Black Walnut – considered America’s premier timber for furniture making since the country’s founding – is enjoying such a surge in popularity that it now faces a crisis of affordability. Over the past several years, worldwide demand has jumped to levels never seen before. Since the U.S. does not grow enough of the trees to satisfy this rapidly expanding demand, walnut lumber prices are spiraling ever higher.
A recent price survey revealed that high-quality, two-inch-thick Black Walnut lumber was selling for $11 per board foot, making it 70% more expensive than Cherry – another American favorite; and double the price of Maple – America’s most popular hardwood. What drives Black Walnut’s appeal is its remarkable and variable coloration – a blend of cream, light yellow and medium-to-dark browns. The wood’s lighter colors trace to its sapwood – the outermost portion of a tree’s trunk, branches and stems; whereas the darker colors come from the tree’s heartwood (dead wood near its center).
Long considered America’s “go-to” choice for such high-end furniture, over the past several years, overseas manufacturers have discovered huge demand for American Black Walnut in their home markets. Plus, they are now importing walnut lumber from the U.S. and converting it into finished products, such as flooring, for exporting back to the United States.
Black Walnut is also gaining popularity within the interior design community. According to Kathleen Grodsky, VP of Marketing at the online store Butcher Block Co., “Despite walnut’s higher prices, demand for the wood steadily increases. Designers and homemakers have always embraced natural wood countertops, but they really like walnut’s dark, rich and varied look and look to use it to top kitchen counters, islands and tables. Also, interest in live-edge walnut slabs is also on the rise. They can be made into rustic-looking countertops or spectacular tables for dining rooms or conference rooms.”
One U.S. company that relies on a steady and abundant supply of walnut lumber every year is Illinois-based John Boos & Co. Boos converts black walnut, plus three other North American hardwoods – hard maple, cherry and red oak – into butcher block tops for kitchen counters and islands, dining and work tables, kitchen carts and cutting boards too. Last fall, Boos raised prices on walnut countertops by 9% – three times the increase they enacted on maple, cherry and oak countertops.
Asked whether he is concerned about the steady advances in walnut lumber prices since then, Ted Gravenhorst, Jr., Boos’ VP of Sales and Marketing, said, “Like any manufacturer, Boos hates to ever raise prices, but sometimes we simply have no choice. We continue to monitor the situation closely. Based on current trends, we can’t rule out the possibility of another walnut price change before the year is out. That’s almost unprecedented, but it gives you an idea of the wood’s rapidly growing popularity.”
Black walnut trees (species: Juglans nigra), which can be found throughout the central and eastern U.S., can grow to be 100 feet tall and three to four feet in diameter. Typically found as scattered lone specimens or in small isolated groups within hardwood stands, they account for only about 5 percent of U.S. hardwood forests in total. It takes almost a century for a black walnut tree to fully mature, making it worth tens of thousands of dollars. When the U.S. was first settled, these trees were so common that they were used as firewood, fence posts and even railroad ties. Today, they’re so valuable that they are sometimes the target of tree thieves!
This industry news update is presented by Butcher Block Co. in collaboration with SerpHaus Media.
Release ID: 299866