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Walnut Wood Characteristics: The Total Guide to Walnut Hardwood โ€“ 2021

Walnut wood is a premium hardwood for furniture, flooring, shelving, and so much more. It features some of the most desirable traits for woodworking and finishing. American Black Walnut is dense, fine-grained, and has a dark color. 

Learn everything you need to know about the characteristics of walnut hardwood. Find out about the color, grain, and density of walnut, as well as its finishing attributes. And, see what makes black walnut one of the highest-quality hardwoods for cabinets, casework, flooring, and furniture.

The Characteristics of Walnut Wood in Furniture, Casework, and More

Among the species of hardwoods used in carpentry, walnut wood is prized for its beauty, versatility, and durability. Walnut goes by many names, like black walnut, American walnut, Eastern walnut, Eastern black walnut โ€“ etc. But, as the late-great William Shakespeare put it, โ€œA rose by any other name would smell as sweet.โ€ 

And, speaking of smells, black walnut has a distinctly earthy smell. But, it can โ€“ in rare cases โ€“ elicit an allergic reaction. So, be sure to take this into account when deciding on the best type of wood you want in your home.  

What Color is Black Walnut Hardwood?

Walnut is widespread in North America and is the continent’s only native hardwood species that produces wood that is naturally dark in color. Black walnut can vary in color, from a deep-rich chocolate brown in the heartwood to a pale tannish brown at the sapwood. And, since the color varies so widely between the heartwood and sapwood, it is difficult to find a board of walnut that doesnโ€™t feature both color variants. 

The heartwood of walnut can feature a range of dark colors, like coffee-brown, dark purple, grey, dark burgundy, and more. The sapwood is the wood closest to the bark of the walnut tree, and features pale yellow or faded grey colors. The colors of walnut change over time, but in a different way than other hardwood species. 

The natural colors of cherry and oak wood deepen and darken as the wood ages and encounter ultraviolet light from the sun โ€“ but not walnut. The color of black walnut has the unique attribute of lightening in color as the wood ages and is exposed to light and oxygen. The color change is not as dramatic as that of cherry wood but is the reason for many finishers to use an oil finish to help retain the deeper tones.     

Wood Stain, Oil, and Other Finishing Applications on Walnut

Walnut takes well to wood stain, and a dark stain will make walnut retain its dark color forever. But, using a dark wood stain on walnut works to mute the wood’s natural beauty, which is why most woodworkers use a clear-coat or oil-based finish. Both clear coat and wood oil are higher maintenance finishes than stain because they require the owner to treat the wood from time to time.

What About the Grain Pattern of Black Walnut?

Walnut features beautiful and intricate grain patterns โ€“ more so than oak wood, but not as wavy and intricate as cherry wood. Technically, walnut is a straight-grained wood, like oak. But, because of the density of branches and the shape of how the walnut tree grows, the grain pattern is much more interesting than that of white or red oak. 

Walnut trees feature interesting grain pattern variations wherever a brach splits-off from the main trunk. For crafting and woodworking purposes, how a walnut tree bends as it grows makes long pieces of usable walnut a rarity. On the other hand, the unique bends and waves in the tree’s growth lend to the aesthetically pleasing grain patterns that emerge. 

How Hard and Durable is Walnut Hardwood?

Walnut hardwood is right in the middle of the scale, in terms of density and durability. It is not as dense and hard as oak, but it is harder than cherry. This means, walnut doesnโ€™t wear-out saw blades like oak or maple wood does, and it is more resistant to dings and dents than cherry wood โ€“ which makes walnut ideal for fine-furniture makers, high-end cabinets, and more. 

Is Walnut Weather Resistant for Outdoors?

When it comes to walnuts’ resistance to the elements, it measures-up better than cherry or red oak, in that it features natural rot-resistant and warp-resistant qualities. That being said โ€“ it is not recommended to use walnut furniture outdoors. Walnut is often used for high-end furniture and the natural elements will have a deleterious effect on the wood in the long run.ย 

Walnut is best featured indoors, to maintain the integrity of the craftsmanship. And, with an easy wood oil application every once in a while, the longevity of walnut can outlast your own. Talk to a cabinetry associate to see what your custom walnut furniture can look like and how to get started.