At first glance, it seems unbelievable that a domestic wood species like Walnut lumber is actually more expensive than imported, exotic Genuine Mahogany lumber. We get that. But when you stop to consider the basics of lumber and species distinctions and the multiple factors that affect lumber pricing, hopefully it starts to make sense.
Imagine evaluating a person’s health or physical prowess based on how high the person could reach when he or she jumped. If that person were only 5 feet tall, and you were comparing that person to others who were over 6 feet tall, it just wouldn’t be quite fair, would it?
That scenario pretty much describes the situation with Walnut lumber, in a nut shell. But we’ll peek inside and look at the issue in greater detail.
Limited Growth Determines Availability
While as a domestic species, American Walnut is readily accessible to us, it doesn’t get that big. Comparing Mahogany to Walnut is like comparing apples to . . . pineapples, perhaps. Mahogany trees grow much larger and have far longer growing seasons. Maple provides a more appropriate comparison, since it’s a domestic species as well and has similar growing seasons; however, it too grows to be far larger and heartier than the Walnut tree. In fact, Maples can aggressively starve other trees, such as Walnuts.
The Walnut tree is a light-demanding tree that tends to struggle in windy areas. When surrounded by Maple trees and other aggressive species, it typically won’t grow taller than 30-70 feet. But there’s really nothing wrong with that. Since grading is, in many ways, a game of percentages that “punishes” shorter lumber, though, shorter species such as Walnut get the short end of the stick.
Walnut Eccentricities Necessarily Impact Grading
As you can imagine, this limited growth leads to a shortage of longer Walnut boards. Because Walnut trees also have more branches that are lower to the ground than, for instance, Oak or Maple, it more readily produces knots and wild grain patterns that fall outside FAS grading standards.
As a result, Walnut grading standards have been downgraded in order to allow more lumber into this top category; the aim is not to deceive but to make Walnut grading make sense. The aim is not to compare it to other species but to categorize it on its own merits so those purchasing Walnut can more accurately understand what, exactly, they’re purchasing.
A Top-Notch Supplier Will Help You Assess Quality
Here at J. Gibson McIlvain, we make sure our customers understand that when they’re ordering FAS Walnut, they should not expect it to be as long and clear as FAS Maple or Oak. Many furniture makers and others who love Walnut often request that species because of its knots and other so-called defects that would ordinarily exempt it from the FAS category. They also expect that boards will be shorter and have planned their project accordingly.
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.