Consumer interest in American black walnut (juglans nigra) is holding steady as lumber suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News have either experienced an increase in sales during the last year or have seen no change at all. But all tend to agree that the unique growing patterns of the species makes its availability unpredictable and, in turn, make it difficult to gauge just how popular it really is.
Walnut sales are active at Yoder Lumber in Millersburg, Ohio, for instance. Company president Melvin Yoder says this reflects current consumer preferences for darker wood hues and woodworkers’ appreciation of the wood’s working properties.
“It’s a softer wood than oak. It machines really well. A lot of people like it for that. The dark color, once it is finished, has a high-quality look that people want in their homes,” says Yoder.
Availability hasn’t been too much of a problem for him, but he does notice the species is not as readily available as other prominent hardwoods.
“Walnut typically grows in the Eastern Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions of the country. It requires more moisture than other species, so it grows more in the lower-lying areas. A lot of it can be found in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.”
Peter Sieling, of Garreson Lumber Co. in Bath, N.Y., says walnut sells out shortly after he gets a supply. He believes he would sell more if he could get more.
“Walnut doesn’t grow in big stands, so it’s harder to get large quantities of it. So mills that are dealing with large quantities a lot of times don’t work with walnut other than when it accidentally shows up,” says Sieling.
“But I feel like people are using it more now than they were in the past because it is a pretty wood. It’s just hard to get because it doesn’t grow like a whole forest of maple does. Usually walnut grows in people’s yards or stream beds where there’s real deep soil.”
Chris Calvert, owner of Yukon Lumber Co. in Norfolk, Va., says walnut is being specified more for commercial projects.
“Right now we’re seeing a lot of it used for lots of restaurants. Some wanted rustic walnut so we took the sappy and the knotty out of the uppers. We’ve seen it pick up as an accent piece for countertops and tables and that kind of thing, but as far as flooring goes, not a whole lot. I think the trend goes in spurts. I think the TV media has a lot to do with it when people watch home-and-garden channels.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue.