From nut to table: the story of walnut trees in America

CS Woods currently carries slabs and dimensional lumber in five different types of walnuts, each with their own qualities and colors. Globally, walnut (scientific name: juglans) includes 21 species and can be found across continents from Europe to Japan, from Canada down to California and south again to Argentina. It is a deciduous species ranging in height from 30 to 130 feet. It is dense and has a tight grain with colors from whites in the sapwood to dark chocolates, reds and purples in the heartwood. Walnut is difficult to dry properly, but once dry, it is remarkably stable and is one of the favorite species of woodworkers everywhere. 

Claro walnut kitchen island bar extension crafted by CS Woods in 2020.

The most cultivated walnut tree, juglans (J.) regia, commonly called English walnut (but also sometimes called French) because English merchants marine once controlled its world commerce, produces the best variety of nut. Making up the largest orchard in the world (located in Iran), this tree had been integral in the development of walnut lumber because of both its popular nut and its adaptability. It was imported to California more than a century ago, and has changed both the native forest landscape and the timber industry.

Black walnut bookmatch table crafted by CS Woods in 2022
Black walnut bookmatched table crafted by CS Woods in 2021.

There are three native North American walnut trees used for lumber: the central and eastern American black walnut, J. nigra, the Nothern Californian black walnut, J. hindsii, (also known as Claro - named Hinds Walnut by the British botanist Richard B. Hinds in the middle 1800’s), and butternut (J. cinerea). English walnut was introduced to California through orchards and city planners. Because the claro/Hinds walnut was better adapted to the soil and climate conditions of the area, and it had a naturally vigorous, disease-resistant, and drought tolerant rootstock, it became widely used as a rootstock for English walnut orchards. The resulting grafted tree is often referred to as California English walnut or “Paradox”, named by Luther Burbank who conducted some of the first grafting/breeding experiments within the walnut species in 1879 to 1885. The section below the original graft remains claro while the section above is the lighter-colored English walnut. Some woodworkers have taken advantage of this by using the change in color of the wood as part of their work. (For more information and history about claro walnut, see our blog piece here.)

Grafted Orchard Walnut Trees: Photo courtesy of the California Walnut Board

CS Woods currently has claro, American black, bastogne, Oregon black, and grafted walnut wood in stock. Our claro walnut comes from native Hinds walnut planted by city developers around 100 years ago. Every tree in our carefully acquired inventory has a story and the walnuts are some of the most interesting. These old trees have been reclaimed from urban development, orchards, and family farms, and only removed when it is their time, often to make way for new planting. The American Black walnut stock hails from Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa and we even have native Colorado. Each region has a distinctive looking version of J. nigra due to environmental adaptation. We are carrying grafted English/claro that are impressive visual examples of the work done to improve orchard yields and longevity, classic English/French walnut gunstocks, and Kent just returned from a buying trip to Greece where we purchased old reclaimed farmland French Walnut logs that will become available as slabs in 2023. Check out our species searches on the website to see availability and feel free to call with questions and ask about specific sizes and stories! 

Claro/English Graft table crafted by CS Woods in 2021:
Claro and English Walnut Graft table crafted by CS Woods in 2021

Example of a variety of walnut species and their various grain patterns and colors:

June 28, 2022 — Alana Mace