Black walnut is one of the most desired woods to work with. It’s gorgeous dark chocolate heartwood adds the tone and accents most people crave for in their homes. Black walnut is love-at-first-sight to every woodworker. But just like every great love, walnut has its flaws. It tends to have more character, has a very contrasting pale colored sapwood, and it can get quite expensive. Remember, there are different types of walnut, but in this blog, we are focusing on specifically black walnut.
Black Walnut in the Forest
Black walnut is a deciduous hardwood with broad leaves that drop in the fall and have seeds that are contained in ovaries. All deciduous trees are hardwoods. More information on hardwoods vs softwoods.
Black walnut primarily grows in the eastern US, but it’s not a cold climate species. Black walnut trees typically grow to 100-120’ tall and 30-40” DBH (diameter at breast height.)
Manufacturing of Black Walnut Lumber
Black Walnut is manufactured just like any other hardwood specie. But because walnut lumber is highly prized, walnut logs don’t sit around in the log yard for long before they are processed into lumber.
Black walnut does not grow here in northern Wisconsin. That means we do not saw any walnut logs into lumber at our saw mill. All of our black walnut is bought in kiln dried and surfaced to thickness. But even though we don’t cut it here, we still know the manufacturing process.
This is where the manufacturing process of walnut changes compared to other species. As mentioned before, black walnut is desired for its heartwood. A steaming process can be used to “bleed” the heartwood color into the sapwood. The green lumber goes into the steamer dead piled, undergoes the steaming process, and then stickers are layed in between each course for drying. The stickers allow for air to flow between each course of lumber and allows the lumber to lose moisture.
With the lumber stickered, the lumber can be loaded into a kiln. Lumber in our region is dried to 6-8% moisture content. Drying lumber increases its strength properties, reduces weight, increases machining and gluing properties, and brings the lumber to equilibrium of the environment that it will be used in to reduce the shrinkage of the finished product.
After the lumber is dried, the stickers are removed. Our black walnut is graded based on NHLA (National Hardwood Lumber Association) grading standards, but black walnut has its own grading rules. In unsteamed walnut, the sapwood is treated as a defect and only so much sapwood is allowed on certain grades, just like the heartwood in white hard maple. In steamed walnut, all the sapwood is treated as heartwood, regardless of the steaming quality. The cutting sizes and yields are also different in walnut compared to other species. This means you can expect more knots, wane, and other defects even in the highest grade FAS. As a rule of thumb, FAS grade walnut can look very similar to #1 common grade of other species. After the lumber is graded, it can be sold as rough, or the lumber is machined to the customer’s desired thickness, width, and/or length.
At this point, the primary manufacturing process is complete and the lumber is sold to secondary wood manufactures. Secondary manufacturers take the dried lumber and turn it into a finished product like flooring, cabinets, windows, doors, furniture, moulding, and millwork. Most of these manufactures have equipment like rip saws, chop saws, moulders, CNC routers, and finishing equipment.
The lumber would first be surfaced to a standard thickness, and then ripped to width, and chopped to length. Usually knots and other defects are removed when lumber is ripped and chopped. The ripped and chopped lumber now takes on a new name like rips, blanks, or plugs. The blanks are fed through a moulder and the blank gets profiled into flooring, crown moulding, baseboard, or other similar products. Some windows and doors have curved parts. Typically, these parts are profiled with a CNC router. Any products that need to be assembled are assembled at this point. The last step of the manufacturing process is to stain and finish the product to the customer’s specifications, although some products like hardwood flooring are finished after installation.
Black Walnut as a Product
Black Walnut is desired for its color, workability, and durability. Black Walnut is a semi-ring porous hardwood and has a specific gravity of 0.55. Its density provides enough resistance to wear and tear to be used as durable flooring or a countertop, but is still soft enough to work with hand tools without being too problematic. Black walnut isn’t usually stained, but stain can be used to help blend the sapwood to the heartwood’s color. It finishes very easily and well. Since it has more character, any visible knots or defects are often filled with resin or epoxy.
One thing that should be mentioned about walnut is its toxicity. Its sawdust can be an allergen and a skin irritant to some people. But walnut sawdust and shavings are very toxic to some animals. This means walnut byproducts shouldn’t be used as animal bedding, and if it is used, it must be used with extreme caution. For example, walnut dust can kill a horse if it is exposed to enough walnut dust for a long enough time. Some people alway think that’s a myth, but it’s true. Most animal bedding companies will not accept any sawdust that contains walnut.
Black Walnut FAQ:
What is the price of walnut?
The price of walnut varies based on the market price. Check out our prices for black walnut!
Why is walnut so expensive?
Walnut is expensive for a few different reasons, but most of these reasons circle back to supply and demand. Walnut is very desirable, which means there’s a high demand for it. But the supply of walnut can’t always keep up with the demand. From here, it’s simple textbook stuff. When the demand is high supply is low, the price of that product goes up.
There are also other things that contribute to its expense. One is walnut is typically steamed to even the color of the sapwood and heartwood. This is another cost that is added to the price of a product.
Is walnut better than oak?
Every woodworker has their own preferences and what they want out of the lumber they use. The way I look at it is every species has its time and place for application. Walnut is usually sought after for it’s color. And because it’s so expensive, it’s usually only ever used when that color is going to be seen. That means it would be a shame to use walnut for the framing in upholstered furniture or for a rarely seen back panel of a cabinet.
Oak on the other hand is very affordable and isn’t in short supply. It’s fairly easy to work with and provides a fairly blank canvas for an artist to let their creative mind run. Oak is a good wood to start woodworking with or trying something for the first time with. If a mistake is made, not a lot of money was invested into that mistake.
The lumber buying process isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Each specie has it’s pros and cons. That might mean just because you love walnut, you don’t have to use it for every project. Just use it when the project is right!
Black Walnut at Fine Craftsman Lumber
Black walnut is a tough hardwood of medium density that is normally straight grained and easy to machine. It has sapwood that is nearly white and heartwood that is light to dark chocolate brown. Because black walnut is desired for its heartwood, we steam it to encourage even color between the heartwood and sapwood. It is often used for high end furniture, decorative panels, gunstocks, cabinets, and interior woodwork.
We sell black walnut in 10-500 board foot quantities in a variety of different thicknesses and lengths. If you can’t find what you are looking for on our website, contact us at [email protected] or 1-888-903-3133.