Walnut is the only North American hardwood that has a rich, dark-colored wood. It is a favorite of woodworkers because of its color, grain and reliability in producing beautiful furnishings and other products. Walnut is a delight to work with since it machines so well and produces crisp details in finished pieces.
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Walnut trees tend to grow with few bends which leads to straight wood grain. The trees themselves can be up to 100 feet tall and up to 3 feet in diameter. There are about 20 different species of walnut and six of those are found in the United States.
While the sapwood of walnut can be a light creamy color, it is best identified by its classic dark chocolate brown wood and tight, straight grain. Most walnut is kiln-dried and has a dull brown appearance, but air-dried walnut lumber can take on a slightly purplish hue.
Walnut material works well with hand tools and power tools. It is also an ideal wood for carvings, wood turnings and is prized as a veneer. Wood workers value the wood because it takes well to fasteners and glue plus it rarely has sap pockets that can create blemishes that diminish the beauty of a project. In addition, walnut does not mar easily and, since the wood is so dark, scratches and chips that do occur are well hidden.
Since walnut bends well with steam, it can also be used to create curves in pieces.
There is little movement in walnut so joints are likely to stay tight. The wood takes finishes and stains well. Polishing can produce an extremely smooth final product. All woods develop a patina over the years and walnut is no exception. The deep brown gains added luster as the wood ages.
Walnut is used in a variety of products from cabinets to luxury car detailing to airplane propellers. Its exceptionally straight grain allows for little compression and great shock resistance so the wood is the material of choice for gun stocks. Walnut can also be found in doors, mill work, wood turnings, decorative work, furniture and musical instruments. Many woodworkers will add contrasting woods, like maple, as accents.
For some people, both the wood and the sawdust from walnut can cause irritation to eyes, skin and the respiratory system. It can also trigger allergic reactions and asthmatic conditions for some individuals. It is wise to wear a dust mask when working with walnut.
Since walnut is a hardwood, it can quickly dull bits and other tools. Be sure keep tools sharp to avoid any problems.