pay the shipping one way. Just a thought.  (Joe Arguello)

    Coming from a timber family I can maybe give my two cents. You will need a chain saw or a larger band saw to get the size that you could work with. The problem with chain saw is keeping a straight line in what will be very hard wood. Spliting burl will be as difficult but maybe less cost. The larger band saw is the best option if you can. Hope this helps.  (Jeff Volner)

    If you were near me I'd saw it  for you on my Woodmizer bandmill, but I'm in NE PA; HOWEVER, Woodmizer (the company) offers a service (free, I believe) for folks like you who find themselves needing some custom sawing done  ---- they maintain a list of mill owners (proximity oriented to the person inquiring) who are/might be available for your job. I know I've been contacted by folks this way as I 'signed up' for listing when I bought my mill.  (Jim Sency)

      That was an excellent suggestion re the Woodmizer list help.

      About 1988 or so I did that same thing because of a serious woodworking hobby that had me cutting down first one Walnut tree, which lead to several others over 150 miles away and eventually to about a dozen Black Cherry trees a few yrs. later. All this necessitated that Woodmizer mill and it was super. I met another enthusiast and we became friends. I had lots to custom saw up! I still have it...much like bamboo rods, I'm afraid!

      Anyway Ren, some great advice here. Mark made an excellent point about grain. Always best to follow the advice of those experienced!

      I envy you Ren. I really do. All that burl stock. It's some beautiful stuff.

      Saw it a bit oversize to allow for inevitable cracking and dry it super slowly and never allow sunlight to hit it. I'll stop now. I'm feeling the pull. Good luck and don't be afraid to ask here or on Clarks for some help drying stock like this. I've dried many, many loads of boards but highly figured stuff needs more care. The last thing you'd need is to have nature play h_ll with some wonderful blanks.  (Jeremy Gubbins)

        Jeremy's right!

        I went looking at the woodmizer last night. Every rodmaker should have at least one!

        I want one in my back yard!  But I don't have a back yard, so I want one in some friends backyard...but I don't have any

        I went to nocal and SoOR a few times last year.

        I made the trips up the lost coast and stopped at nearly every little roadside wood shop. Every one of those guys had one of these contraptions and I wish there was a way to post pics here of some of the huge redwood burls, maple burls, manzanita, myrtle, walnut, etc for dirt cheap prices. That machine can cut the most irregular hunk of wood (consider a ten foot redwood root burl) into a manageable piece with apparent ease and great accuracy!

        Sure this is AZ and there are no trees, but hell it even has a seat and buttons to push! Seat, buttons, rapidly spinning huge bandsaw blade and towable...check!

        If you find a guy near you that has don't have to waste his time and spend your money on having him slice up the burls into one inch slices. Just have him make the cuts as big as whatever saw you DO have, can handle. Leave them in thick slabs and allow a year per inch to cure out.

        You've got nothing better than to wait for the next four years and watch wood cure right? Oh OK...maybe it's cheaper in the long run to cut it into 1" slices and wait a year...

        I'd take a chain saw to it though...but I'm not very delicate...  (Mike Shay)

        That's how it all starts.  I had a friend who's Cherry tree got knocked down a few years back when that big tornado ripped through Southern Maryland.  A coupla nice chunks of burl came off of that tree.  I got some Cocobolo cheap from a guy at work, some walnut burl from a friend who had some other trees knocked down by windstorms, free as along as I picked it up, and other chunks of wood in various places.  I've swapped and horse traded the blocks that I've cut up, and have a nice collection of wood now for reel seats.

        Once you guys get your wood cut up, get yourself's to Woodcraft, and pick up a bottle of Pentacryl.  Soak your cut up pieces in this stuff.  Excellent preservative, and it soaks right into the wood.  (Mark Wendt)

          Pentacryl!!! Thanks Mark, I'm going to have to make a note of that for later refs. All I recall from "back when" was reading a  lot about PEG or Polyethylene glycol. (Umm, it's been a few years now, I guess..)

          After I'd made that post my head started going back to when I harvested all these boards and the high expectations (and a current need) I had for them. In actuality, the projects I did do for my home and then for a bunch of customers only typically required solid wood for face frames etc as much plywood was brought into a job if it was to be sizable. Paneled doors were also something I liked if a project called for it. Then there were those table tops.

          So, here I have a room full of boards, cherry, walnut, butternut, oak and some miscellaneous other woods. I'm going to cry to see some of that go, much of it book matched for table tops etc but I also know there’s a new rod hidden in all of that somewhere. And I really "need" another rod.

          And so it goes. Thanks for this little bit of help Mark.  (Jeremy Gubbins)

            Anytime!  I stumbled across that stuff one day, while rooting around in one of my favorite toyl stores for something else.  Brought it home, and a few months later put it to use when I got that cherry burl.  Good stuff.  All you need is a Tupperware container of sufficient size.  Drop the wood into the container, and fill the container till the wood is covered.  (Mark Wendt)


Some rodmakers may already do this, but I will try to describe how I make the reel seat blanks....

I take a 1x8 or 1x10 board cut to length and using an old Shopsmith set up as a horizontal boring machine drill several parallel holes. I use a 5/16 bit and drill so that the hole spacing allows for the saw blade width. Sawing between the parallel holes gives several 1x1 blanks. The lumber is not dressed so the yield is a true 1x1.  (Larry Fraysier)


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