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Butternut often has been called the “white walnut” or the “other walnut.”
A member of the walnut family, it has a rich, warm buttery tan color and a satin-like luster. In addition to a wide range of uses, including cabinetry, furniture, flooring, wall paneling, high-end joinery, interior trim for boats, boxes and crates, it can be sliced into veneer and is well-regarded as a carving wood.
The many wonderful attributes of this tree make it all the more tragic that it is under attack from a tiny airborne fungus. The butternut canker, known as Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum, was first detected in the United States in 1967, but scientists theorize that it was in existence here muc
h earlier. A USDA Forest Service study once estimated that the canker was responsible for widespread damage to butternut trees, resulting in the loss of almost 77 percent of the butternuts in the Southeast.
Salvaging the Wood
Efforts continue to harvest the dead or declining trees to salvage the quality wood. Salvage companies are working directly with loggers and foresters in order to get them to stop cutting the remaining healthy butternut trees, often paying a premium to bring out the diseased and dead trees.
Dead butternut trees can stand for four to five years and fallen trees are salvageable two to three years after.
Historically there hasn’t been a lot of butternut lumber or veneer available. The trees have a relatively short life of 60 or so years and the canker has made the situation much worse, experts say. It’s a very popular wood because of its natural luster, color and beauty. As a carving wood, it’s outstanding and has a great history with the decorative arts.
Tongue and groove flooring and wall paneling are popular applications for butternut. It is considered a soft hardwood, but the floors will last 50 to 60 years, expert say. Many people who love the look of the wood think it’s a great return on their investment, experts note. The material can often have a lot of character marks, and might be used in place of wormy chestnut.
Butternut is a warm, appealing wood with a natural luster. It can be machined easily hand, machine and power tools, and it also finishes very well.
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