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Demand drives higher prices for black walnut

Black walnut continues to be in high demand and the pricing reflects it, according to lumber suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News.

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“Walnut’s very hot,” says Sam Talarico, owner of Talarico Hardwoods in Mohnton, Pa. “I handle quartersawn walnut and the big walnut flitches are very much in demand right now. They have been the past couple of years actually. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but for the past two years it’s been call after call and I can’t keep up.”

Talarico says flitches are selling for $15 to $30/bf, depending on quality and size.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees reach heights up to 100’ with diameters of 3’ to 4’. The sapwood is nearly white, while the heartwood is brown to 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 represents about 5 percent of U.S. hardwoods.

The wood is straight-grained, although occasionally wavy and irregular. Walnut produces a large variety of figure, including crotch, stripe, ribbon, mottle, swirls and occasionally burls. The wood is moderately dense, but strong in relation to its weight. Black walnut works well with hand- and power tools, holds nails and screws satisfactorily and glues without a problem.

Rory Wood of Rare Woods USA in Mexico, Maine, says that although walnut has never been a great seller for him, he’s been seeing more demand for the lower grades.

“We’re finding quite a steady demand for lower-grade walnut, which allows for the natural defects to come through. People are seeing more of the beauty of natural wood.

“Walnut is one of the world’s premier cabinetmaking woods. It really is forgiving, easily machined and always has gorgeous colors coming through,” says Wood.

Mark Wagner of Hill Hardwood Supply in Iowa City, Iowa, says walnut is being used regularly for furniture and general cabinetry applications, but not so much for commercial projects or trim work. He, too, says the price is a factor in sales, but that also assures it’s readily available.

“Walnut is not our top seller, but I have to say dark woods are probably becoming more popular these days and there’s a good interest in walnut. The fact that the prices are up makes sales a bit of a problem. We are in the $10-a-board-foot category for [top-grade] walnut,” says Wagner. 

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.

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