There is a misconception among many woodworkers that working with spalted wood is particularly dangerous. Most fungal spores are about as harmful to a healthy adult as wood dust, so if you sand spalted wood, wear a mask. However, people with immune system disorders should not work with spalted wood.

Because areas of heavy white rot are likely to be softer than regular wood, when handplaning, use a low-angle blade to slice through the wood.

Turning is a great way to display spalted wood. You can turn dried blanks, but green wood has a more consistent density. When turning, pockets of rot can cause dig-ins and uneven sanding in the final product. If areas of the wood are spongy, or if there are small splotches of white throughout the piece, you might want to stabilize those areas with a two-part, five-minute epoxy resin or cyanoacrylate glue.

Reinforce with Super Glue

Reinforce soft areas. Wood that has been softened by fungi can be hardened by soaking it with cyanoacrylate ("Super") glue. The glue won't show after a finish has been applied.

It’s a good idea to turn spalted wood when it is green because the whole piece is soft, which minimizes the difference in hardness between spalted and unspalted areas. Because the grain rises as the wood dries, sanding is most efficient after the wood has dried.

Sanding Spalted Wood

Controlled sanding. Some sections of spalted wood are softer than others, so it is better to use foam sanding pads on a drill press rather than sanding the work while it is on the lathe.

Finally, softer areas of spalted wood will soak up finish, so it may take several extra coats before the cells become saturated. While you’ll probably spend a bit more time shaping and finishing spalted wood than traditional lumber, the end results are well worth it.

Sanding Spalted Wood

Full of character. The left-hand bowl is silver maple spalted with blue stain and two types of white rot. The other bowl is box elder, but the pink streaks in this case are caused by spalting.

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Photos: Mark Schofield