Black walnut trees commonly reach heights of 100' or more with 3'-diameter trunks, yielding copious amounts of consistent, straight grain—a lumberman's dream.
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Looking up at a walnut tree

It's all about the figure

Black walnut trees commonly reach heights of 100' or more with 3'-diameter trunks, yielding copious amounts of consistent, straight grain—a lumberman's dream. Woodworkers also seek out walnut because its crotch wood produces spectacular flame-like grain. Another source of highly figured wood—burls—are common in walnut. Even lowly stumpwood often produces compressed and wavy grain, making the walnut tree one of the most all-around coveted lumber trees.

With heartwood ranging from deep purple-brown to reddish-tan, walnut's cream-colored sapwood offers a sharp contrast that most woodworkers avoid in visible areas of projects. With early and latewood consisting of a similar color and pore-size, the growth rings show, but not with the distinct contrast of oak or ash.

4 desirable grain patterns Burls

Walnut trees often bear wart-like protrusions, known as burls, that produce a tightly swirling pattern. The jewel of the walnut tree, burls often become veneer.

Burl pattern

Crotch wood

Crotch wood, where branches intersect the trunk of the tree, is normally rejected in other lumber, but yields prized V-shaped flare patterns in walnut.

Fan like pattern of wood

Cathedral pattern

The cathedral pattern of flatsawn walnut gives even common boards a figured look, while the dark-on-dark coloring of the early and late wood reduces gaudiness.

Cathedral pattern


Commonly available as veneer, quartersawn walnut's consistent striped pattern makes a good choice when you need to avoid overpowering grain.

Straight grain

Works like a dream

Though relatively hard, walnut won't put undue strain on your machinery or muscles when hand-working it. And it holds crisp details from a router bit, carving knife, or other cutting tools.

For walnut glue-ups, pick up a bottle of dark glue, such as Titebond II Dark Wood Glue (, 800-669-4583), to minimize the appearance of joint lines.

Though walnut produces a distinct sweet smell, don't inhale too much. Walnut dust can irritate lungs and nasal passages, with some woodworkers reporting a severe allergic reaction. So use adequate dust collection and supplement it with a respirator or dust mask.

Gun cabinet
Not only is this cabinet (WOOD, Sept. 2008) made of walnut, but most of the gunstocks are as well. Walnut's weight and elasticity lessen recoil, and its ease of carving makes it a favorite for checkering grips and stocks.

Flawless to the finish

You'll find that walnut accepts finishes with ease. Normally chosen for its natural dark color, walnut is rarely stained. It might, however, require some selective coloring to even out tone variations, or match sapwood to heartwood, as shown.

Filling the pores before finishing creates a super-smooth surface; and because you can do it without messy commercial pore-fillers, it's easier to accomplish than with other woods: After sanding, simply flood the surface with Danish oil, wet-sand thoroughly in a circular motion with 400-grit wet-dry abrasive, and remove the excess slurry by wiping it perpendicular to the grain.

Simpler still, a film-forming, oil-based varnish imparts a warm glow and multi-layered, multi-hued sheen to the wood.

Staining board
Use a water-based walnut dye toblend walnut's light sapwood anddark heartwood. Start by moisteningthe heartwood with water todetermine its finished color beforefeathering in dye with water.

Refreshing kiln-leeched color

Many kiln-driers pretreat walnut with steam to darken the creamy, white sapwood, minimizing its contrast with the heartwood. That increases the yield of acceptably consistent wood color, but also leeches color from the heartwood, dulling it to a grayer shade.

Air-dried walnut, on the other hand, retains its creamy sapwood, but also its deep, chocolate heartwood and the variety of purple and reddish tones mixed in its grain.

More resources

  • For even more info about black walnut, visit
  • To buy an article on enhancing walnut's beauty, go to
Three grains being stained
Water-based topcoats, middle,enhance the grain of kiln-driedwalnut, but do nothing to reviveits grayish tone. But an oil-basedfinish, right, brings the warmcolors back to life.