We get it, we really do. Downgrading lumber seems like a conspiracy — or at least a marketing ploy — designed to generate more revenue for the lumber industry. Especially in an industry when pricing structures are already so nuanced, this kind of special treatment seems suspicious. But it really does make sense. And we’re not just saying that because we’re lumber suppliers: we really think that the unique grading specifications for Walnut will benefit you, the customer, in the end.
How Walnut Grows
No matter how you slice (er, uh, grade) it, your typical pack of Walnut will look quite different than that of other domestic species like, for instance, Maple. Maple boards will typically be longer and will have fewer defects than Walnut. And there’s nothing any of us can do about it. Why? Remember, lumber isn’t a manufactured or a made-to-order product; all of us are at the mercy of what nature produces. Walnut trees naturally include a plethora of branches, which create knots, and are ripe with plenty of twists and turns, resulting in contorted grain.
Add in significant distinctions between heartwood and sapwood, and extra attention is needed to create a uniform appearance when sapwood is included — which is often, thanks to its significant size. (Of course, some woodworkers actually prefer the light-dark contrast of unsteamed Walnut, but the typical Walnut board is expected to have a homogenous appearance, which requires the added step of steaming and the added cost associated with that step.)
Why People Love Walnut
If you read the above issues concerning Walnut not knowing which species we were describing, you’d probably say, “Why bother?” Except that you do know. And you probably already know why, despite its limitations, Walnut remains a highly sought-after North American lumber species. With applications ranging from flooring and cabinetry to furniture and millwork, the demand for Walnut has never waned. In fact, if anything, its popularity has increased as its availability has decreased.
What You Can Do
Even if you aren’t on board (see what we did there?) with the downgrading of Walnut, you can help eliminate waste by purchasing the grade of Walnut which your project actually requires. Now, we realize that many North American buyers default to long, wide, top-grade lumber. But let’s be realistic: not every project truly demands such boards.
If you’re just going to chop up a board anyway or can find a way to cut around knots for your application, why waste such a rare, clear board — or accrue the added expense of securing it? Also realize that if shorter boards will work for your project, you’ll essentially get better grade boards, since length is part of the grading equation. (While this is true for all lumber species, it’s especially significant for Walnut, due to the downgrading situation.)
By now, you might be wondering how significantly the grading standards for Walnut differ from that of other North American hardwood species. Check out our next post in this series for the scoop.
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J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has become one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods. As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world. Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.
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