Walnut – A deep rich reddish brown wood with an assortment of nice grains. A wood that speaks of luxury and refinement, of the old days when men were men, and of old smoking lounges where one might enjoy a nice congac and cuban. The king of domestic woods, with Red Oak it’s queen.
Red Oak – a stunning course textured wood with a riot of variation between the grain. Quartersawn varieties show off its tiger stripes, the seductive huntress of domestic woods….
And I hate them both.
“Why”, you might ask?
Because they’re overrated. Because there’s more woods out there than oak, walnut, and pine. Because despite how much we are trained to think of walnut and oak as luxurious expensive woods, they really aren’t.
Oh trust me, I hate pine too. But at least pine is treated somewhat like the bastard child it is of the wood world.
Pine doesn’t induce the average consumer to drool over it like walnut does. Show the average non-woodworker a piece of aged, brown rosewood, and they’ll probably assume their being shown walnut. And here’s the funny thing: tell them it’s rosewood, and they don’t know WHAT to make of it. You’d be better off letting them believe they have a chunk of common steamed walnut in their hands than the more exotic wood it actually is!
I know this because I work in selling furniture, and have witnessed it!
Oak gets less ooh’s and ahh’s, but at the same time gets a lot of attention. It’s supposedly the #1 hardwood in the US. It’s the “not pine” of the furniture world. Its status is that of a grand hard wood that will last almost as long as walnut (though walnut is jesus-wood to the common consumer. It’ll last 900 years without a scratch), and because the grain is so distinct (and identifiable), it’s often considered an admirable quality.
But, those three woods aren’t the only woods out there!
Maple is MUCH cheaper($9 walnut, $5 oak, $4 for non-white hard maple off of one source), much harder (Janka ratings: 1450 for hard maple, 1290 for red oak, and only 1010 for walnut!), has a finer grain, and better figuring!
Hickory is another. Comparable in price to oak, hickory is THE wood for furniture making. It bends well, is remarkably strong and hard (hardness of 1820!), and takes stains well.
In fact, instead of staining oak, cherry gives a much better, much more natural reddish color, and only increases its luster over time (but it is softer and midway between the walnut/oak price range).
And we’ve only touched upon the more common domestics!
Exotics are even more amazing, with greater variety and with even more amazing hardnesses. Woods literally harder than iron. Woods with so much color, their names speak for themselves: Osage Orange, Purpleheart, Zebrawood, Bloodwood, Canarywood, Tulipwood…. Aromatics like rosewoods, Grain patterns unheard of: leopard wood, lacewood, wenge…
So oak and walnut? Yeah. Rather boring woods. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty, but not worth the fanfare.