It might seem a bit odd to you that some popular exotic species, such as Mahogany, are actually less expensive than Walnut, but there’s definitely logic behind the pricing of this highly sought-after domestic species – and its unusual downgrading. A lot of it has to do with the natural limitations of the American Walnut tree. As you understand more about Walnut, we’re guessing that you’ll become more appreciative of the natural beauty in this fine species – even if it is still pricier than you’d prefer.
Comparison of Walnut to Maple
The American Black Walnut tree, or Juglans nigra, faces many unique challenges, compared not only to exotic hardwood species, but also other domestic hardwoods such as Maple. Mahogany has a much longer growing season, so comparison may not be quite equitable there. Growing in the same areas as Walnut trees, though, Maple trees are much larger and heartier. In fact, Maple trees can be aggressive and actually act to starve out other species, including Walnut trees, which are light-demanding trees and struggle in windy areas. Walnut trees can typically be found surrounded by aggressive species such as Maples; as a result, they are limited to between 30 and 70 feet. Due to this limitation in height, Walnut trees do not produce longer lengths of lumber.
Added Challenges for Walnut
In addition to their size limitation, Walnut trees typically produce a greater number of low branches, when compared to Oak and Maple. As a result, they include more knots and grain that isn’t straight. Combined with shorter lengths, this tendency allows very few Walnut boards to meet the typical qualifications for FAS grade. In response to that issue, the grading system for Walnut lumber has been downgraded to allow a more equitable amount of Walnut to be able to fit into that top tier.
Downgrading for Walnut
When you compare your FAS Maple boards to your FAS Walnut boards, you may be surprised at the disparity between the clarity and amount of clear cutting between the two. In fact, if you know much about the NHLA grading system, you may be interested in the details of the downgrading for Walnut.
Regular FAS Specs: The highest grade, FAS, typically requires a board to be 83.3% clear and free from defects on both faces. The minimum board size to fit into this category is 6 inches wide by 8 feet long, with a minimum clear cutting size of either 3 inches by 7 feet or 4 inches by 5 feet.
Modified FAS Specs for Walnut: However, for Walnut, the guidelines are altered allowing a minimum board size of 5 inches wide by 6 feet long, as long as 80% of the pack yields boards that are 8 feet long and longer. The minimum clear cutting size is 4 inches by 3 feet or 3 inches by 6 feet. In addition, some defects are allowed.
While above-grade Walnut is sometimes available, you’ll pay a pretty penny for it, especially if you desire wide, long boards. Many craftsmen, furniture makers in particular, appreciate the so-called “defects,” which make each creation unique.