Selecting Walnut Project Lumber

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Forum topic by Rushman posted 09-30-2009 07:22 PM 6506 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Rushman's profile


13 posts in 2613 days

09-30-2009 07:22 PM

Over the last couple months I have bought many board feet of Walnut from a large kiln close to my house. When going through the stack to hand pick, some boards have a fair amount of white in them. I have been told that the dark is the heart and the white is the sap wood. When I look at galleries of projects people have posted I don’t recall seeing any that was not all dark with no white. Should I not hand pick any that are not solid dark in color? About 10% of what I have has the white in it. I realize that there may be many projects that the white would look good in, but I’m not seeing any pictures of completed ones. Also buying Walnut and cherry straight from the Kiln makes all projects affordable.

13 replies so far

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 3237 days

#1 posted 09-30-2009 07:27 PM

It is a personal preference thing. I used to only use the heartwood, I found the sapwood a defect. But some projects the lighter sap adds great character. It kinda depends on what you are building too. The short answer is if you like the looks of some sap…go for it ! If you don’t dress that off/pick those boards out for another project.

View AaronK's profile


1431 posts in 2795 days

#2 posted 09-30-2009 07:39 PM

so many double negatives!

but i get the point and echo Daren’s sentiments. I would use it to your best advantage. eg: two bookmatched panels with an interesting pattern of sapwood would be incredibly stunning.

View sry's profile


147 posts in 2939 days

#3 posted 09-30-2009 07:55 PM

You must be clairvoyant or something, because I was just pondering this exact issue this morning as I was sorting through my pile of walnut boards figuring out where they’ll go in my table project. I think what I’m going to end up doing is lay out the project so that they are hidden as much as possible, and if that doesn’t work try to stain it to match.

Some references:
The Wood Whisperer just tackled this exact issue on a walnut entertainment center he’s building
FWW How to Conceal Sapwood

View Rushman's profile


13 posts in 2613 days

#4 posted 09-30-2009 08:30 PM

Since I made the above post I have searched and saw alot of projects with the sapwood showing. Almost all I saw were book matched projects. If you have big enough saws or a good source, one could get very creative.

View WibblyPig's profile


168 posts in 2605 days

#5 posted 09-30-2009 09:28 PM

My personal preference on walnut and cherry is NO sapwood. Sapwood detracts from the overall design and makes it look like you just grabbed any old board and used it.

(unless it’s a Nakashima butterflied table top or the like – but that’s a completely different animal)

This is where it doesn’t work

This is where it works:

-- Steve, Webster Groves, MO "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

View AaronK's profile


1431 posts in 2795 days

#6 posted 09-30-2009 09:44 PM

i wonder what the point of that first one is. it could have TOTALLY worked if the table were designed to be more rectangular.

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5839 posts in 2916 days

#7 posted 09-30-2009 09:50 PM

I am led to believe wood is cheaper if it has a mixture of sapwood in it, as oposed to full heartwood .I hope they are not charging you full price for second choice timber.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View barlow's profile


129 posts in 3071 days

#8 posted 10-01-2009 02:31 AM

Scotsman is somewhat correct, its only cheaper if you are specifically buying sappy backed lumber, most woodworkers are under the understanding that sappier boards are cheaper because most are paying a premium for sorted black or red depending on if it is cherry or walnut. Just the opposite of maple where all most people want is the white sapwood.

-- barlow

View closetguy's profile


744 posts in 3223 days

#9 posted 10-01-2009 02:35 AM

Make end grain cutting boards from the ones with white sap wood. They look very dramatic.

-- I don't make mistakes, only design

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3153 days

#10 posted 10-01-2009 02:58 AM

As Daren said it is pretty much a personal preference. I do not purposely remove the sapwood from cherry or walnut because I like the contrast that it gives. If you want a homogeneous look to your project then either select lumber with minimal sapwood or cut it out in the milling process. But for me I like the look that sapwood adds to the project. The color variation adds visual interest to the piece.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Karson's profile


35027 posts in 3732 days

#11 posted 10-01-2009 03:03 AM

I’ve use only dark, but am starting to use the sapwood to some extent.

This is a Greene and Greene table that has sapwood on the aprons and lower shelf.

Click for details

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View papadan's profile


1157 posts in 2699 days

#12 posted 10-01-2009 03:20 AM

Walnut is my favorite wood, I use it with sapwood, knots, any “defects”

-- Carpenter assembles with hands, Designer builds with brains, Artist creates with heart!

View WibblyPig's profile


168 posts in 2605 days

#13 posted 10-01-2009 03:47 PM

One thing about staining walnut sapwood: walnut lightens as it ages so in a few years, your sapwood may stick out again as being darker than the rest of the piece. I treat sapwood as a defect and buy boards without it or cut it out as part of the milling process.

-- Steve, Webster Groves, MO "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

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