Evaluating Lumber Trends: Why Does Walnut Get Special Treatment?

Tall walnut dresser

Tall walnut dresser

We looked a little bit at how the natural characteristics of Walnut impact a project in a previous post, but now we’re going to look a little more in depth at why, exactly, that species is graded so uniquely. Maybe you don’t even realize that Walnut is graded on a different scale than other North American hardwoods.

Of course, lack of understanding can lead to unrealistic expectations, and frustration is the inevitable result. Since no one likes to be frustrated, let’s take a look at the issues that come into play with Walnut grading.

If you’re not already familiar with the general scope of NHLA grading, you may want to read this post before you continue below.

FAS (First and Seconds)

Black Walnut tree

Black Walnut tree

While above-grade Walnut (in unusually long and wide boards) can be found, it is quite rare, so the pricing will reflect that fact. The highest official grading category for Walnut, compared to other species, is defined as follows:

• Board Size: Minimum of 6’x5” with 80% measuring 8’ and longer (as opposed to 8’x6” for all boards)
• Clear Cutting Size: Minimum of 3’x4” or 6’x3” (as opposed to 5’x4” or 7’x3”)
• Defects Allowed: 6-7’x5” are permitted with wane along edges with splits no longer than 6” on one end and no more than 1 defect, or 2 defects for boards 8” and wider (as opposed to a minimum board size of 8’x6” and 83.3% clear and defect free on both faces)

Selects

Essentially, this grading category keeps the same standards as FAS, but only for 1 face; the other face must meet the standards for #1 Common (unless otherwise noted).

Walnut pie crust table

Walnut pie crust table

• Board Size: Minimum of 6’x4” (the same as other species)
• Clear Cutting Size: Minimum of 3’x4” or 6’x3” (as opposed to 5’x4” or 7’x3” for only one face)
• Defects Allowed: 83.3% clear on only one face with the second face meeting the standards of #2 Common Grade (the same as other species)

#1 Common

This grade isn’t very popular, but it should be! It still includes plenty of usable lumber if your application allows you to work around knots or include them in your design. As you can see from the details below, the only difference in #1 Common Grade Walnut and other species in the same grade category is that smaller Walnut boards are allowed into the grade.

Walnut side table

Walnut side table

• Board Size: Minimum of 4’x3” (the same as other species)
• Clear Cutting Size: Minimum of 2’x3” (as opposed to 3’x3” or 2’x4”)
• Defects Allowed: 66.6% clear on both faces (the same as other species)

#2 Common

Most consider #2 Common to be the lowest grade; lumber that fails to meet the following standards is often used for utility purposes such as pallets. Because boards are small but can be quite nice on one side, this grade of most species is perfect for hardwood flooring, which is often made from narrow boards and only one face will be seen. For Walnut, however, the clear pieces are often so small that it’s reserved for applications that rely on a rustic appearance.

• Board size: 4’x3” (the same as other species)
• Clear Cutting: 2” wide with no length requirements (as opposed to 2’x3” for other species)
• Defects: 50% clear on the better face (the same as other species)

Moulding quality control at J. Gibson McIlvain

Moulding quality control at J. Gibson McIlvain

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.

As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

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