On a recent trip to the sawdust-laden shop where Ben and Craig turn hunks of wood into fine furniture and cabinet boxes, I peer around. I survey several work benches where carcases in various stages lay like patients on gurneys. I ask the guys, as I always do, Whatcha workin on?

They tell me who they’re making a bookcase for and how they plan to detail a coffee table. We discuss a hutch project we’re collaborating on.

Hey, I want to show you something, says Craig suddenly. He fishes a 1×4 out of a pile. What do you think? I got a bunch of this stuff from a guy in Southern Oregon.

I can’t identify it, but I like the fine-grained sample with auburn streaks laced with fine brown and black veins. Hmm. Rustic Maple? I ask.

Turns out, Craig has a pile of Spalted Tanoak. And I’m told it’s most closely related to Beech.

What Does “Spalted” Mean?

Here’s a piece with some clear lacquer on it:

spalted tanoak from Oregon close up image via Kit Tosello

I discovered that the term spalted comes from an old loggers’ term for spoilt. Fallen, decomposing trees lifted from their final resting places in forest beds or fished out of marshes for eager woodworkers.

Spalted is the term for the coloration that happens when fungi set up housekeeping in dying wood. The large discolored areas are one type of spalting: pigmentation or sapstain. Those lacey black and brown lines are called zone lines. They’re not actually a fungus, but an interaction zone where different fungi erected barriers to protect their resources.


Considered a link between the Chestnut and the Oak, Tanoak (lithocarpus densiflorus) is an evergreen hardwood. It has flowers like the chestnut and acorns like the oak and grows best on the humid moist slopes of the seaward coastal ranges.

Tanoak Tree and the coastal ranges where it grows image via Kit Tosello

Back in the 1800’s, a booming business in Oregon was the fur trade. Roads were built through the forests in order to log Tanoak. They produce tannin, used for treating furs and hides. Douglas Fir trees were cut as a secondary use species while logging the tanoak. Today that’s reversed. Tanoak cut only because the Douglas Fir trees are logged.

My woodworking friends and I may use Spalted Tanoak for the Craftsman-styled hutch we’re collaborating on. Spalted wood also inspired these gorgeous projects:

spalted wood coffee table image via Kit Tosello

spalted wood bowl image via Kit Tosello

I can picture other uses: a rounded lamp base, picture frames. Whatcha think?


Notes from the hosts: We like to thank Kit for participating in the Tagged! project.  When she contacted me asking — ‘What should I write about?’, I suggested, “. . . Something regional to you.” And this is what she came up with. I am certain that I cannot find this species in the woods behind *my* house. Please show your support by leaving a comment, an answer to her question.

Kit Tosello is a certified kitchen designer and writer based out of Central Oregon. She can be found blogging at The High Desert Home Companion.