Help with wood identification: Claro, or not Claro, that is the question

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Blog entry by Brian Havens posted 05-18-2010 06:11 PM 2792 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch


After releasing my video last week on turing wood from locally felled trees, I got a call from an old friend (actually my former boss), after he saw the video. He asked: “Hey Brian, I got this Walnut tree I cut down some time ago. Can you use it?” Now when one says Walnut tree in Northern California, this most likely means a “Hind’s Walnut”, better known to woodworkers as Claro Walnut.

Everything about this wood says Claro. It is from an area that was a Walnut orchard years ago, and, according to neighbor testimony, grew back from root stock after the orchard was cleared. The bark has the deep ferrules typical of the other Claro/Hind’s Walnuts I see here everywhere in the Bay Area. It smells like walnut. The only other Walnuts found in my area are English Walnuts that have been grafted to Claro/Hind’s Walnuts. I showed my friend pictures from my tree id book, and he pointed to Claro/Hind’s Walnut.

There is just one problem: The wood does not look like Claro Walnut, at least not like the Claro Walnut I have seen at wood suppliers and in photos on the web. The sapwood is very dark, and the heartwood is quite light and has a greenish hue.

It has me wondering….. Is this just what it looks like when it is green?

A couple of other facts: The tree was cut down over two years ago, but is still green. Some of the logs that were stored cut-face down, and sandwiched between another log, are quite green.


This is a freshly cut center section. The heartwood is quite light, and the sapwood dark:


Some wedges from a short log, used to make bowls with sapwood rims:

I roughed this bowl this morning from one of the above wedges. Note that the dark, sapwood is on top, and the lighter, heartwood is on bottom.

When I just got the logs home:

This crotch piece looks a lot more like Claro than the other pieces

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

9 comments so far

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4132 days

#1 posted 05-18-2010 06:25 PM

Sure looks like Claro to me

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 3194 days

#2 posted 05-18-2010 06:28 PM

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of or seen any spalted walnut, but it sure looks like you’ve got some spalt in those logs.

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 3197 days

#3 posted 05-18-2010 06:29 PM

Nice grab on some interesting wood. I’m in NW Oregon, see some walnut on regular occasion. I haven’t seen such dark sapwood either, but some of what you have pictured in the back of the truck looks quite light. The sapwood in logs I have seem to change color as they sit from the typical cream color to a greyish color; I have also seen the tanins stretch out into the sapwood as well, maybe that is what has happened to this wood. It is my understanding that west coast black walnut is either full or at least partially claro; but I can’t say I’ve done any scientific research. I see the green in sapwood shorly after I saw it, usually its a mold or fungus that washes off; a friend seeks that greenish hue for his work. I’d be interested in more posts.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Brian Havens's profile

Brian Havens

196 posts in 3345 days

#4 posted 05-18-2010 06:40 PM

Interesting: I just realized that the ones on the bed of the truck that have the lighter sapwood are the ones that were sandwiched between the ground and another log. I wonder if exposure to sunlight has something to do with it.

Spalted Claro Walnut. Spalted or Claro is already cool, but both! That is just too cool.

One other fact that I just remembered is that the tree was taken down due to root rot.

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

View mmh's profile


3677 posts in 3961 days

#5 posted 05-18-2010 07:19 PM

I do not claim to be an expert, but the Claro Black Walnut that I have purchased (from several sources) has many characteristics to it. Some are figured like the crotch piece you show and others are heavier in pattern or lighter, even the wood is different in density, usually determined by the grain growth. I would presume that one tree would have many areas of different grain growth, therefore including the crotch piece you show and other pieces that have less or little unusual graining.

It makes sense that if the tree has been grafted and is trying to adapt to this alteration, then the growth would be inhibited, thus creating the unusual (and beautiful) grain, color and density of the wood.

I did not know the Hinds Walnut was one of the varieties used to graft so this is interesting information. I would be interested in knowing what other varieties were used, as I like to pass on the history of the woods I use in my canes to my clients.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View jimp's profile


208 posts in 4000 days

#6 posted 05-18-2010 08:02 PM

I don’t know how interested you are to find out the real species of this wood, but you could always send a simple to the Center for Wood Anatomy Research at the USDA Forest Service. You are able to send 5 samples a year for free. At this link, you will find out information about how to send wood samples to the Forest Products Laboratory.

I hope this helps.

-- - Jim, Carroll, OH

View a1Jim's profile


117417 posts in 3816 days

#7 posted 05-19-2010 05:51 AM

Here’s a good place to check

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18424 posts in 3915 days

#8 posted 05-19-2010 09:14 AM

black walnut?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Brian Havens's profile

Brian Havens

196 posts in 3345 days

#9 posted 05-26-2010 06:17 PM

I knew I came to the right place for help, hints, and answers.

I think Nomad62 and uffutze touched on the issue. I soaked the blank in alcohol to speed up drying, and it has the side effect of washing away whatever was coloring the sapwood. I suspect that the tannins that soaked into the sapwood washed away in the alcohol bath. As well, some of the more seasoned logs that I cut up after my initial post look a lot more like what I would expect. The more green ones had the cut faces sandwiched between other logs and the ground, which kept them quite wet for a couple of years. Wet + time = fungus, a.k.a. spalting All the better. Diseased wood is some of the most spectacular.

(The same bowl blank from my initial post; sapwood on the ouside/rim.)

(These look a lot more Claro)

mmh: From what I have read, English (or more accurately, Persian) Walnut is grafted to the rootstock of whatever the local species of Walnut is, since the local species will naturally have the right characteristics for resisting disease. In the case of Northern California, that would be definitely Claro Walnut, a.k.a. Hind’s Walnut, a.k.a. Northern California Black Walnut. (Damned botanists, enough names already!)

I was not aware of the service that jimp pointed out. I will definitely make use of this. I regularly get local urban woods, and I often end up only guessing the species. Urban lumber can be tricky since it is often imported and hybrid. As such, the usual tree id books are only of limited use.

There was one pic in the link that a1jim posted, that looked somewhat like the my logs, with that green hue. Yet another clue.

Thanks again for the help folks!

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

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