Walnut wood is highly diverse and comes in quite a few types. It means that the term “walnut wood” is extremely generic. This is one of the main reasons why people have drastically varying experiences with walnut wood.
Walnut wood is derived from the trees of the Juglans genus. There are several types of walnut wood, each with widely varying grain, color and hardness. Because of these differences, it’s important to know which one to use. Let’s look at the various types of walnut wood, how to identify and use each one.
Walnut Wood: Background
Over the last few decades, walnut has grown in popularity. So much is its demand that it has also become one of the most expensive types of wood going around. In addition, the high price of this wood initiated the production of walnut veneers in preference to solid walnut wood.
Woodworkers cherish walnut for its rich chocolaty, coffee-like color. It is the single darkest wood that comes from North America. The characteristic brown color of walnut comes from the heartwood of the tree.
The heartwood can also produce color variations, so you might even encounter purples and different shades of browns, reds, and even shades of grey. The sapwood is pale blond but can also vary in color.
Types of Walnut Wood
With walnut, you get many different types to choose from according to your requirement. Here are six of the commonly available types of walnut in the United States:
English Walnut (Juglans regia)
This wood comes from the tree that produces edible walnuts. We also call it common walnut, Circassian walnut, European walnut, and French walnut. The trees grow up to 120 feet with trunk diameters of up to 2 feet.
The heartwood of English walnut is chocolate-brown, with yellowish-white sapwood. You can also get striations of purple and grey in the heartwood of English walnut. It is a moderately durable wood and has a low resistance to insects.
English walnut is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,220 lbf. It makes good furniture, wood veneer, and carvings. English walnut is also popular for making tabletops, shelves, countertops, cutting boards, and high-end gunstocks.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
You will find black walnut growing abundantly in the eastern United States. The trees grow up to 115 feet, and the trunks develop diameters up to six feet.
Black walnut has all the good qualities that woodworkers look for – good looks, strength, shock resistance, and exceptional dimensional stability. However, it is not as hard as other walnut woods and has a Janka hardness rating of 1,010 lbf.
Black walnut makes good cabinets, interior panels, furniture, and even novelty items. The wood glues well, and you can turn or carve it easily.
Claro Walnut (Juglans hindsii)
The other name for claro walnut is California black walnut. It grows in California and Oregon. The trees are tall at 120 feet with trunks of diameters up to 3 feet. Claro walnut is closely related to black walnut.
The color of claro walnut is similar to other types of walnut, chocolate brown with darker brown streaks. The wood grain is straight and tight, but some with figured grain patterns such as curly, crotch, and burl can also be found.
Like English walnut, this wood is also prone to insect attacks but is resistant to rot. Unfortunately, Claro walnut is on the list of endangered wood species, so you may find it difficult to procure and more expensive than other walnut wood types.
Claro Walnut trees are sometimes grafted with English walnut to produce wood with multicolored streaks at the grafting location. We call this variant marble claro walnut. Regular claro walnut costs slightly more than black walnut, but marble claro wood is very expensive and only used to make gunstocks.
White Walnut (Juglans cinerea)
The other names for white walnut are butternut or Spanish walnut. You will find these trees growing in the eastern United States. The trees grow up to 10 feet tall, and the trunks reach a diameter of three feet.
The heartwood is normally light to medium tan, occasionally with a reddish tint. The sapwood is pale yellow or white.
The Grain is straight, having a medium to a coarse, silky natural luster.
White walnut is moderately resistant to rot and decay but doesn’t offer much resistance to insect attack.
With a Janka hardness rating of 490 lbf., it is one of the softest hardwoods available, making it a popular choice for novice sculptors. We use this wood to make carvings, furniture, veneer, boxes, crates, and interior trims.
Bastogne Walnut (Juglans x paradox (J. hindsii x J. regia)
Bastogne walnut comes from the cross-pollination of English walnut with claro walnut. The purpose of this experiment was to bring together the best of both species. This type of walnut grows in California. The trees are tall up to 100 feet, with trunks of diameters up to 5 feet in diameter.
The “paradox” in the scientific name of Bastogne walnut is because it grows faster than both the walnut species that it comes from, claro walnut and English walnut. Even the walnuts produced from this tree are better in quality and quantity than their parents!
With a moderate hardness of 1,250 lbf. Janka hardness, Bastogne walnut is an easy wood to work with and it stains, glues, and finishes well. It makes gunstocks, veneer, fine furniture, turned objects, musical instruments (guitars), knife handles, and other small specialty items.
The name of this type of walnut is misleading as it doesn’t come from Peru. Instead, you will find Peruvian walnut trees growing in southern Mexico and central and southern America. The trees are tall and grow to 100 feet with trunk diameters of up to 5 feet.
Peruvian Walnut is darker than the other types of walnut with a coarser wood grain. But the characteristic chocolate-brown shades make this wood highly sought-after by woodworkers.
With a Janka hardness rating of 960 lbf. Peruvian Walnut is a fairly soft wood and easy to work with and glues and stains well. In addition, it exhibits good shock resistance. Although a bit soft for flooring, this wood makes high-end furniture, cabinets, and musical instruments.
Well, there you have it—all six types of walnut wood that you are likely to come across in the United States. You may have observed that there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of walnut wood.
While all the varieties of this wood are beautiful, some are more suited to particular applications than others. With the information we have provided here, you can choose the best type for your needs.
A major constraint of using any type of walnut wood is the price which is considerably more than most other types of lumber. But to create something unique in wood, then it has got to be walnut.