Walnut is one of the most captivating hardwoods you can choose when commissioning custom furniture. Not only does walnut maintain the classic aesthetic of a space with dark wood floors and trim; it also stands out in a bright, modern room with lots of white color and light. Walnut is such a durable wood--it’s a great choice for building with longevity and durability in mind. Walnut is one of the most popular of the material options offered to our clients by Cannon Hill Woodworking.
Where Does Walnut Grow? Where Do We Source Walnut?
Walnut can be found throughout the Central and Eastern United States. Claro walnut, or California Black Walnut, can be found in California, typically in the southern half of the state. New England has some of the most abundant supply of walnut in the country. We purchase almost all of our walnut boards from mills in New Hampshire. Cannon Hill Woodworking also hand selects all of its walnut boards to ensure top quality and that beautiful grain patterns will make our customers’ furniture stand out.
We pride ourselves in fostering real relationships with local mills and sawyers. As a small business, we think it’s critical to always support other small businesses. The people we work with who sell us wood slabs out of their own backyard mills usually have a lot of unique choices available. Their stock is typically thinner--16 to 20 inches wide. These are slabs that are perfect for book-matching to make one large table top. By building a network of local wood sources, we’re kept up to date with what product is available and we can pass the most competitive prices on to our clients. That being said, sometimes the little guys don’t have the right slab for a particular table or client. For that reason, we also work with large distributors to get the biggest slabs of walnut possible. There is a correlation between size of the slab and cost of course, but as the slab grows beyond 20 inches the cost tens to go up exponentially because wider slabs are harder to find. This is when a client needs to decide what option is best for their aesthetic goals and budget!
Grain Pattern in Walnut
Walnut is a popular custom furniture and tabletop material because of its stunning grain patterns. While most buyers are only familiar with dark walnut wood, the outermost portion of walnut trees often yields a variety of color. It’s possible to find walnut in light and dark brown or tan shades, creamy white, chocolate, or even deep purple. Walnut’s pattern is what’s described as “open grain,” which means that the tree has a large and distinguishable grain. Because walnut already has such stunning patterns, we typically let walnut furniture have a natural finish and do not heavily stain the grain. That being said, if a customer wants a different look for his or her table, we’re happy to oblige. The grain in walnut is most noted for its wave and swirl patterns, and if you are lucky enough get a crotch piece (where the tree trunk splits into branches) you can see some spectacular glassy shore patterns that look like sand under a receding tide. It’s incredible.
Live-Edge Walnut Tables
Live-edge walnut tables are very popular due to the color variation you see throughout the wood. The cost of live-edge walnut tables will depend on the size of the table you’re looking for, and whether you’re willing to buy smaller slabs to “book-match” to achieve your desired table width.
Regardless of what type of live-edge table you opt for, our walnut live-edge tables are typically 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inches thick. Some of this depends on the specific board you’re working with. It’s not uncommon to obtain a slab that is 2 ½ inches thick, but it has a cup to it. So we use a router sled that flattens the slab on the top and bottom. Depending on the original shape of the slab, it may end up at 1 ½ inches thick. For a big live-edge or farmhouse style table, anything 1 ½ inches is a desirable thickness.
Book-Matching Live-Edge Walnut
Book-matching a live-edge walnut table involves finding two or three walnut slabs with live edges, cutting a clean edge on one side, and laminating the boards together. Book-matched walnut tables look seamless once complete, but if you look closely you can see the line where they’re attached. It’s still a gorgeous option and we typically use “sister slabs,” which are two walnut slabs that have a mirroring grain pattern because they are slabs that sit atop one another on a milled up tree. If you can picture a felled tree, and you are looking at the rounded trunk slices into 2 inch strips, any two of those that are in sequence are “sisters” of one another.
Full Width Live-Edge Walnut Slabs
If book-matching isn’t an option you’re interested in, it will take a fair amount of searching to find a live-edge walnut slab at an affordable price. This is because as walnut slabs get wider than 18-20”, you’re essentially only working with very old wood that has a lot of character. Due to its desirability, a live-edge walnut slab may cost upwards of 5x as much as a book-matched live-edge walnut table. That being said, there is something magical about finding that special slab that is one singular piece for your table.
Another consideration for a single-slab live-edge walnut table is how “even” you want your table to be. Because you have the live edge on both sides, your table shape will ultimately be whatever the shape of that tree was. This is not usually an even rectangle. It’s common to see a slab go from 36” wide to 46” inches wide over a 7 foot span. Live-edge slabs are like snowflakes: you’ll never find two that are exactly the same.
Finishing A Walnut Table
There are a few options that are common to finish a table. We use a food-safe, natural finish to make all walnut furniture water-resistant. Because walnut typically cannot be found as “reclaimed” wood, you will not see any holes from nails in the tabletops like you might with some of our other products, but it is possible for the walnut to have long cracks, known as “checks.” If this is the case, we can put a bow tie (an additional piece of wood to fill in the crack) in on the top or bottom of the wood and then fill the piece with epoxy. These can be great aesthetic additions or just a functional-ties to keep that check from growing. We also finish tables with a lacquer spray. It is a smooth matte finish that is the most stain resistant of all the finishes. Our middle finish is a oil-based-urethane. It has more stain resistance than the natural oils, but the same ease of refinishing that the lacquer spray doesn't have.
Interested in Walnut?
Due to its sturdiness and grain variety, walnut is one of the most desirable wood varieties on the market. At Cannon Hill Woodworking, we pride ourselves on hand selecting some of the best walnut available in New England. Each walnut piece is hand-built to the customer’s specifications to ensure our wood is a work of art. Make an appointment to come by our showroom to see samples of our walnut custom furniture yourself!