American Black Walnut

American Black Walnut

The main types of walnut wood, their characteristics, and information on finishing and staining walnut.

Craftsman Style

¶ American Black Walnut. The remarkable strength, hardness, variety of grain, figure and coloring of this wood have made it so popular for furniture construction, for gun stocks and for airplane propellers that most people have carried the idea that the supply of American walnut is exhausted. Yet in 1918, when the American government took control of the supply and when every forest was searched for possible additions to the supply, the saw-mills cut about 100,000,000 board feet. This walnut is first choice of woods for airplane propellers and no other has ever been found so satisfactory for gun stocks. For more than thirty years Europe has taken a very large proportion of the American cut for furniture manufacturing. The great popularity of American walnut for interior trim and furniture a number of years ago was eclipsed by the popular craze for golden oak, because of a too somber use of walnut in dark, straight grain effects. Today this walnut has returned to popularity, is being used in the select and decorative patterns and in somewhat lighter colors for the finishing. It is even being used for floors in the finer homes as well as for trim and furniture. The desire for lighter, brighter colors in furniture is being satisfied with painted pieces and wicker furniture.

¶ American black walnut is a hard wood with open-grain and fine texture. In color it is a dark, tawny brown for the heartwood, while the sapwood is very light, grayish white. The wood has exceptional strength and is so hard that it does not bruise, mar or scratch easily. When it is damaged the defect doesn't show up much because of the dark color of the wood and its dense texture. In strength it is superior to English, Italian and French walnuts.

¶ American black walnut is native in North and Central America. It is closely related to butternut, which it resembles in color and grain formations. It is also related to English, French, Italian and Circassian or Turkish walnuts.

¶ Burl walnut is veneer cut from the root growths of American black walnut. The stumps from which it is cut are very large, weighing from one to two tons. The veneer is, of course, very carefully matched into patterns of very fantastic and decorative forms when artistically handled. Burl veneer is also cut from knotty formations, called burls, which form on the roots and larger limbs of the trees. The veneer walnut is not, of course, suitable for interior trim except for panels on walls, doors, etc.

¶ Curly walnut, the wood which has a wavy, curly grain formation, is very popular. It is cut from certain trees which have grown in a twisted shape because of soil conditions or the stress and strains to which they have been subjected.

¶ Because of its interesting variety of grain and figures when cut by different methods, and because of its variety in color shadings, walnut is usually finished in its natural rich, brown color. Sometimes it is bleached to make lighter effects. It is never painted or enameled today, although in some of the older houses it was painted. In many of those houses the paint, enamel , and even graining is being stripped off today to reclaim the natural beauty of the walnut.

¶ The filler used for walnut is of the paste kind and it is usually colored very dark brown, nearly black, for the classic, conventional finishes. Light colored, gray fillers are used for some of the novelty walnut finishes.

¶ The finish on walnut should be polished gloss varnish or hand-rubbed gloss varnish.

¶ For a while the American furniture market offered very light, yellowish brown walnut finishes which were produced by much selecting and bleaching of the expensive veneer walnut required. It was not a staining but a bleaching process which proved very expensive and rather uncertain. Popular preference then returned part way toward the darker finishes, medium dark, not the very dull dark walnuts.

¶ To retain and enhance the beauty of walnut when a stain is used it should be a water aniline or chemical water stain, because these are the most transparent of stains. What is called Italian walnut finish is produced by the use of a gray water stain, white shellac, gray paste filler and a final coating of white shellac, white wax or -clear lacquer.

¶ English, French and Italian Walnuts. The English walnut is not much used for wood trim or furniture, being difficult to obtain. It is most valuable for its fruit, the English walnut of commerce. It is related to American black walnut but is inferior in strength and beauty of grain figure.

¶ French walnut is closely related to the others mentioned and is used only in a limited way for trim and furniture. It is not equal to American black walnut in either figure, coloring or strength and hardness. See Picture 39.

¶ Italian walnut is like American black walnut. It is very fine in texture with a close, dense grain figure of much beauty. Delicate carvings and antiques made of it have nearly the quality of bronze statuary. The grain figure of Italian walnut is not so pronounced as English and French walnuts and is more beautiful. It grows in the southern European regions and is much used for fine furniture.

Circassian and Turkish Walnut. These walnuts are of the same species as the others, but because they grow in rather barren soils and because of other influences of environment, the trees are much twisted, knotted, gnarled and the growth is stunted. The trees, therefore, when cut up produce wood which is quite similar to the burl and curly grain figures of American black walnut. It is employed only for cutting veneers and is much prized because of the extremely fantastic grain figures which may or may not be used artistically by the craftsmen to construct furniture and panels for interior building trim. The trees grow on the slopes of the Caucasus mountains in Russia.

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