Black walnut sales held up at the sawmill

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Black walnut’s status as a premium hardwood hasn’t changed as buyers continue to favor the wood’s rich dark color and highly figured appearance for custom furniture and cabinetry. But it’s not currently a huge mover at the retail level, due to its high price and rather limited supply, according to hardwood dealers interviewed by Woodshop News.

The market has been strong for the last few years, but a shortage of really big logs (around 14’) and demand for thick slabs (12/4) has contributed to slower sales recently.

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“Part of the problem is that the price went up and then there was an oversupply so the market price dropped and a lot of the people that have the logs bought them at the old price,” says Louis Irion, owner of Irion Lumber in Wellsboro, Pa. “Walnut’s the type of log that you don’t have to cut right away and it will age OK as opposed to other logs such as maple or ash, so a lot of our suppliers are holding off cutting walnut to see if the market equalizes.”

Black walnut (Juglans negra) typically grows as scattered individual trees or in small groups throughout the central and eastern parts of the United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Its natural range extends from western Vermont to the Midwest, Texas and Florida. The species is currently threatened in some locations by thousand cankers disease, a result of the combined activity of a fungus and the walnut twig beetle. Information on the disease and resources for finding local quarantines can be found at www.thousandcankers.com.

Live-edge walnut, where the bark has been removed but the edges haven’t been machined straight, continues to sell well, dealers say.

“We sell a lot of live-edge walnut slabs and some that I mill into flooring as well,” says Jeff Hanna of Keystone Vintage Lumber in Lebanon, Pa. “It seems like year to year there are trends where people are either into a lighter or a darker color, but walnut always seems to be fairly popular and, personally, it’s my favorite species.

“What’s becoming more popular with walnut is people really seem to like the contrast between the dark heartwood and the light sapwood, so they are incorporating that into furniture like desktops and things like that.”

Clint Dillon of Steve Wall Lumber in Mayodan, N.C., says walnut sales have remained pretty steady, mostly for furniture-making purposes.

“It seems everyone is still on the kick for the naturally dark wood. Our live-edge walnut sales have stayed pretty high too for dining tables and countertops and things like that. We see a lot of people wanting live edge because it has that little bit of sapwood by the edge and it creates a really pretty contrast.”

Retail quotes for 4/4 select grades of walnut ranged from $6.50 to $8.50/bf. 

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.

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