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What does Wood Figure mean?

Figured wood is not only beautiful, but it can also be fascinating to look at. For decades, centuries even, figured wood has been revered by people all over the world. It has been used to craft some of the most prized and sought after good throughout history. From furniture to jewelry and instruments, figured wood has been used to add a distinctive quality to typically ordinary objects. If you’re new to the world of woodworking, though, you may not fully understand the term. So, what does the word “figure” mean when one talks about wood?


Defining Figure in Regards to Wood

Not to be confused with wood grain, wood figure is a term used to describe the unique markings and patterns that appear on the surface of the wood. The figure of the wood is usually found on the longitudinal side of its surface. It is often put into the category of specialty wood. Wood figure is generally made up of exciting textures, color combinations, and patterns. That makes it rather striking. It is important to note that not all trees contain wood with such figure - and, even then, the figure may not be present through the entire tree. The figuration can be caused by several different things but is commonly due to a disruption in the grain of the wood.


What contributes to the look of the figure?

As previously mentioned, the figure is typically brought about by disruptions in the wood grain of the tree in question. These disruptions can be due to abnormalities in the growth of the tree, which can be affected by fungi, injuries to the tree, insects, and even growths. The growths found on a tree are described as “tumor-like” and are called burls. However, these are not the only contributing factors.


The figure can also be inherently due to the species of tree. Figure is more common in certain species like the Big Leaf Maple and the California Redwood, for example. Not only must a specific tree contain figure within, but the methods of processing of the wood is also crucial when it comes to wood figure. One must cut the wood with the figure in mind. This is because some species of trees need to be cut in a certain way as best to reveal the figure.


Classifying Figure Pattern

There are over 20 different terms used to classify the figure found in wood. These vary quite widely in pattern and differ based on things such as tree species. The term Cat’s Paw, for instance, is used to describe a figure that is most commonly found in oak and cherry trees. Curly, on the other hand, is a figure caused by a disruption in the wood grain. There are many others, though; Burr, Mottle, Pippy, Flower Grain, Quilted, and so many more. Pictures of these can easily be found online or in books on the topic and are worth checking out to learn more about the complexities of figured wood.

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