Walnut Wood Characteristics: Color, Grain Pattern, Uses, and More

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It’s not a secret that Walnut lumber has a smooth texture suited for fine furniture projects. And since it suits many applications, being oblivious of its attributes could limit what you can do with this material. 

In this post, I will discuss walnut wood characteristics to help ease your woodworking experience. 

Walnut Timber Characteristics at a Glance

More About Walnut Timber

Besides being sturdy, most woodworkers in the country prefer walnut lumber products because of their rich color and workability with different projects and power tools. 

walnut table

Because of these attributes, these durable hardwood options are a familiar sight when handling wood carving and turning projects

You may not know, but black walnut species are often thinned and steamed during manufacturing to complement their sapwood and heartwood color. 

Origin: Where Do Walnut Trees Grow?

If you worked long enough in the woodworking industry, you’d know that this straight-grained lumber was initially discovered in North America.

The natural habitat for walnut trees typically consists of temperate climates with well-drained soil, as they require a combination of sunlight, moderate rainfall, and suitable growing conditions to flourish.

How Big Can it Grow?

Most walnut lumber trees can grow up to 150 feet tall with a thickness diameter of 8 feet as soon as they mature at 150 years old. 

walnut tree

These hardwood trees have massive root systems that release chemicals to slow vegetation growth around 50 feet from their trunk.  

Color and Appearance

Many woodworkers prefer using walnut lumber for cabinets and other pieces of furniture mainly because of its attractive color quality. If you inspect the lumber closely, you’ll spot its heartwood color, ranging from light brown to dark chocolate. 

Depending on the wood’s growing conditions and age, its heartwood could also develop its wood color with red, purple, and grey tints. Meanwhile, the sapwood for walnut lumber turn faded yellowish-gray to almost white as it reaches maturity. 

You’ll also see these hardwood boards with different grain patterns. The stock variations sold in the market come with burls, curls, and crotches on their wood surface. 

Does Its Color Change Over Time?

Let me tell you, black walnut is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to color changes over time. Unlike hard maple, white oak, pine, cedar, and cherry lumber which darkens over time, black walnut develops a lighter wood surface as it ages. 

Walnut wood texture

The generations of development for this wood specie don’t result in dramatic color changes. Instead, walnut lumber develops subtle honey shades. 

However, you can keep the wood surface in the same shade as long as it has an oil finish or varnish. The wood grain detail will also be more detailed and saturated as the lumber matures. 

Grain Pattern and Texture

Most walnut lumber boards in local stores come with straight wood grains. However, some black walnut species grow unique patterns like curls and waves. I highly recommend using these for furniture or flooring if you’re aiming for a more rustic or unique look.

walnut grain pattern

Another reason why it’s a prized woodworking material is its even and fine wood texture. It’s also slightly coarse with a natural luster. 


So, when you cut into walnut lumber, you’re going to notice some interesting features. The end grain shows what are called semi-ring-porous earlywood vessels and large pores. If you look closely—like, really closely—you’ll see around two to three solitary and multiple radials. But you’ll need lenses to catch the subtle rays.

Is it a Harwood or Softwood?

As a wood specie under the dicot tree family, walnut belongs to the hardwood category. This specification also signifies that this wood type has a stable and durable wood surface, similar to other hardwoods like alder and maple, less likely to be susceptible to damage, dents, and scuffs. 

How Hard/Dense is Walnut?

You can determine walnut material’s durability through the Janka hardness test. This procedure will include testing the wood’s width perpendicular to its grain. You opt to do this test on the side of the wood or its edge. 

black walnut

These wood tests determine that walnut boards have a 1010 Janka rating. It’s a close comparison to known hard-wearing woods like maple with 1450 pounds-force and red oak with 1290 lbf. 

Resistance to Rot and Decay

These thick wood materials are sturdy, so you can expect them to last long, even when exposed to wet conditions, humidity, and heat. However, its stable wood shape can deteriorate without proper maintenance. Although it can handle some moisture, I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend walnut for outdoor projects. The elements can take a toll on its durability over time.


Walnut boards have steam-bending attributes, so these materials always sell well for popular woodworking projects like cabinets and furniture. The material’s color range is also unique, so its surface is rarely stained in projects. 

This wood type glues well and handles screws and nails without hassle. Just a heads-up though, if you run into pieces with distinct wood grains, they can be a bit tricky to surface. And keep an eye on your tool blades; the wood’s hardness can dull them over time.


You’re not going to be overwhelmed by the smell of walnut, but you’ll definitely catch a faint scent while you’re cutting it. It’s a bearable smell, and you’ll probably only notice it if you’re really close to the wood while working.

cutting walnut slab with table saw


Wood allergies [1] aren’t so common, but black walnut may cause common contact reactions like irritation in the eyes and skin areas. 


Given its popularity, you can easily find walnut boards in your nearest hardware store. These wood products are often sold in smaller width specifications, but the varieties aren’t limited. 

It’s a premium hardwood and a domestic wood specie, so expect the prices to be competitive and high. However, the price range still depends on the material quality and specifications. 

Is Walnut Timber Eco-Friendly? Is it Endangered?

Yes, walnut timber is eco-friendly because it grows in many local locations. Thanks to this, it doesn’t require long transit time or a massive carbon footprint.

Although walnut trees are far from extinct, their abundance isn’t as much as before. These wood species take over 100 years to mature, so the harvesting process requires government permission and regulation adherence. 

milling black walnut

It’s also one of the reasons why their prices are higher than other wood materials. 

Eastern Black Walnut Trees: Characteristics and Origins

These trees grow well when nurtured under direct sunlight and dry ground dirt. In fact, you’ll find most of them in Eastern America and Canada. 

However, generations of growing and harvesting these lumber materials proved that the best quality walnut lumber grows in the Midwest of the US.  

Common Uses of Walnut Timbers

Despite their high price, these walnut materials are exceptionally sturdy and workable with different tools and tasks like:

woodturning walnut vase

How to Distinguish Real Walnut Timbers

Since it doesn’t come at a low price, you’d want to buy authentic walnut material. Trust me, I’ve seen people duped with fake walnut, and it’s not pretty. The market is rife with knock-offs, but your best defense is to buy from well-known manufacturers or brands.

If you’re in a wood shop, don’t forget to check that real walnut workpieces will have a range of colors within their surfaces. 

Solid Walnut vs. Veneered Walnut

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, veneered walnut should fulfill your needs without switching to another wood specie. But between us, if you’re serious about your woodworking, nothing beats solid walnut boards for sturdiness and quality.

veneered walnut

Are Walnut Timbers Ideal for Outdoor Use?

I’ve seen walnut hold its own against decay and rot, but don’t let that fool you into using it for outdoor projects. Believe me, you’re asking for trouble there. Despite its durability, the material is more susceptible to weather-related deterioration than you might think. So, as durable as it is, best to keep it indoors.

Factors to Consider in Buying Walnut-Made Furniture

Walnut lumber shares similar colors and textures with other wood types. Hence, it’s easy to get confused and buy furniture pieces not made with authentic material. To prevent this, here are the shopping pointers you must remember:

Walnut-Colored Finishes and Stains

Each walnut piece carries unique patterns and colors, so adding stain over its natural surface will result in a loss of character and distinction. I recommend using quality clear coat finishes, like oil, wax, or varnishes. 

staining walnut wood table

How to Maintain Walnut-Made Furniture

When cleaning walnut workpieces, never use abrasive products, or they’ll damage the surface. My best advice is to regularly dust the furniture and wipe the spills immediately to avoid lingering marks. And do yourself a favor — keep the walnut furniture away from direct sunlight.  


The availability of walnut wood in the market may sound convenient, but it’s also one of the reasons why it’s at risk. So when you’re going wood shopping, I urge you to inquire where and how these materials are sourced to discourage and protect them from improper and illegal harvesting. 

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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