Walnut Wood

Walnut Wood Furniture

The main characteristics of American walnut wood and lumber as used in furniture making.

Craftsman Style

¶ Walnut is a native of America, and is found in every section from Canada to the Gulf States; like all other wood, the further North the wood grows, the softer and more porous the grain becomes. The walnut from Canada is less soft and porous, and is only used (without veneering) for the commonest furniture. The walnut from the rich Ohio and Indiana bottom lands is of fine color and quality for cabinet making, and is famous for fine crotch curl or feather veneers. This is formed by the interlocking of the grain of the wood where a limb branches from the trunk. Sometimes an excrescence or wart is found on a tree, which, when sawed across the grain, resembles tortoise shell in figure.

¶ These warts sometimes weigh as much as a ton, and are very valuable. The walnut of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware is of very close grain, and on that account is used exclusively by the government for gun stocks; it also makes beautiful and excellent furniture, but it is much more difficult to work than any other walnut, and is not used to much extent for that purpose. Cabinet-makers prefer, as a general thing, to work the softer or Northern wood; Albany, New York, is the great depot for walnut timber, as it is there received from Canada and the Lake States, and selected and measured ready for market. The natural color of Northern walnut is a greenish brown, that of the Middle and Southern States is of a reddish purple.

¶ Walnut contains an acrid oil which will decompose copal varnish, and alcohol must be used to neutralize its effects. Discoveries have been made of late years that add much to the beauties of walnut. The addition of dye woods to the alcohol produces nearly the color of rosewood; this, when properly done, is beneficial to its appearance, and improves its durability in furniture. An imitation of this process is made by using asphaltum or black varnish diluted, but it gives a dirty-black color, obscures the grain of the wood, and is easily detected by a purchaser.

¶ The grain of the wood when properly colored should show all of the figure perfectly, and be merely changed in color from its original green hue to that of a rich nut brown, shading on red, which is the natural color of the best rosewood. Some persons may object to having the walnut stained, but they should bear in mind that rosewood has to be toned up with red sanders or dragon's blood, mahogany darkened with linseed oil, oak with turmeric, and maple to be whitened in some cases with oxalic acid. As walnut is made more beautiful by judicious coloring, it is certainly a great advantage. Walnut worked in antique sculptured carvings and mouldings is best oiled with linseed oil, and is finished by this process to bring out the ornaments in bold relief. After applying several coats of boiled oil, and when nearly dry rubbing with a bristle brush, it becomes a good imitation of bronze.

¶ This character of furniture is very desirable for libraries and dining rooms; it should be selected only for its grotesque beauty or allegorical representation. The reason for oiling this style of work is to bring out in relief the carving; a bright polish destroys the fine lines, and consequently thc effect is lost. Oiled finish should never be used on furniture with wide panels or surfaces of any kind, as it will not stand the changes of heat and cold in a house.

¶ At present, much bedroom furniture is finished in oil to avoid the expense of varnishing. When walnut is well seasoned and well worked, and the grain filled with good copal varnish so as to show no pores, but is as perfect on the surface as glass, it will wear as well as any wood that is used; some of the old family pieces that were brought from Germany in the early settlement of our country and which are still preserved as curiosities, justify this assertion. Wood that is finished in oil will absorb the heat to a great extent and cause annoyance by shrinking, which will disfigure the furniture; too much care cannot be exercised on the part of the purchaser in the selection, and the cabinet-maker in the construction. You can test this comparison in a room where oiled and varnished work are subjected to the same heat: put one hand on a piece of each kind and you will find the oiled wood warm from the heat it has absorbed, and the varnished work comparatively cold, as the bright polish reflects the heat.

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