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Happy Valentines Day, 2016, from Bailey Wood Products, Kempton, PA




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Know Your Wood Species: Walnut 101

For a PDF version of this article, please click HERE.

Need Walnut? We've Got It!

If you are a woodworker looking for some really nice Walnut for a project, now is the time to stop in and check out our inventory. Last week, we took several thousand board feet of some of the nicest Walnut lumber out of our dry kiln that we have had in a couple of years. What makes this material special is the way that we graded this stock.

The stock that we just dried has been graded on Standard Hardwood grading rules. This material looks like the FAS boards you see in Cherry, Maple, or Poplar. As a matter of fact, a lot of this stock is knot free and has great widths, which is something that you don't find a lot of in Walnut lumber. The material is 8-12’ in length. We have dried it all to a moisture content of 7%, and conditioned it so it is stable and ready to be worked for all kinds of projects.

Know Your Wood Species: Walnut 101 Walnut Lumber Varied and Wide Widths

The National Hardwood Lumber Association, NHLA, is the body that sets the rules for the inspection and grading of all hardwood lumber. According to the grading rules for an FAS board of Walnut, considered the highest grade, Walnut can have smaller cutting sizes than standard FAS lumber in other species. This means that a piece of FAS Walnut will look like #1 common grade you find in Poplar, Cherry, or Maple. Walnut isn’t as common as Poplar, Cherry, or Maple, and large diameter stock isn’t as readily available as with other species. This often results in lumber that isn’t very long, and at times not very wide, nor free of knots. When using Walnut grading rules for selecting lumber, it is customary to add a minimum waste factor of 50% or greater to ensure enough stock is on hand for the project.

Sapwood and Heartwood

Another consideration when purchasing Walnut is the amount of white sapwood present in each piece of lumber. According to the grading rules for Walnut set forth by the NHLA, there is no limitation to the amount of sapwood that can be present in the board that would down-grade it from an FAS grade to a lower grade, unless specified. Technically, the board can be up to 100% sapwood and still be a top grade piece. Since the highest grade lumber is most often produced from the outside of the log where the sapwood is present, we typically see boards that are clearer, with sapwood present. The only way to avoid sapwood is to use larger diameter logs that allow the sawyer to remove the outer sapwood layer before getting down into the dark heartwood, while still being able to produce high grade lumber. The diameter of the log is important when producing high grade lumber in any specie.

If you are a woodworker, you will want your project to be all dark heartwood without the lighter sapwood showing. This is the real appeal of Walnut, and gives this wood it’s beauty. You will not have to worry about sapwood in the stock we just dried. We have sorted out the boards that have sapwood on the face and have less than 70% sapwood on the reverse side. What this means is that this stock will provide cuttings that are almost all heartwood on both sides. Depending on your application, such as furniture and cabinetry, these boards will give you an exceptional yield over standard NHLA graded Walnut. It really is the best of the best when it comes down to color and clarity. When working up stock for a project, this will give you longer cleaner cuttings and will reduce the amount of time spent rough milling to prepare cuttings for your project.

Steamed or Unsteamed? Steamed or Unsteamed Walnut Lumber?

If you wish to have stock that is totally free of sapwood, we also have Walnut lumber that has been steamed. The steaming process is done prior to kiln drying. Its purpose is to take the moisture and natural chemicals in the heartwood and use those to darken the lighter sapwood. This results in lumber that is homogenous in color, with no variation in color between the sapwood and heartwood. For applications such as architectural millwork and furniture, this process has become an industry standard for Walnut. We have both steamed and unsteamed Walnut in stock.

Personally, I am a fan of the unsteamed Walnut. The steaming process is effective at darkening the heartwood, but it also darkens the subtle hues in the sapwood as well. Walnut, when unsteamed, can show dark purple and reddish hues, which I find attractive in certain furniture and cabinetry applications. Whether you are looking for an all even dark tone, or like the variance in hues that show up in the heartwood, we have plenty of stock in both to accommodate your needs. If you are someone who likes the unsteamed Walnut, I would recommend stopping by sooner than later, because the unsteamed stock tends to move faster than the steamed.

Live Edge Walnut

Live Edge Walnut LumberAlong with the 4/4 stock that we dried, we have also sawed some spectacular 10/4 Live Edge Walnut Table Top Slabs (Photo shown below). These will be air-drying for a year prior to going into the dry kiln to be completely dried to 8% moisture content. As stock comes available, we will be adding photos and dimensions of each of these to our website. Currently, we have some live edge Walnut available for sale. If you are interested in any live edge material, please give us a call or stop by our showroom weekdays 7 a.m to 4 p.m., and Saturday 7 a.m. to Noon, to take a look at our inventory.

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