When we try to procure wood for our woodworking projects, the requirements may vary. We look for wood that is durable, attractive, and long-lasting. Walnut and iroko are two types of wood that have all those qualities.
Walnut and iroko are two diversely different yet in many ways similar types of wood. While walnut, as in American black walnut is native to the United States, iroko comes from Africa. Both these woods possess qualities that make each one a valuable resource for use in woodworking projects.
Walnut vs Iroko
The straight grain and the striated pattern are characteristic features of walnut wood. The heartwood of this wood is chocolate brown to light brown and the sapwood is much paler, with yellowish shades.
We know walnut for its dimensional stability and strength. It has an impressive deep, chocolate brown color and it makes fine furniture. You will also find this wood an easy type to use for carving.
Although the dark brown shades of walnut wood are impressive, some may prefer lighter colored wood. Walnut is quite expensive and you cannot use it outdoors. So, walnut wood isn’t a universal type of wood that you can use everywhere.
Iroko has a few specific advantages over walnut. For example, you get extra-large boards of this type of wood because of the huge girths of iroko tree trunks. Both types of wood share some desirable characteristics like fine grain structures and durability. But iroko is considerably harder than walnut wood.
Further, one of the most advantageous features of this iroko is that it is relatively cheaper than walnut wood. It even shares some common characteristics with teak, making it a cost-effective alternative to teak wood.
There are numerous species of walnut trees, but only a few of them grow in the United States. They are rather tall trees, reaching heights of up to 100 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 5 feet.
The species of walnut that occurs most widely in the United States is eastern black walnut, which also goes by the name American walnut or American black walnut. The nuts of the walnut tree are edible, but it is the wood that is a great asset to woodworkers.
Walnut wood is best known for its rich, brown color and light and dark wood grain patterns. It is a moderately hard type of wood, but you will find it easy to work with. Due to high demand but frequent scarcity, walnut is quite expensive.
Iroko is a wood native to tropical Africa. The trees grow up to 130 feet with tree trunks of up to 5 feet.
Iroko falls under the category of some of the more workable woods. But the wood often contains deposits of calcium carbonate which tends to make cutting blades frequently dull.
Iroko makes good veneer, furniture, flooring, and cabinets. It is also used to make turned wooden items, in boatbuilding and various specialty wood items. Iroko serves as a viable teak alternative but some sustainability issues exist for this type of wood.
Walnut vs Iroko: Appearance
We get walnut in different shades of brown in contrast to cherry wood’s reddish-brown. Walnut has pale sapwood, but a deep, chocolate-to-light-brown heartwood. It is the color combination that enjoys wide popularity, but some may prefer a lighter color.
Iroko, like many African hardwoods, has an interlocking grain pattern. It has a light-colored-to-medium-brown heartwood, unlike walnut. The grain structure is coarse to medium-coarse and has open pores.
You will see a sharp contrast between the heartwood and sapwood of this wood. It is characterized by a ribbon-striped pattern, which you are likely to see on quartersawn iroko lumber.
Walnut vs Iroko: Durability
As a moderately hard type of wood, walnut offers reasonable mechanical strength. It has a Janka hardness rating of 1,010 lbf. This wood becomes silver-gray when exposed to the elements, and you will not find walnut used for outdoor applications.
Walnut gives off a natural luster that makes it popular among woodworkers. The fine color and grain pattern of walnut wood rule out the possibility of staining it with solid colors. Walnut has a reasonable resistance to decay but not to insect attack.
Coming to iroko, in contrast to walnut, you can use it outdoors as well. It serves as a viable alternative to teak, sharing similar properties and looks. It has reasonable resistance to rot and insects. If you are open to using a lighter-colored wood, you can swap iroko for walnut anytime.
Walnut vs Iroko: Maintenance
Maintenance of walnut is easily carried out by occasional cleaning with a lint-free cloth. Walnut is not for outdoor applications. Even when indoors, you need to keep it away from direct sunlight for longer life.
Applying an insect-resistant polish to this wood, even when used indoors prolongs its life. A useful hack is to sprinkle some salt on the wood to protect it from insects.
Iroko produces natural oil which protects the wood but also makes it difficult to apply a finish. You can wipe the wood with a solvent to apply a finish more effectively.
Walnut vs Iroko: Workability and Uses
Woodworkers find walnut wood easy to work with. Black walnut is moderately hard, but a versatile and durable type of wood. It is also good wood for carving, and you can easily steam bend it. It glues and finishes quite nicely, too.
We use walnut in cabinetry, interior panels, and to make turned objects. It also makes excellent furniture, gunstocks, veneer, small wooden objects, and wooden novelties.
Iroko is also easy to work with, although significantly harder than walnut with a Janka hardness rating of 1,260 lbf. One issue that you might face with this wood is the frequent occurrence of calcium carbonate deposits. They tend to make cutting blades prematurely blunt.
We use iroko to make furniture, hardwood flooring, veneer, cabinets, boats, and turned objects.
Walnut vs Iroko: Price
Walnut is a frequently-scarce type of wood in the United States, which pushes up the price in comparison to many other types of hardwood. Iroko on the other hand turns out cheaper than walnut wood. Even though it is an imported species, you may not find too much difficulty in procuring it.
Walnut vs Iroko: Sustainability
Walnut isn’t on any of the lists of endangered wood species. Iroko however appears on the IUCN Red List. It is due to the notable reduction of trees over the last few decades, more than 20% in three generations.
Walnut vs Iroko: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Juglans nigra||Milicia excelsa, M. regia|
|Color||Chocolate to dark brown||Yellow to golden or medium brown|
|Durability||Moderately durable||Very Durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,010 lbf.||1,260 lbf.|
|Strength||Strong wood||Extremely strong|
|Maintenance||Low maintenance||Easy to maintain|
|Price||Medium to high-priced||Highly affordable|
|Suitability for outdoors||Not suitable for outdoors||Yes|
|Suitability for wood carving||Suitable for carving||Yes|
|Workability||Easy to work with||Moderately easy to work with|
|Smell||Faint odor while cutting||No characteristic odor|
|Availability||Easily available||Readily available|
|Special features if any||No special features||No special features|
With both walnut and iroko more or less available in the United States, you can procure either for your woodworking projects. If you are looking for a slightly “higher-end” look, either walnut or iroko can produce some satisfying results.
So, in your next woodworking project, if you are ready to pay a bit more for your wood, use either of these fine woods for a fine-looking project.