walnut (Juglans spp.)
The Walnut Tree
The walnut we sell is from Oregon or California. It is black walnut, Juglans nigra, also commonly known as claro walnut or west coast walnut. Black walnut is endemic to north America; it grows naturally in the eastern and southern United States. It was introduced to the western states where it has naturalized. Its lumber often exhibits more red-brown hues than its eastern counterpart (with exceptions, of course). Black walnut is generally fast growing, averaging 50-75 feet in height with trunks three to five feet in diameter; its life span seldom exceeds 200 years.
About "claro" walnut: There can be confusion because the common name "claro walnut" is used both for western black walnut (above) and for a different walnut tree endemic to northern California. This latter walnut, Juglans hindsii, used to grow naturally in disjunct parts of California but is now listed as endangered. It apparently was named "claro" by Spanish explorers. These trees are generally shorter than black walnut, and are often used as rootstock in English walnut orchards; the bottom 4' of these hybrids can yield high-grade lumber.
While there is an occasional forest tree, almost all walnut lumber sawn on the west coast--whether Juglans nigra or Juglans hindsii--comes from orchards, farms, or urban forests. We can attest to the fact that the farm and city trees often include nails, swing-set anchors and other metal hardware.
At Notable Woods, we try to buy walnut logs or lumber from people who are salvaging trees that are otherwise destined for the landfill or someone's wood stove. These trees are often healthy and are removed because of the owner's decision. We believe a healthy tree should remain standing, and will not offer to buy or persuade a property owner to cut a healthy tree down.
Walnut is a medium-density, semi-ring-pourous hardwood. It weighs 38 pounds per cubic foot when air-dry, and has an average specific gravity of .55, oven dry. Its color ranges from medium brown to dark chocolate brown; sometimes displaying dark brown-to-purple striping. Claro walnut will often show red-orange-gold hues. It is an open pore wood with fine medullary rays; you can sometimes see the rays on perfectly quartersawn wood. Western walnut from Oregon or California, whether black or claro, is prone to dramatic figure, marbled grain, and rich colors; it is thus sought-after by instrument makers. Walnut's recent popularity results in good part from its use by the leading guitar factories. Martin, Taylor, and Breedlove all offer walnut models.
Walnut is very similar to koa in a) density, b) stability, and c) strength and stiffness. Both walnut and koa are stable due to relatively equal shrinkage along radial and tangential planes. Generally, walnut dries slowly with a low tendency to warp. It is succeptible to cell collapse if dried too thin or too fast. It takes edge tools, sanding, and finishes well, and is often described as the cabinetmaker's premier wood.
Our Walnut Grading
In general, our instrument hardwoods are graded by the degree of figure present. Borderline grades get bumped up or down depending on the presence of color and striping, and depending on how well it is quartersawn. We sell sets that have non-structural flaws within the pattern area; these 2nds follow the grading below but are discounted due to the defect.
From time-to-time we have Master Grade walnut which is "off-the-charts" because of its rare, exceptional color and curl. Instrument-quality walnut is found in, say, one of five or ten logs, and the rarest master grade is found in one of ten instrument logs.
Check out our Gallery page for photos of walnut sets. Our general grade guidelines:
• A. Little or no curl; off-quarter cuts allowed
• AA. Medium curl, generally quartersawn
• AAA. Full curl, generally quartersawn
• MASTER. Premium full curl, quartersawn