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Butternut sales buoyed by its lighter tone

Butternut [Juglans cinerea], also known as white walnut, is a hardwood used for paneling, furniture, cabinetry and some millwork. It’s a softer wood that works well and is easy to machine, although the real appeal is its wavy grain pattern that resembles black walnut but with a soft blonde-colored tone, according to hardwood dealers interviewed by Woodshop News.

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Jerry Anton of the O’Shea Lumber Co. in Glen Rock, Pa., says butternut has increased in popularity through the years.

“It has a more creamy color than the dark walnut, but the grain is similar. And we sell it to a lot of the guys that do cabinets, mostly people that might be looking for a chestnut kind of look. They are primarily clear-coating it, leaving it as a natural color. Some are using a bit of a lower grade to get some of the character marks and mimic the chestnut also,” Anton says.

Butternut is a nut-producing tree that is part of the walnut family and is native to Eastern North America.

Clint Dillon of Steve Wall Lumber Co. in Mayodan, N.C., says butternut sales are pretty consistent and customers use it for furniture and small projects like jewelry boxes.

“It’s not one of our top 10 hardwoods, but we do have a good call for it. Most people really like it because of the grain structure it has. It’s very similar to walnut, but it’s a light golden-brown. We sell a 1-common and 2-common butternut, so it contains some knots and wormholes, and a lot of our customer like it because they say it’s similar to the way chestnut used to be,” Dillon says. “We have pretty big pieces of it. We sell 4/4 and 8/12 thicknesses and they range anywhere from 4” to 18” wide. It’s very nice to work with.”

Chad Muterspaw, owner of C.R. Muterspaw Lumber in Xenia, Ohio, sees butternut purchased on an occasional basis for reproduction work.

“We don’t sell that much, but when we do it’s for antique reproductions. The real old walnut in some of those older pieces lightens with age, so antique pieces that are made out of walnut are a real light color and the butternut actually matches it now. But it’s just a few guys that know about that and are into it,” Muterspaw says.

“It’s pretty hard to find commercially. There are only a couple of mills that we can get it from. We describe it like a blonde walnut where grain-wise it’s very similar to a good black walnut that’s been bleached out.”

Butternut sells for about $3 to $3.25/bf for 4/4 No. 1 Common and about $5/b.f. for 4/4 FAS, which is close to the price of walnut.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.

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