Characteristics of Walnut Wood

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Learning how to identify wood is hard! It is confusing to learn the subtle differences between types of wood. Large differences between wood types are forward. But small differences between similar coloured woods are trickier. That’s where understanding the key characteristics of walnut wood can help.


Table of Contents

How to identify Walnut Wood

With most types of wood, there are 5 key characteristics which can help you to differentiate each wood type from others.  These 5 characteristics are the colour, grain, texture, weight and scent.

5 Key Characteristics of Walnut Wood

  1. Colour: From rich creams to deep chocolates the colour of walnut can vary. Undertones will be warm reds and oranges and in darker colours you may experience cool purple and grey undertones. Streaks in the grains can be as dark as black.
  2. Grain: The grain pattern in walnut is predominately straight, fine lines with occasionally wavy features. However, a fan favourite of burled, knots, swirls and curly grains are used in decorative walnut veneer to create statement furniture pieces.
  3. Texture: the grain is slightly open and course but can easily be smoothed. With sanding and polishing, walnut can take on a luster which glows warm.
  4. Weight: Walnut is a hardwood which is medium density. A 10 cm cubed piece of walnut will weight approximately 0.65 to 0.7 kilogram. For comparison, the same size of Pine would weight 0.39 to 0.59 kilogram, while Teak would come in at 0.98 kilograms.  Curious to see the different weights of wood in both metric and imperial, check out this handy calculator.
  5. Scent: In Black Walnut the scent is stronger and can have a nutty smell.
lighter toned walnut wood. Possibly butternut wood
deep brown toned walnut wood. with wavy grain

Why is identifying wood important?

Identifying any wood is a useful skill to develop as a furniture refinisher.  It can raise your skills to professional level.

You can improve your skills with veneer instantly. You can better match veneer wood types for large repairs.

Burnt through veneer?  You can colour match with toners and corrective colour sticks.

Walnut wood  naturally changes colour and develops patina over time.  To keep the current colour tones, you will need to use an UV protective top coat.

Using the right products on walnut wood will enhance the beauty and quality of the product which you are producing.

Walnut wood is highly sought after for it’s beauty, lustre and rich tones. It is rarely stained due to the beautiful colours that it starts with and the patina that will develop over time. 

Replacing Walnut Veneer
Raw Walnut Veneer Replacement
Raw walnut veneer is one type of wood veneer, laid out to be cut into smaller sizes
Raw Walnut Veneer Sheets

Walnut Furniture is highly Sought After

Walnut wood is highly sought after for it’s beauty, lustre and rich tones. It is rarely stained due to the beautiful colours that it starts with and the patina that will develop over time. 

Discovering that your piece is walnut can change your refinishing plans.  You do not want to cover the grain as it can reduce the value of your finished piece. 

When confident that your piece is walnut, you should advertise it as such. Fully making use of the value of the uncovered grain.

Origins of Walnut Wood

Walnut wood is part of Juglandaceae family and grows throughout North American, Europe and Asia.  While there are 6 types of walnut trees which are used for wood working, there are two main types which I will focus on.  The Black Walnut (native to America) and the English or European Walnut.  While similar in many ways, each has a slightly different look and colour tone from each other.

European Walnut Tree
European Walnut
American Walnut Tree
American Walnut

Black Walnut Vs European Walnut

The American Black walnut, as you can imagine is known for its darker chocolate colours with warm red or even cool purple undertones. The grain is straight lined with occasionally curls.


European Walnut can vary in colour tones based on where the wood is grown.  Overall the wood tones are more varied in colour then their North American counter part.  They can range from creams and light tan to darker chocolate tones and contain red and orange undertones. You will often find that European pieces with walnut are veneer with elaborate grain patterns created by burls and knots.

Popular time-periods for Walnut furniture

While walnut has been used for century’s it was heavily featured during the 18th century in Queen Anne and Georgian Period.  It was again popular during the 1960’s with Mid-Century Modern furniture. This period leaned towards woods with warm colour tones.  This included walnut along with Teak, Rosewood and Mahogany.


Burled walnut cabinet
Walnut veneer cabinet. Bookend Veneer.

Benefits and Uses of Walnut Wood

Walnut wood it a hardwood which lends itself well to furniture making, flooring, cabinetry and even musical instruments. It does however differentiate from many hardwoods, in that it is a medium density wood.  Therefore, you will notice it is less heavy than say Teak.  Furthermore, due to it’s medium density, it makes it a more pliable wood type. 


For example, when I was able to bend walnut veneer over curved edges without the wood fibers breaking and splitting.  Walnut is a hardwood that can be steamed and formed into curved figures.

How to Finish Walnut wood

Walnut wood is most often identifiable from it’s colours. When it is first dried it can be paler in colour and take on almost a grey tone.  When you finish a walnut wood piece of furniture, you can manipulate the colour and grain with your finishing products.

By adding an oil rich top coat, such as a furniture wax, Osmo’s Poly Hard Wax Oil, or furniture oils such as; Tung Oil or Hemp Oil, you can bring out the grain in your piece.

I personally want to create durability and low maintenance for my customers. Therefore, I opt to use a shellac (de-waxed) in clear or amber.  I then add a durable water based top coat in a satin finish.


If you have not yet tried shellac, you can easily make your own shellac using this recipe.

Cutting Method Can Effect Walnut Wood

The manner in which your wood or veneer is cut can effect the grain pattern in walnut. Below are two pieces of walnut similar in colour but varying greatly in the visible grain pattern.  One example is flat cut while the other is an example of quarter sawn veneer.  The different cutting methods will expose the grain uniquely. 

Those looking to make repairs to an item should investigate the type of cut made and strive to match it.

Walnut Veneer grain pattern is from a quarter cut
Walnut Veneer - Quarter Cut
Walnut Veneer, wavy grain pattern is enhanced by a flat cut
Walnut Veneer - Flat Cut

Helpful Tools I Use for Identifying Wood

The Wood Identification & Use book by Terry Porter is by far the most helpful book I own for wood identification.

While it is not always easy to identify wood based on photos, this book remains the best I have found so far.

Wood Identification and Use by Terry porter
Various pieces of veneer as part of the wood identification kit from Sauers

By far the most helpful tool I have for identifying wood types is the Wood Identification Kit by Sauers. 

It is pricey and unfortunately it includes less common wood types. But the ability to hold, and compare wood against these veneer samples is incredibly useful. 

Wood Identification Kit from Sauers

Final Thoughts

Finally the best way to learn how to identify walnut wood is by simply practicing.  Challenge yourself when out shopping to guess the wood types.  Ask to confirm if your guess was correct.  Better yet, purchase small veneer samples in different types of woods. Use these samples to match against the wood you are working on.  


By understanding the distinctive characteristics of walnut wood, such as its color, grain, texture, weight and scent, you can confidently identify this sought after wood in any piece you finish.

Check out other parts of the Wood Identification Series.

How to identify Walnut Wood

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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

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