Wood species

European walnut, a wood with warm shades used to make luxury objects

Walnut wood has a special colour and texture, and its use in luxury goods has given it a special reputation, comparable to that of exotic species. The reputation is not without reason, as it has replaced mahogany and rosewood since the 18th century in the manufacture of furniture for the crowned heads and nobles of the time. Famous names such as Chippendale or Sheraton brought it to their attention and made true works of art out of walnut wood. Walnut has retained its status to this day, with any object made from walnut being considered special. It is appreciated by craftsmen and artists alike, which is why, with the help of the article below, we are giving it the attention it deserves.

Walnut, the witch tree

The native walnut is part of the Juglandaceae, like the American walnut or the tropical (Mexican) walnut. The scientific name is Juglans regiaand in the literature you can find it under various names such as European walnut or English walnut. For those who want to look up information in sources in other countries, in English it is English, European or Common walnut (wood), in French (bois de) noyer, in Italian (legno di) noce, nussbaum (holz) in German, (madera de) nuez or nogal in Spanish. I have indicated in parenthesis that it is wood each time because if you search only for noce or nussbaum you may get information about the tree. And that's because the European walnut is known all over the world for its fruit, the walnut, a very common ingredient in the kitchen, but also in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

All sorts of legends and myths have been created around the nunucu over time. Even the scientific name of the family - Juglandaceae - comes from the Latin term Jovis Glanswhich means the acorn of Jupiter, symbol of sacredness and connection with the divine. In the folk beliefs of many countries it is said that witches gather in the shade of the walnut tree to cast the dreaded spells, and the walnut is called the fruit of witches. In our country it is said that it is not good to plant a walnut tree because when the stem reaches the length of a man's neck, he will die. To prevent this from happening, a large circle must be drawn around the walnut tree, which will also grow to the size of the crown. In this way, the evil will remain within the circle and the man is protected. There is also a scientific explanation of all the evils related to the walnut tree. It contains in its roots and leaves a toxic substance called juglone that prevent other plants from growing. That's why no other plants can live under the walnut tree.

A vigorous tree with a rich crown

The European walnut grows in temperate and Mediterranean areas, both in wild flora and in crops. It originates in a wide area from the Balkans to the Himalayas and China. In Roman times it was also brought to western and northern Europe, and in the 17th century it reached America. In Romania it grows naturally mainly in Oltenia and Banat, but is cultivated all over the country.

The tree can grow up to 25-30 m tall, with trunk diameters up to 2 m. The trunk is short and the crown round and rich. The bark is silvery-grey and smooth when the tree is young, becoming brownish with large cracks as it ages. Leaves are drooping, elongated, 8 to 15 cm long and are clustered 5-11, alternately on a petiole attached to the branch.

The flowers are male and female (unisexual-monoecious), the male ones as 8-10 cm long, blackish-green, hanging catkins and the female ones are purple or greenish, without a tail. Blooms in April-May. The fruit is a spherical drupe 4-5 cm in diameter with a fleshy green skin. At maturity the husk cracks and releases the nut. Inside is the seed, the one we love so much in cakes.

Walnut wood - characteristics and properties

Note that walnut is a protected tree in our country and cannot be cut down without permission, even if it is in the owner's own yard, planted by the owner.

Walnut wood is appreciated for its special colour, interesting design and large pores. In cross-section through the trunk, the difference between sapwood and heartwood is very noticeable, the sapwood being greyish white and the heartwood light brown to chocolate brown with darker streaks. Unlike American walnutThe colour of the European one is lighter, with grey, purple or reddish iridescence, and sometimes the fibre can be wavy. The annual rings are well defined.

The texture is medium to fine, with moderate gloss and mostly straight fibre. In early wood the pores are large, half-round, visible and evenly spread over 2-3 rows, in late wood they are fewer and of medium size. The pores are often filled with tiles and salts. The medullary rays are barely visible to the naked eye.

Walnut wood has a density of 640 kg/m³ and Janka hardness 5400. The characteristics are the heartwood, the hollow part is used from the walnut, the sapwood is very weak and easily attacked by fungi and insects. Although it is resistant to moisture due to the pore tiles, it is considered moderately durable as it is not very resistant to insect attack.

Natural drying is slow, and speeding up the process can lead to tension and cracking. On drying it has a slight tendency to discolour. Forced drying should be done after clear, well-established cycles. If the fibre is straight, it is easy to process, both manually and mechanically. When the fibre is crimped or twisted processing is more difficult and may even damage the tools. It can be steam moulded, turned and carved without problems. There are also no unpleasant situations when gluing or finishing. It can be stained, but rarely are those who do because the natural colour is very pleasant. Because of the tannin content it can stain (stain) in direct contact with iron.

walnut wood
European walnut
photo source: vastern.co.uk

Uses of walnut wood

Walnut wood has been highly prized in the past, replacing mahogany and other harder-to-find exotics in the manufacture of luxury furniture. In the 18th century, much fine furniture was made from walnut. Massive felling that made it harder to find and more expensive, and the advent of American walnut on the European market, led to its decline in widespread use.

Solid walnut, however, remained the favourite of craftsmen, with veneer being used mainly in mass production. If the wood had wavy grain, the design of the veneer could be distinctive. Exceptional veneers are obtained from walnut root which are highly prized by manufacturers of luxury objects (cars, yahts) or musical instruments.

Walnut wood is used to make classic or modern furniture, table tops of great effect but especially objects considered special or luxury: pipes, jewellery boxes, corks for special bottles, special cigar boxes called humidor, gun beds and much more.

Because of the special colour, the fashion for walnut for furniture or objects made from other species has developed. However, the colour of walnut cannot recreate the natural beauty of walnut. It is impossible to achieve the same effect because the grain and pattern are totally different.

Although not a rare species, walnut wood is highly prized for its distinctive colour, interesting design and its ability to convey elegance to furniture and objects. Even more popular are walnut wood and veneers made from walnut root because of their unique design with wavy grain, knots and mirrors.

walnut wood
massive walnut root
photo source: talaricohardwoods.com
walnut wood
photo source: wildwestguitars.com
walnut wood
photo source: santientfurniture.com
walnut wood
cigar humidor
photo source: dreweatts.com

I hope you find the above information useful. As usual, additions are welcome. And if you have any questions or queries, please leave them in the space below. I'm sure I'll reply.

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.


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