Anyone ever use butternut?

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Forum topic by lumberjoe posted 07-01-2012 12:51 AM 5024 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2899 posts in 2393 days

07-01-2012 12:51 AM

I went back to the mill I usually get wood at this morning to pick up some oak. As usual I ended up talking to the owner for about an hour about wood, projects and finishes. He mentioned his favorite wood to work with is butternut and showed me some cabinets he is working on. It is really interesting and beautiful wood, even unfinished. He mentioned it is extremely difficult to work with, and then showed me why. He doesn’t sell it, but showed me a pallet (well over 1000bf) of his personal stash. It’s all got A LOT of huge knots and cracks through the boards.

To my surprise, he told me I could just take one for free, and handed me a 8 foot long, 14” wide 5/4 board. I’m not sure what I can do with it as I looked around and it’s not to popular of a wood stocked (in the north east anyway).

Any ideas on what I can do with this? Technically it’s a hardwood, but it’s on the soft side. Also, any tips on planing this down? I’ll take some pics tomorrow but there are some BIG knots. If I cut around them I wouldn’t have too much left


9 replies so far

View ksSlim's profile


1286 posts in 3034 days

#1 posted 07-01-2012 01:40 AM

Butternut carves nicely. Might try a chip or relief carving on it.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View dpwalker's profile


273 posts in 2976 days

#2 posted 07-01-2012 07:51 AM

I have done some carvings with butternut in the past. The “sawdust” is more of a cottony fabric texture than dust. Using a fine tooth blade resulted in a clogging of the teeth.

-- You have not really lived until you do something for someone who can never repay you.

View knotscott's profile


8129 posts in 3520 days

#3 posted 07-01-2012 08:12 AM

I bought some in northern PA a couple of years ago and made an interior door from it. It’s light, softer than many hardwoods, and very nice to work with. The natural grain is nice, but IMHO the color is a bit plain.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3528 days

#4 posted 07-01-2012 12:37 PM

Although a lot of knots will make any wood difficult to work with, butternut itself is a very easy wood to work. You can do anything with this wood that you can do with any other wood. Here is a project I posted that is made of butternut. The collapsible heart is red oak, but the curling iron and hair dryer holder with the box is butternut.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3130 days

#5 posted 07-01-2012 01:13 PM

The only real challenges I found with butternut were turning it. I struggled, and I tried a couple of times. If you work it flat, and let it “go with the grain” it was much easier and can be really, really beautiful. It planes just fine for me ..

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View helluvawreck's profile


32083 posts in 3011 days

#6 posted 07-01-2012 02:03 PM

I’ve seen a lot of things that Wayne Barton made with butternut in his chip carving books and they are absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to get some to try. Anything chipped carved out of butternut is a lot prettier than if it were done out of basswood.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Don W's profile

Don W

18962 posts in 2712 days

#7 posted 07-02-2012 04:17 PM

Butternut is one of my favorite woods. Here is just a few of the buternut projects.

Click for details

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View SteviePete's profile


226 posts in 3447 days

#8 posted 07-02-2012 10:24 PM

I like butternut for carving, mills, hand tools, glues well, fairly stable when fully dry. As you mention, lots of limbs, pith, bark inclusions, cracks. Woodworker friendly but like walnut some folks are sensitive to the dust. It requires full sun, ample moisture and grows well in open areas—like pasture edges here in Wisconsin. Holds leaves late in the fall. If it grew in tight stands it would have fewer limbs etc and would yield better logs and lumber. It is (in most cases) only taken when a portion of the tree is diseased and dying. The canker will eventually take it like the Dutch Elm disease has done. It is sold largely in small lots—many folks harvest it year by year and make a run of paneling. Looks great, many style options—pecky, borer holes (at least three different sizes) Lots of small items are made. Shaker lampstands, sconces and lap desks are in the Handberg books. The flatsawn lumber shows double or triple cathedral figure. Cut to boards it checks and twists. I leave it in larger sizes and resaw later. Cannot be planed or machined when wet—big stringy mess. Locals here also use solar kiln or similar to dry. Some say it is not a tough wood. I have tried as have others to use butternut in canoe paddles—works great but no weak lumber and I do put a 2oz. fiberglass laminate and urethane tips. Probably why the last longer. Check They make cabinets carved in scandanivan style or Plan on 50%+ waste or scraps. Carvings in butternut place high in the Iowa show—See Fred Cogelow. It has an earthy, not unpleasant odor. I get more usable wood if I treat the ends of boards and bolts with anchor seal. As mentioned above chip carving, relief and full figures are all great projects in butternut. Check the three sites mentioned—they are among the best examples. Seedlings are available from non-diseased stock from a fellow in Deer River, MN. No stain please—try oil and wax finishes. Try it, you’ll like it.

-- Steve, 'Sconie Great White North

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2393 days

#9 posted 07-03-2012 12:33 PM

Steve, thanks that was very helpful. Here is what I have to work with:


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