A Guide About Walnut Wood
Elegant and distinctive, rich in color and figure, and with working properties unequaled, walnut wood is reserved for the woodworker’s finest projects.
What’s behind this exalted position and the matching price?
Walnut Wood – Brief History
Walnut was prized by the Mediterranean civilizations, not for its wood, but for the abundance of nuts the trees produced.
During the Roman conquests, it was planted in what is now England, France, and Spain for this reason.
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American pioneers used native walnut to make waterwheels and charcoal for gunpowder, and its bark and nut hulls for cloth dyes.
Through World War I, airplane manufacturers found walnut wood to their liking for propellers.
While walnut was used to some extent for furniture, gunstocks, and other items prior to the 1600s, it was William and Mary furniture that cast it into the perpetual limelight.
Walnut Wood – identification of the 15 or so species of walnut found from China to the Black Sea, only three enjoy commercial importance in the United States.
English Walnut (.Juglans regia), a light- colored, yet beautifully patterned wood, is grown primarily for its nut crop.
White walnut wood (Juglans cinerea), commonly called “butternut,” though not as strong as other walnut species, has an attractive grain and working characteristics that make it a favorite with wood carvers.
Black walnut Juglans nigra), the most recognizable and famous, continues to hold down its place as the world’s premier cabinet wood.
All walnut has white sapwood.
Partly to darken the whiter sapwood to a uniformly dark color, kiln operators who process black walnut steam it prior to kiln- drying.
This additional processing also makes the wood easier to stain, and adds to its cost.
Costly also are the veneers made from black walnut’s great variety of figures-crotches, swirls, stump wood, and burls.
Walnut Wood – Working Properties
Once kiln-dried and made into furniture, walnut wood has a very low contraction and expansion ratio.
While it is hard, strong, stiff, resists shock and doesn’t splinter, walnut surprises woodworkers by being quite suitable for steam bending.
Walnut wood also works easily with both hand and power tools, and sands and finishes extremely well.
Walnut Wood – Uses in Woodworking
All commercial species of walnut have the desired properties for fine furniture, architectural woodwork, diy woodworking, turning, and carving.
Since walnut is highly shock resistant, it remains the traditional choice for gunstocks.
And figured walnut veneers are popular in marquetry.
Walnut Wood – Cost and Availability
White walnut (butternut) and black walnut are commonly available through hardwood dealers, though black walnut wood normally comes in narrower and shorter lengths than other domestic lumber.
Black walnut wood falls in the high-priced category due to demand, relative scarcity, and processing.
At publication time, kiln-dried black walnut wood ranges between $3.50 and $5 per board foot for 4/4 stock (depending on where you live), while butternut is $1 less per board foot.
Walnut Wood – Source of Supply
The best black walnut comes from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Butternut grows from Wisconsin and Illinois eastward into the New England states.
English walnut wood follows the same range, but the largest groves are in California, where nuts are commercially harvested.