Bird’s Eye Figure is a type of pattern that occurs within several kinds of timber (including red Maple, white Ash, Cuban Mahogany, American Beech, black Walnut and yellow Birch), though it is most frequently found in Sugar Maple. It’s named “Birdseye” because the pattern resembles small, swirling bird eyes, a pattern which disrupts the smooth grain lines. The “eyes” (swirls) develop in the tree when it is young and continue to develop, usually growing along with the tree.
Birdseye Maple is a beautiful figure that occurs naturally in less than 1/10th of 1% of all Sugar Maple trees, only a tiny fraction of the overall population. It is not caused by disease and it is not a separate species.
Birdseye Maple cannot be cultured or intentionally reproduced. It is not known what causes the phenomenon. Research into the cultivation of Birdseye Maple has so far discounted the theories that it is caused by pecking birds deforming the wood grain or that an infecting fungus makes it twist. However, no one has demonstrated a complete understanding of any combination of climate, soil, tree variety, insects, viruses or genetic mutation that may produce the effect. In effect, Birdseye figure only occurs randomly in nature, making the trees affected by it rare, unique and expensive.
Each tree has its own personality. The development of the eyes and figure in each tree is usually consistent within that tree, and unique to that tree. No two trees are exactly alike.
Although there are a few clues (ripples) in a tree’s bark that could indicate Birdseye figure in the timber, it is usually necessary to fell the tree and saw it open to know for sure.
Birdseye – Technical Info
In most characteristics, Birdseye figure wood is no different than ordinary wood from the same species. The wood can be extremely valuable, up to several times the cost of ordinary hardwood, depending on the frequency of the Birdseye swirls, each 0.3cm to 1cm (⅛”-⅜”) wide.
Birdseye Maple is frequently sold in veneer form, but solid lumber is available as well. Being tiny knots, the Birdseye figure is most noticeable and pronounced on flat-sawn lumber boards.
It is used in refined specialty products. Automobile trim, both in solid form and veneer, boxes and bowls for jewelry, thin veneer, humidors, canes, furniture inlays, handles, guitars, bowed instruments and pool cues are popular uses.
Items made using Birdseye figure tend to be more expensive not only because the wood is more costly but because it is harder to work. When working with Birdseye wood, it is advisable to take care what tools are used, so as to prevent grain tearout. Also, the more swirls there are in the lumber the weaker it tends to be.