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Black walnut sales steady in down market

Walnut continues to be a solid seller among domestic hardwoods, both in lumber and slab form. Furniture makers and cabinetmakers are the primary buyers at both the retail and wholesale levels. For some dealers, walnut sales have dropped slightly because of the housing crisis, while others say sales of the dark wood remain robust. In the world of cabinetry, color seems to be cyclical, with light woods in favor for a while, followed by darker woods. Walnut has been popular for the last year to three years.

Average retail prices for 4/4 Select & Better black walnut, as reported in Woodshop News. Prices are base on informal telephone and Internet surveys.

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"In general, for the last dozen years, people have wanted lighter woods," says Michael Johnson, owner of Johnson Creek Hardwoods, a retail and wholesale dealer in Mount Carroll, Ill. "We've sold tremendous amounts of red oak and things like that. But sometime last year, the walnut sales really began to pick up and we've sold - for us - a tremendous amount of walnut since probably last July and it has continued. Sales have been good."

"I would say it is probably one of our better species," says Christ Groff, a retailer and wholesaler with Groff & Groff Lumber in Quarryville, Pa. "We're selling it to furniture makers and cabinetmakers. Two years ago, it was really strong. It's still going pretty strong, but two years ago we sold more walnut in two years than we did in the previous five.

"We're not getting a lot of homeowners doing cabinets. It's more or less the real high-end guys, the furniture makers and especially out West in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado."

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) primarily grows in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. The trees reach heights up to 100' with diameters of 3' to 4'. The sapwood is nearly white, while the heartwood is brown to a chocolate-brown. Walnut is often steamed at a mill or kiln to darken the color of the sapwood to match the color of the heartwood. Walnut only represents about 5 percent of U.S. hardwoods.

"We do a lot of slabs - natural edge bookmatched slabs - all kiln-dried and surfaced," Johnson says. "It's not a big seller, but we always sell some and occasionally we'll have a large sale. We recently had a truck go out to a builder in Colorado and they filled up a one-ton and they were ecstatically happy to have the kind of stuff that we have out there at our prices [$4.75/bf retail]."

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