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Walnut sales enjoy a market recovery

Walnut has gained in popularity during the last couple of years with woodworking customers looking for highly figured slabs, regardless of the walnut species, in the form of boards, panels and veneers. Lumber suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News say the trend is the result of recent demand for large, live-edge table tops, and also for darker hues in cabinetry and furniture.

Sam Talarico of Talarico Hardwoods says large walnut slabs, such as this one in his studio, are in demand for consumers wanting large, decorative table tops.

“I’ve been cutting walnut flitches for over 40 years, and the market’s been up and down. You didn’t sell a lot of them years ago, but in the last couple of years everybody wants one-piece slab tabletops — those are really hot right now,” says Sam Talarico, owner of Talarico Hardwoods in Mohnton, Pa. “In the past, when you could get a 5’ wide by 16’ long [black] walnut log, which is rare, you couldn’t sell it. Now it’s the rage.”

Talarico adds that customers in the market for walnut aren’t concerned whether the species is black walnut (Juglans nigra), claro walnut (Juglans hindsii), paradox walnut (also known as Batstogne), or Circassian, an English walnut — all species he sells — as long as they’re impressive-looking slabs. He says many people are in the market for California claro because they’re familiar with it. While it’s known to grow extremely fast and is therefore highly figured, its downside is that it’s dense, unruly and takes a long time to dry.

Pricing for walnut can be all over the map, depending on the species, where it is grown, its color and figure characteristics, and the length, width and thickness of the log. Talarico’s supplies can run from $16/bf for 6/4, 8/4, 10/4 size slabs 2’ wide and up.

“When you start getting over 3’ long slabs, its $25/bf; these are wide, matched flitches. When you start getting into curly walnut and other special logs, it can be $50 a board foot and up. I’ve got some Batstogne walnut for $150/bf, and Circassian walnut burls at $200/bf,” adds Talarico.

Skip Kise, of Good Hope Hardwoods in Landenberg, Pa., says 2008 was the company’s best year because of increased walnut sales, especially for table slabs. After a sluggish 2009, which Kise blames on a poor economy, the demand has returned.

“The walnut market is not driven by the lumber market anymore. It’s primarily driven by walnut slabs for slab tables. Walnut lumber is still good, though. We do sell quite a bit of walnut lumber. This past month I’ve sold more 12/4 walnut lumber than I have in the past year for table bases and beds. It goes on runs like that,” says Kise.

The demand has been so high during the last four years that Kise is now competing with veneer buyers who need to meet the color preferences of designers.

“The [designers] want that New York dark hue,” says Kise. “Twenty years ago, they wanted pickled oak and light (colored woods) were hot. Now dark is hot.”

Good Hope’s prices for kiln-dried, unsteamed, clear black walnut ranges from $8/bf for 4/4 boards to $20/bf for larger slabs.

“We’re selling a lot of quartersawn walnut,” says Scott Roberts of Roberts Plywood in Deer Park, N.Y. “It’s not only dark and lovely, but very linear. So, as walnut was typically always wood for traditional-style furniture, the quartersawn walnut is being put to use for a lot of new-age designs, such as contemporary pieces and for wall panels.”

Doug Grove, of Groff & Groff Lumber in Quarryville, Pa., says that black walnut is a top seller to furniture and cabinet makers, and large slabs with live edges are in demand there as well.

“We’ve sold more black walnut this year than anything else,” adds Grove. “It’s a very forgiving wood and very stable; not too dense, doesn’t burn easily, really nice to work with. We sell up to 8/4 thicknesses in the unsteamed product, which is how [customers] want it today. When it’s steamed, the heartwood bleeds into the sap and some of the color is lost.”

Groff & Groff quoted retail prices of $5.25/bf for FAS 4/4 black walnut; $5.50/bf for 5/4; $6.50/bf for 6/4, and $7/bf 8/4.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.

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