why is black walnut so expensive

Why is Black Walnut So Expensive? (Who Is Using It?)

When I first got into woodworking at home, I would use any lumber I could find at my local Home Depot. However, most of the in-store wood is not hardwood. As you start working on different projects eventually you will find yourself looking for hardwood like Black Walnut say for a cutting board. But why does it have to be so expensive?

Black Walnut is more expensive due to its demand for use on quality home furniture, wood veneers and other fine woodworking projects.  American black walnut has also increased in popularity overseas, which boosts prices. With Black Walnut trees taking a minimum of 35 years to be cut and milled for lumber supplies can run tight increasing prices.

Lastly, the number of hobbyist woodworkers is growing rapidly, which again creates more demand than there is supply of black walnut. In the small community I live in, it seems that in just about every garage door left open, you can see all kinds of woodworking tools like table saws, band saws, planers, etc.

In this article, I will talk about what black walnut is used for in woodworking and where it comes from as well as some of the challenges that come with growing these trees. 

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What Woodworking Projects is Black Walnut Used For?

  • Gunstocks
  • Cabinets
  • Furniture
  • Cutting boards
  • Flooring
  • Trim and Moldings
  • Veneers

Black walnut will be used for higher-end pieces of furniture and for veneers on cabinets. You will, however, find that a lot of woodworkers are now implementing the use of black walnut into their woodworking projects. I have been seeing a lot of cutting boards lately made from black walnut mixed with other hardwoods to create beautiful and unique designs, colors, and patterns. Check out our cutting board post here on tools needed and other tips.

What you use black walnut for is up to you. It’s a beautiful wood. Next time you are at your specialty wood store, make sure to have a look at the walnut lumber. I am sure you can think of something awesome to create. 

The Trouble with Growing Black Walnut

If you live in the right growing zone for walnut trees, you should not have too much problem growing one of these trees. The problem with black walnut trees is their roots contain something called juglone. This compound is toxic to some plants and trees. It will kill or stunt the growth of other trees and plants. This means you need to do some research if you are growing the walnut trees among other plants. 

If you do choose to grow black walnut close to other trees, try to select trees that do not get as big as a walnut tree. Trees such as maples will crowd out a walnut tree, causing it to never grow to its full potential. 

Where Does Black Walnut Primarily Grow?

Black walnut will grow best in the USDA hardiness zones 5a to 9a. The soil should be somewhat moist but drains well. Sandy loam and silt loam fit that soil requirement. Most black walnut trees in North America can be found in south-central to southeastern parts of the United States. Some trees have been grown right up to the southern tips of the great lakes. 

Why Plant Black Walnut Trees?

If you enjoy big fast-growing trees, then consider the black walnut tree. They can grow 2 or more feet per year and can get up to 100’ in height. 

If you live on land that will be kept in your family, you could be setting them up for life by growing a grove of walnut trees. After approximately 30 years of growing your walnut trees, they should be large enough to have cut down for lumber. If you have enough trees, you will make a substantial amount of money. I have heard some folks in the south refer to their walnut trees as their retirement plan. 

The growth does not stop at 30 years either. I have read that some of these trees do not get cut down until they are at least 50 years old. 50 years would provide you with a tree that is at its peak of trunk girth. It does not stop there, however. Black walnut trees can grow for 80 to 90 years. That’s longer than a lot of humans get to experience life. 

Lastly, a black walnut tree is a massive tree that provides shade and wind protection. 

How Much, is a Walnut Tree Worth?

If a grove of walnut trees are referred to as a retirement plan then what’s a tree really worth?

Honestly, if you really want to know you will have to contact a milling company or check the market prices for black walnut and estimate the amount of lumber you could retrieve from your trees. Just remember the prices you see in retail will not be the prices you receive. You will still get a good dollar, though. 

You can have companies come out to your property and bid on specific trees before they are even cut down. That is what I would do – have someone commit to a purchase price before you cut anything down.  

Earlier, I said you could cut down your walnut trees after 30 years, but the truth is if you let them grow 50 or more years you will get more lumber from them. You will have to assess when it is best to cut them down. Some trees will grow faster than others. 

Is Oak or Walnut More Expensive?

This is a valid question. Which hardwood costs more than the other? Walnut is more expensive than oak. Oak is more readily available than walnut therefore the cost won’t be as high. You could go as far as to say that walnut is a rare hardwood because it is just harder to grow and then find in a lumber yard. 

That could change someday, maybe. If landowners become uninterested in growing oak trees but start growing more walnut, then that is when the tables would turn as far as pricing goes. 

Conclusion/Summary

To conclude and summarize the article, the important takeaways are that black walnut is growing in popularity throughout the world. So much so that there is a much higher demand than there is walnut lumber available which causes the market price to shoot upwards. 

Black walnut trees can grow for 80 to 100 years easily with the 30-year mark as when the trees are being looked at to start cutting them down for lumber. If you have these trees, it is much better to wait until around the 50-year mark (if you can) as the tree will offer much more lumber at this point. 

Because it takes so long for these hardwood trees to grow to maturity, some growers call their walnut trees their retirement fund. If the land they are on can be passed down from generation to generation, a grandparent or great grandparent could easily set their descendants up for like if they were to plant a large grove of the trees. 

Black walnut is growing in popularity with home woodworkers, which is also increasing demand while picking away at supply. I trust this article was able to help you understand why black walnut is so expensive. I know I enjoyed learning about how long these trees take to grow, and hopefully, you did too. 

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Hey, this is Brian and Gene Luoma. Since the two of us have pretty much been self-employed our entire lives, we have a lot of experience designing and creating all sorts of DIY projects for businesses and homes—projects that have helped us make money or save money through the years!

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