A Look at Walnut

When it comes to walnut, knowledge is key.

Black Walnut, also known as Eastern American Black Walnut, is experiencing higher demand than ever before. Plain & Fancy has been a fan of walnut from the beginning. Our founder, John Achey, had an affinity for its beauty and dynamic qualities and was especially fond of how the species possesses gorgeous color variation and grain that pairs well with endless kitchen designs. He built this walnut grandfather clock that still resides in our lobby today.

Back in our early days, we offered a Mottled Walnut for kitchen cabinets that was very popular among our customers.

Locally made, locally sourced

While walnut grows throughout the United States and Southern Canada, its commercial range is largely confined to fifteen central states. Plain & Fancy sources its walnut from Upstate Pennsylvania and the lower half of New York State. We work with a local, family owned company that purchases timber sawn stock. They have a kiln drying, surfacing, and molder operation. Primarily, their business is selling kiln dried hardwoods across Pennsylvania and out to some western accounts.

With less than 1% of our forests being made up of walnut, competition is high as the market is in demand. Market pressure is off the charts as prices rise and grades fall. As cabinet manufacturers, we are not alone in our love for walnut. Not only is walnut popular for homes right now, but consumers are also looking for walnut to include in architectural millwork projects like libraries and offices. With the uptick in projects that utilize slabs, people are also favoring walnut to show off its beauty and variation.

A wood as unique as you

When we think of walnut, we’re imagining the dark reddish-brown heartwood in the center, but 25-30% of the tree trunk is made up of sapwood. Sap, the lifeblood of all trees, flows up and down through this outer ring and creates the white growth area. This is what poses the biggest challenge when it comes to grading and finding consistent walnut.

As a species, walnut doesn’t have a specification for color when it is graded using the National Hardwood Lumber rules. With the high demand and pressure on the market, more color is being processed and squeezed into shipments. Every sawyer and veneer clipper is doing their best to produce a yield of the logs. The color variance you see is a mix from “steamed sap wood” to warm its color, to gray-brown, and tan. Light stains can be applied to blend color variations and dark stains may cover them completely. However, this takes away from the natural beauty of the wood.

If you are interested in choosing walnut for your home, what should you expect? It depends on your desires. Lovers of wood will embrace walnut for its differences and be open to working with the current demands. It is a wonderful choice for kitchens and shines as the primary focal point or as an accent, such as in an island. Be sure to connect with one of our experienced designers to discuss the reality of working with walnut, explore stain options, view samples, and ensure you will love your choice for years to come.

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