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How To Identify Black Walnut Furniture?

difference between ring-porous, semi-ring porous, and diffuse porous

Table of Contents

Beautiful broad-leaved forest
▲Beautiful broad-leaved forest

Black walnut is the most expensive hardwood in the United States. The price is around CNY20,000/cubic. So there are woods on the market pretending to be black walnut.

So how to identify black walnut furniture?

We can judge from the following:

1Price:Expensive
2Color:Dark with golden sparkle
3Textures:straight, water drop, flame, wavy, golden burls, and bird peck
4Paint:wax oil or open lacquer only.
5Hardness:very hard
6Bending:yes
7Size:not extensive and thick
8Weight:not heavy
9Difference
from walnut veneer:
solid black walnut has an annual ring and pinholes at the end.
10Difference from imitations:1, black walnut has non-evident but distinguishable annual rings;
2, Black walnut has gorgeous textures

1. Judge by the price.

The stock of black walnut in the United States only accounts for 1% of the hardwood forest.

In 2017, China imported 10 million cubic meters of hardwood. While the felling volume of the North American black walnut was only 1.6 million cubic meters. And the total stock volume was only 126 million cubic meters.

Thus, black walnut is still a rare species even if China does not buy it in large quantities.

So we usually apply black walnut in high-end products, such as museum decoration, gun stocks, and luxury car trims.

luxury car trims made of black walnut wood
gun stock made of black walnut wood

So if the factory’s offer is cheap, it must not be black walnut or not all black walnut.

2. Judge by color.

The original black walnut core is darker, and the sapwood is lighter. The sapwood will be as dark as the core after distillation.

black walnut core is darker, and the sapwood is lighter.

Some people try to imitate black walnut. They paint a chocolate color but can’t replicate the texture and golden sparkle.

the texture and golden sparkle of black walnut can't be replicated.

3. Judge by the texture.

Black walnut has six textures: straight, water drop, flame, wavy, golden burls, and birds peck. The straight and flame grains are the most common.

Black walnut has six textures: straight, water drop, flame, wavy, golden burls, and birds peck.

Golden burls are the injury from blocked insects or damage from impact. Scar tissue usually appears on the roots or tree trunks close to the ground. The fibers twist together to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

black walnut Trunk tumor
▲Trunk tumor
black walnut Tree root nodule
▲Tree root nodule

Black walnut burl is a unique texture. Its beauty is sought after by furniture makers, craft enthusiasts, and woodcarving artists.

black walnut bowl

The six textures are the essential basis for identifying black walnut. We can tell it is black walnut if it has four or more patterns.

Golden nodules are a help to identify the black walnut.

4. Judge by the paint.

The texture of black walnut is its core feature. Only wood wax oil or open lacquer will add golden gleam, smoothness, and delicate to the surface. And by this feeling, you can tell it is a genuine black walnut.

So we don’t do a thick paint coating on black walnut. No matter how shiny and smooth this back paint coating is, it’s rubbish.

So a handy trick for judging black walnut is to check what kind of paint is on the surface! If it’s thick and shiny, it’s not black walnut.

black walnut with thin and satin varnish

5. Judge by the hardness.

The following is a detailed data comparison table of various solid wood.

specific gravity(when the water content is 12%)average weight(when the water content is 12%), Kg/m3average volume shrinkage:(from wet wood to 6% moisture content)%modulus of rupture, MPaElastic Modulus, MPaCompressive strength (with grain),MPaHardness, N
red birch0.41 44910.1 67,571 9,515 40,129 2624
ash0.60 6736.2 103,425 11,997 51,092 5871
white poplar0.38 4179.2 57,918 8,136 29,304 1557
basswood0.37 41712.6 59,987 10,067 32,613 1824
beech0.64 72113.0 102,736 11,859 50,334 5782
yellow birch0.62 68913.4 114,457 13,859 56,332 5604
cherry wood0.50 5619.2 84,809 10,274 49,023 4226
poplar0.40 44911.3 58,608 9,466 33,854 1913
elm0.53 59311.0 89,635 10,274 43,852 3825
eucalyptus0.52 54512.0 86,188 11,308 43,576 3781
magnolia0.53 59313.5 76,535 8,205 37,509 3914
walnut0.75 83314.3 138,590 15,583 63,365 N/A
pecan0.66 737N/A94,482 11,928 54,126 8095
hard maple0.63 70511.9 108,941 12,618 53,988 6450
soft maple
safflower maple0.54 60910.5 92,393 11,308 45,093 4225
Pacific Coast/
Big Leaf Maple
0.48 5459.3 73,777 9,998 41,025 3780
red oak
Quercus rubra0.63 7056.6 98,599 12,549 46,610 5738
Quercus falcata0.68 753N/A75,156 10,274 41,991 4715
white oak0.68 76912.6 104,804 12,273 51,299 6049
sycamore wood0.49 54511.4 68,950 9,791 37,095 3425
goosefoot wood0.42 4499.8 69,640 10,891 38,198 2402
black walnut0.55 60910.2 100,677 11,584 52,264 4492
willow wood0.39 41711.5 53,800 6,960 28,300 N/A
▲Please see data of black walnut
a detailed data comparison table of various solid wood.

Black walnut is medium in density but decent in hardness. Black walnut is not considered a hardwood (white oak and hickory are). But at the same density, black walnut is a harder wood (like cherry). The intuitive feeling is that it is rigid and sturdy but not heavy when you move it.

6. Judge by the bending.

We can easily process the black walnut, especially steam bend. Yet many other kinds of wood are too rigid to steam bending.

So if you have bent solid wood board in your furniture, it is likely black walnut.

black walnut can be easily steam bent
black walnut can be easily steam bent

7. Judge by size.

black walnut wood (sawn lumber) is usually 4/4 (1 inch, or 2.54 cm) thick. So a piece of extensive and thick board is not black walnut.

8. Judge by the weight.

Black walnut is not heavy.

The specific gravity of black walnut is only 0.55, lighter than other wood. Thus, if your furniture is heavy, it is not black walnut.

9. Judge solid black walnut from black walnut veneer.

We need to be more careful with the furniture made of black walnut veneer because the veneer may cheat you.

We can check the annual ring grain. The annual ring on black walnut is not as apparent as on oak. But we can still check the following:

1) If the board is veneered, the board end side can never be with an annual ring pattern. If there is no annual ring, it is not black walnut.

black walnut wood with annual ring pattern

2) There will be dense pinholes between the two rings. The end side of the veneered panel can’t have such pinholes.

black walnut wood board ends with dense pinholes between the two rings.

10. Judge North American black walnut from imitations.

10.1. North American black walnut (the only authentic walnut)

Aside from Chinese mahogany, North American black walnut is the most valuable hardwood.

1) It is the most authentic black walnut

North American black walnut is Jugaceae, Juglans, and black walnut species. The Latin name is “Juglans Nigra”, abbreviated as “J Nigra”. From family genus to species, it’s all named after walnut. So it’s the most authentic.

A black walnut tree will take 50 to 100 years to grow.

The United States has a well-developed forest products industry. It has robust logging and processing capabilities. It also has the world’s most stringent lumber grading system (NHLA).

People love North American black walnut because of NHLA’s strict requirements.

▲White sapwood and the chocolate color core.

2) Judge North American black walnut from imitations.

When you check a wood (i.e., tabletop), except for the frontal surface, you need to check the “end side” with annual rings.

end sides comparision of black walnut and other woods

These are seven samples claimed to be walnut in the photo above. But only two pieces are genuine North American black walnut.

Let’s follow the below to identify.

1) The one without annual rings must not be North American black walnuts (not even walnuts). [Remove No. 1, 2, 7].

2) The one with an evident and rough annual ring pattern is not North American black walnut (oak). [Remove No. 4. 5].

3) The one is North American black walnut if it has unclear annual rings, pinholes between the rings, and more pinholes near the rings. [No. 3 and 6 matches].

unpainted North American black walnut, with unclear annual rings and pinholes.
▲No. 3, unpainted North American black walnut, with unclear annual rings and pinholes.
North American black walnut after painting. We can see the pinholes in the light.
▲No. 6, North American black walnut after painting. We can see the pinholes in the light.

These pinholes are the vessels of hardwood but not coniferous trees. We divide the wood into ring-porous, semi-ring-porous, and diffuse-porous wood.

comparison between ring-porous, semi-ring-porous, and diffuse-porous

Ring-porous wood has evident annual rings, such as ash and oak wood.

Semi-ring-porous wood has non-evident but distinguishable annual rings, such as black walnut.

Diffuse-porous wood has no annual rings, and some have no texture, like most fake black walnut.

South American walnut, a diffuse-porous wood.
▲No. 7 South American walnut, a diffuse-porous wood.

10.2. South American black walnut – rain wood (good texture counterfeiters)

Many people favor South American black walnut because North American black walnut is expensive.

There are many “South American walnut.” But the closest one is “Rain wood.”

Rain wood is called rain bean wood, amber wood, or acacia wood. It has the Latin name Samaneasaman (Jacq.) Merr. It belongs to the leguminous family, the Mimosa subfamily, and is a rain tree. It comes from South America, especially Ecuador.

Large board desktop made of large rain wood
▲Large board desktop made of large rain wood

Although it is a counterfeiter, large rain wood boards are not cheap in China.

Large board tabletop made of large rain wood
▲Large board tabletop made of large rain wood

Because of the large gap between the grades, prices for rain wood are not stable. Generally, furniture grade is CNY6000~10000/cubic, cheaper than North American black walnut. But it is still more expensive than oak.

10.3. Southeast Asian walnut – Terminalia (popularity-tracking imitators)

Terminalia is a kind of plant of the Gentianaceae, the genus of Terminalia. It has several names: Gold sandalwood, Gold teak wood, Golden walnut, Kasnan, and casla.

The wood is stable and can be low-end furniture wood.

In terms of color, texture, and feeling, terminal wood/casla is far worse than black walnut. It is the same grade as rubber wood without texture. And the price is about CNY3000 / cubic.

10.3. Southeast Asian walnut - Terminalia (popularity-tracking imitators)
▲The texture is like this.
Southeast Asian walnut furniture- Terminalia (popularity-tracking imitators)
▲This is the furniture made of Southeast Asia walnut.

10.4. African Walnut – Oakland/Okoume (the most counterfeiters on the Internet)

There are many such walnut pieces of furniture in Nankang, Ganzhou of Jiangxi.

China imported Aucoumea Klaineana, an African wood, before 2001.

Okoume has been popular for a long time and occupies the term “red walnut” in Baidu Encyclopedia. Besides, it is often referred to as red walnut, red sandalwood, golden sandalwood, etc.

It also claims to be the “king of African trees.” Besides, it also has a rustic Chinese name, “Peach Blossom Core.”

The board to make walnut wood furniture on the market is generally “Okoume straight board.”

It is the final product after painting.

It is chocolate color at first glance, but the texture and feel differ from black walnut.

African Walnut - Oakland/Okoume (the most counterfeiters on the Internet)

Summarize:

1. North American black walnut is the only authentic black walnut.

It has excellent visual effects and value preservation. It is the first choice if your budget is enough.

2. The South American black walnut is not authentic but has an excellent visual effect.

South American rain wood will be a good choice if you are not picky and accept similar colors and textures. It is cheap.

3. Terminalia wood (Okoume) differs a lot from walnut. It is low-grade wood with unstable quality. It is a choice if the budget is not minimal or if it is pleasing to your eye.

South American walnut and North American black walnut compared.
▲South American walnut and North American black walnut compared.
South American walnut, North American black walnut and oak in walnut color compared.

If you have a soft spot for chocolate color:

1) if you have enough money, choose authentic black walnut.

2) If you want a black walnut look but don’t have enough money, choose South American walnut.

3) If you prefer oak patterns or an oak’s hardness and density, choose oak in walnut color.

North American black walnut dining table
▲North American black walnut dining table
South American walnut dining table
▲South American walnut dining table

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