What is figure or character in timber?

Whether clean or highly figured, one of factors that separates Bombora from most other custom furniture makers out there is that we allow our clients control over not just the type of timber used to construct their piece but also the level of character. We separate character, often called figure, into recycled and natural features.   This blog post is all about what character or figure is, how we define it and what it looks like. 


Natural figure or character

Grain patterns 

Formed by the growth rings of the tree, these vary in different species of timber from being strait, wavy, uniform, variable, tight or loose.   These also tend to differ between reclaimed and new timber due to the different growing conditions.  The level of tonal contrast between the grain lines is a identifying characteristic of the different species.  In Oregon for example, there is only a slight change in tone but a great change of density which enables the wavy effect if sandblasted. 

Sap lines and pockets

These are the black sections on the timber where the sap has collected.  Different species of trees have differing frequency and size of these features. Messmate for example has a high frequency of sap lines and pockets where American as Tasmanian oak has very little.  We fill these with black epoxy to ensure a perfectly smooth and unbroken surface. 


A section of a piece of timber where a branch has come out of.  These are a common feature seen in certain types of timber such as pine. Often cylindrical in shape with the timber a darker tone than the rest of the timber. 


A type of figure that is very rare and only occurs in a small number of types of wood.  It is a pattern that resembles tiny swirling eyes that disrupt the otherwise smooth lines of the grain patterns.  The cause of this effect is unknown and within our native Australian timbers is often found in Huon Pine and Jarrah. 


Often described as a gathered piece of silk, this feature consists of grains that cross the otherwise vertical grain pattern.  It is thought to be caused by compression forces on the timber such as a heavy branch or prevailing wind but there is yet to be no definitive answer as it only appears in certain types of timber.  River Red gum is a native species of timber that often has some fiddleblack figure.


Recycled features or character 

These are the result of human intervention or the remnants of the timbers past life.   As with the natural figure, what is an imperfection to one person is highly desirable to another.  


Iron staining 

Caused by the leaching of the iron into the timber, this occurs in areas where there used to be such hardware as a nail or bolt.  This looks like a black stain in the timber and can be either confined to a small area or spread as in the image below. 

Water staining  

Occurs in pieces of timber that were exposed to large amounts of water in its past life such as pier or bridge timbers.  This can create an awesome tiger pattern like effect. 

Nail and bolt holes

Holes in the timber where a nail or bolt used to sit.  We fill these with black epoxy to ensure that the piece of furniture is left with a flat surface. 



Please contact us here if you wish to inquire about commissioning Bombora Custom Furniture to create your dream piece of furniture. 


Alison Collins is the co-owner of Bombora Custom Furniture and in charge of all things other than making furniture!