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American black walnut is, to many, a national treasure. Author Albert Constantine Jr. called it one of the most desirable woods of this country, “Not only because of the beautiful wood of various figures that the tree produces, but also for the food value in the black walnuts.”
Walnut offers a wealth of figures, from butts and burls to fiddleback, crotch, leaf, stripe, curly and more, and has a rich range of colors. The heartwood of black walnut ranges from chocolate brown to purplish black.
Long considered a premier domestic cabinet wood as well as a favorite for gunstocks, black walnut is also used in high-end furniture, musical instruments, paneling and fine veneer.
Peggy Farabaugh, CEO and owner of Vermont Wood Studios in Vernon, VT, has seen a huge increase in interest in walnut at her business over the past couple of years. “It’s almost like a walnut renaissance,” she said.
Farabaugh said walnut’s price — currently 25 percent higher than the other species Vermont Wood Studios sells— has not been a deterrent. She added part of the price of walnut is based on the availability of the wood. The company purchases some logs from the Midwest to make walnut slab tables.
“It’s popular with our customers. You see the imperfections in the wood and the slab has a live edge. It’s a very rustic look. We also use walnut in casegoods, dressers, chests and night stands and as an accent. For example, we will combine cherry with walnut inlays or walnut drawer pulls,” Farabaugh said.
Also a fan of walnut, Robert Bakes, president and CEO of Bakes and Co., said he is seeing increased demand in the species, including in kitchens and libraries. His company is a full-service interior design and cabinet manufacturer with offices in Sag Harbor, NY, a showroom in Southhampton, NY, and a factory in West Virginia.
“Walnut is a very stable wood for cabinetry. I like to make it the focal point, as in cabinetry or countertops, but I also like teaming it with lighter colors. It works well in an all-white kitchen as an accent,” he said.
Bakes encourages the experimentation of different finishes with walnut. In one kitchen design, the walnut counter was left unstained and treated with food oil, while the cabinetry was rift and quartered and hand rubbed with an ebony stain.
Bakes said he also likes using walnut with more sapwood for a variation on the color. “I find walnut to be relatively affordable and available with great color and texture and it is something you can experiment with to get a variety of looks.”
In the News: 1000 Cankers Disease
American black walnut trees have been in the news because of the damage done by 1000 Cankers Disease. First detected in Colorado in 2003, it typically kills walnut trees within three years of infection. Caused by the Geosmithia morbida fungus, it is transmitted by the walnut twig beetle (Pityophthorous juglandis).
Lenny Farlee, extension forester with Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center, Purdue University Dept. of Forestry and Natural Resources, said the damage has affected all walnut. “We think the disease spread east by transporting infected lumber, much the same way the emerald ash borer was carried into new unaffected areas by people moving ash firewood.”
Farlee said disease seems to be acting differently in the East compared to the West, where it was a rapid killer. “The situation is potentially very dangerous for American black walnut in the Eastern states, but we have hope that we can reduce the danger of infestations by making people aware. Many states are imposing quarantines prohibiting the movement of walnut wood material from areas with 1000 Cankers Disease unless the lumber is processed, totally bark-free and kiln-dried with squared edges.”
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