Figuring out figure -- angel step
Angel Stairs or Angel Step is a figure pattern found in lumber cut from trees that have twisted trunks, and is common in maples and walnuts. The figure on the board is characterized by short, delicate curls progressing up the board on a tangent, starting and ending out of nowhere, a spiritual spiral staircase. (See image #1.) The figure goes around the log; to achieve the picture on the face of the board, the log should be flat sawn.
No one is really sure why some trees grow spirally while most grow straight. I have often seen this figure in western big leaf maple, often in conjunction with burl and quilt. The figure pattern is indicated on the shell of a log by a series of short rolls of compression. (See image #2.)
About the author:
Rick Hearne, owner of Hearne Hardwoods Inc. in Oxford, Pennsylvania, has been in the specialty lumber business for more than 25 years. Hearne Hardwoods carries an inventory of 1 million board feet of lumber in 120 different species, including at least 100,000 board feet of variously figured maple.