What is walnut veneer?

Written by mark morris
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What is walnut veneer?
Walnut veneers have a striking grain and deep, rich colour. (furniture image by Vladimirs Koskins from Fotolia.com)

Walnut is a hardwood used for furniture making and woodwork. Its rich brown colour, typically stained dark, makes it a good choice for library panelling or large furniture. In veneers, walnut has been a common choice for centuries. The most popular form of walnut veneer is walnut burl. Walnut has an unusual growth structure that allows individual small growth rings inside the normal pattern. When sliced thin, these burls can create beautiful patterns that have been used as decorative accents on all kinds of furniture.

Where Walnut Comes From

While famous for its meaty nuts, the walnut tree is also a centuries-old source of building material. The two main varieties of walnut lumber are from the English walnut and Black walnut trees. English Walnut, originally from Persia (Iran), was brought to the islands of the United Kingdom by conquering Roman armies. Black walnut is native to North America, and thrives in the cooler climates of the North East and New England. Other varieties are grown and harvested throughout the world.

Walnut Lumber

Although not commonly used in general construction as a dimensional lumber, walnut lumber has been prized for furniture making and woodworking for generations. Its tight, dense grain gives it exceptional strength and durability. Solid walnut lumber and veneers are used in the manufacture of musical instruments, gun stocks, clock cabinets, and high quality furniture. The colour and grain of walnut have been copied and imitated, with many pine and fir furniture pieces being stained to a dark walnut colour.

How Veneer is Made

Veneers are made by peeling or slicing very thin layers, typically 1/16 inch, from a hardwood log that has been soaked in hot water or steamed to soften the grain and prevent ripping. Veneers can be purchased from retail sellers or created in the shop with a band saw. Walnut veneers can be purchased in several varieties. Raw wood veneer, paper backed veneer, and veneer backed with heat activated adhesives are the most common.

How Walnut Veneer is Used

Walnut veneer may be used on its own, applied over lesser woods to give the appearance of solid walnut lumber. It is also commonly used in marquetry, also known as wood inlay, in combination with other hardwoods to create intricate patterns. In this application, the more exotic burled walnuts are very highly sought.

The Future of Walnut

Walnut lumber is growing scarce due to the long maturation of the trees for lumber and their susceptibility to disease. A single high quality, burl walnut log, suitable for making veneer, can bring a price in the thousands of dollars. Demand for walnut lumber may outpace the replanting of walnut groves due to the expense, long term commitment, and risk of investing in the planting of new walnut groves.

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