Russell-Zuhl has been furnishing the world market with the finest pieces of petrified wood for over 40 years. It was first to cut and polish large pieces and remains the leader in the very highest quality specimens available. It's founder, Herb Zuhl, spent years traveling to source out the finest material, much of which is now exhausted. He was the first to perfect a process for cutting and polishing this material and could be considered the "father" of the industry. Ralph Thompson took the helm and has continued developing the sources and techniques for the last 25 years. The highest quality petrified wood is found in the Western United States.
At Russell-Zuhl, we go to extensive means to mine what is left of this rare material and bring it back to our cutting and polishing facility in Massachusetts. We maintain an inventory of high quality raw logs and take great pride in the workmanship used to finish this incredible natural wonder. We have developed special techniques for working large pieces and have produced the worlds largest and most spectacular specimens. We cut and polish logs into rounds and board cuts. After the piece is cut we impregnate the stone with a fracture sealer and then a backing to assure safe transport and mounting. The top surface is hand polished with great skill and care to produce a mirror like natural finish.
Pieces can be wall mounted to make for a dramatic and spectacular decorative effect. We also fabricate handsome bases for some pieces and turn them into useful and elegant tables and unbelievably beautiful desks. We maintain a sizable inventory of finished pieces as both individual specimens and furniture pieces. We also do extensive custom architectural work for special projects. And finally, we provide museums and private collectors with rare specimen logs.
Millions of years ago living trees were covered with volcanic debris and dust. This entombment was sometimes hundreds of feet thick and thus cut off the oxygen supply which in turn slowed the natural decaying process.
Volcanic dust is rich in silica (commonly called quartz), and the violence of volcanic action caused the silica to become slightly water soluble. As rain water percolated through the dust it picked up the silica solution and carried it to the buried logs. As each cell of the tree slowly decayed, it left a small void which was then filled with the silica rich solution.
To visualize this process, imagine a class full of sugar water. If you leave that glass out to dry, the water will eventually evaporate and the glass will be left with small crystals of sugar. Similarly, cell by cell the tree fibers eventually became completely replaced by this crystal structure. Please note that this explanation is a very simplified version of what happened, other forces such as electrical ionization also contributed to the metamorphose.
The petrification process was so gentle and exact that it left the markings of the cell structure, such that scientists can identify the tree variety by these markings. Ancient oak, pine and spruce trees are commonly found, completely replaced with silica (quartz). Of course, most petrified wood wasn't replaced so completely and most petrified wood lacks the integrity of the material that we use.
In its pure form silica is naturally clear but trace amounts of metal salts such as iron, manganese and chromium mixed in with the soluble silica to stain or color the mixture thus causing the vivid colors we enjoy in petrified wood today. Silica quartzes are very hard and the best petrified trees can be cut with hard abrasive grit. Then the surface can be ground using a series of finer and finer abrasives. Eventually it can be worked to such a smooth, flat surface that light reflects perfectly form its surface causing it to shine with brilliance.
The best quality petrified wood is 99% pure quartz. It is impervious to stain and is extremely hard thus making a very stable, usable surface. No particular care is required and can be cleaned with glass cleaner and cloth.
Ralph's father, Pahl, was an avid rock hound. Their basement was full of agates and polishing equipment. As a child, Ralph collected rocks and fossils with his dad and learned how to identify and polish stones. On a rock collecting trip to Montana when he was 10 he found his first piece of petrified wood.
Thirty years later he met Herb Zuhl. Mr. Zuhl collected petrified wood and was one of the first people to cut and polish sizable pieces and introduce this incredible natural wonder to the world market. They formed an immediate and lasting bond. Soon Ralph took over the business from the older Zuhl.
In the succeeding years, Ralph has vigorously sought out the finest raw material and has developed techniques for cutting and polishing even larger pieces. His efforts have culminated in producing the largest and finest pieces the world has ever seen. His commitment to preserving and displaying this natural wonder have never wavered and are evident in the body of work he has produced.