Black Walnut

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Black Walnut is one of the first hardwoods that I carved and over the years has remained as the principle wood that I use, particularly for sculptures. Although the dust can be irritating, particularly to someone like myself who has allergies, I find the odor pleasing, nostalgic, taking me back to the first time I cut into walnut over thirty years ago.

Perhaps it is only fitting that I am situated here, alongside Walnut Creek in an area where walnut trees are plentiful. I only have about an acre and a half of land and yet there are three large walnut trees on the property, 40 - 50 years old, and dozens of small ones that have sprouted since my arrival, six years ago.

Black Walnut, also known as American Walnut, is a large deciduous tree in the walnut family, Juglandaceae, and can attain heights of up to 130 feet. Native to eastern North America, the tree grows mostly in riparian zones, the interface between land and a stream or river. All three of my large walnut trees are growing on the crest of the bank of Walnut Creek.

Black Walnut Tree

Black Walnut Bark

Black Walnut Leaf

Black Walnut Fruit

Under forest competition, walnut trees develop a tall, clear trunk, while trees growing in a field typically have a short trunk and many more branches. For this reason, the field-grown trees produce more nuts, and in my opinion, yield the more interesting carving wood. Forest grown trees or field-grown trees that have been pruned are more desirable for lumber.

The bark of a mature tree is grey-black and deeply furrowed. The leaves are compound, 12-24 inches long, with 15Ė23 leaflets, the largest leaflets located in the center. The flowers ripen into a brownish-green, husk, containing a brown, corrugated nut, which is relatively small, and very hard.

The meat isn't easy to extract, but worth the effort, because it's tasty and quite nutritious. Walnuts are rich in protein, and contain a full complement of vitamins, including B vitamins and folic acid. They also contain a wealth of minerals, such as iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Hulled Walnuts

Hulled Walnuts

Black Walnut Logs

Walnut Logs outside workshop

Walnut logs or other sections of the tree are brought into the workshop to be processed. I like to use walnut when it is as fresh as possible, preferably within the first year after the tree is cut down.

The sapwood, the wood between the bark and the heartwood of walnut is typically a cream color, although this can vary greatly depending on when the tree is cut and how long the log is stored. The sapwood can turn dark, a grayish-tan color and many shades in between, but it is still usually pretty, which isnít the case with all woods.

The heartwood of walnut is brown of course, although when itís fresh the wood is actually a dark green, olive colorósomething many people donít know. I have cut open logs from a walnut tree that had been cut down for over a year and in the center, where the log had not dried, the wood still has this greenish hue. Once exposed to air, the color soon changes to the characteristic brown.

The log to the right is cut just above where the trunk is diverging into three sections. Typically some of the most interesting wood is found within such an area, with extensive sapwood, the grain running in all directions, and often some curly grain.

Black Walnut Log Cross Section

Walnut Log Cross Section

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