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#1: Black Walnut

Konas

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Welcome to the first entry in our new blog, The Log Blog. In this series of articles, I will be writing about the amazing woods we use at Dog Might to create our line of Kickass Gaming Accessories. I will feature a new wood in each article and share its history, general properties, some fun facts, and, finally, my personal thoughts from a Viking lumberjack’s perspective.

Our first entry will be a Dog Might favorite, American Black Walnut. Feel free to suggest other woods or ask any questions you might have in the comments section below.  

 

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AMERICAN BLACK WALNUT

General Info

Black Walnut is an extremely popular wood among woodworkers. Its ease of use, coupled with its rich brown coloration puts the wood in a class by itself.  Beyond it’s well known color, the wood also has good dimensional stability, shock resistance, and strength properties. We have made many wooden mugs out of Walnut to hold our Lumberjack mead and, after many a rowdy night, they are still in use today (except for one, but that was due to our foreman, Puzz Longbeard, and his predilection to smashing things with his flail which has, subsequently, been banned from future game nights).

Black Walnut, known to smarter folks than me as Juglans nigra, grows mainly in the Eastern and Central United States. It occurs in moderate numbers nearly everywhere in the U.S. east of the Great Plains, except for New England and south Florida. Clearly, Black Walnut trees have a tremendous fear of Lobsters and Gators.

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Black Walnut trees grow up to 150’ tall with long, straight trunks up to 3’ in diameter. Their black or dark gray bark is deeply marked with furrows and ridges. Their compound leaves, much like myself, are smooth on top and fuzzy underneath.

History

Native American Indians found many uses for Black Walnut trees long before Europeans arrived, using walnut tree sap in their food preparation and making dye from the nut husks. Archeological evidence in the upper Great Lakes region indicates walnut consumption dating back to 2000 BC. I can also personally attest to Walnut consumption in the lower Great Lakes region a couple of weeks back.

Because walnut was such a valuable and in-demand species for so long, it's probably the most studied and researched hardwood species in North America. Scores of articles have been published and genetically superior stock has been offered. Substantial efforts at planting walnut and caring for plantations have also been put forth.

Oddities

Black Walnut trees often stand alone in the forest because their roots and dead leaves produce juglone, a toxic chemical that can kill other vegetation. The tree's roots secrete the poisonous substance in a toxic zone that can reach a 60-foot radius from the trunk. The affected area extends outward each year as a tree enlarges. Horticulturists recommend not planting tomatoes, rhododendrons and azaleas within 80 feet of any walnut tree.

The Black Walnut is one of the first trees to lose its leaves in autumn. Like my buddy Phil who went bald in his early 20s, they all shed early.

Walnut husks can be used to make your own homemade wood stains. Use the pigment inside them with household ammonia to make a rich walnut stain that will allow other woods to darken up and continue to darken with time. The nuts are also perfect for throwing at slow moving zombies.

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Thoughts from a Woodworker

When I was just a wee Viking lad, I thought of Black Walnut as stodgy and very traditional. As Dog Might began to grow, we were trying out loads of new exotic woods from far off places. Seeing Bubinga or Padauk for the first time just blew my mind as I had never witnessed lumber like that in person (I have always been a fan of the new shiny). As a result, Walnut got pushed down on my list of favorite woods. But with experience comes a respect for the subtlety of the classics and I began to take notice of this gorgeous wood. The lovely deep browns interlaced with rich purples and reds caught my sawdust filled eyes more and more. I must admit, the joy of working with the wood could be influencing this as well. It is wonderful to work. It sands easily, cuts well, sculpts like butter, and takes an amazing finish. I also started to recognize how rare dark colored, usable wood is. Peruvian Walnut is readily available and we have used it a number of times but it is much lighter and feels much more fragile in hand. For my gaming table, I need a wood that can stand up to some abuse.

Me and the other owner are such fans of the wood that we used a live edge slab of feathered crotchwood (no jokes, please) to build our conference/ gaming table in our new Dog Might HQ.

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So, think of Black Walnut like I think of my dear old Polish Great Grandmother. When I was younger, she seemed old, stuck in days long gone, and anything but contemporary. As I matured, I started to see her as she truly was; complex, worldly, and stunningly beautiful. Come to think of it, she also had great dimensional stability.

 

Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible.

 

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Despite the distribution map I can confirm black walnuts grow and thrive in southern New Hampshire. My neighbor across the street alone has a handful of massive ones estimated to be 100+ years old.  Like clockwork we know New England leaf season is a few weeks away when the large green tennis ball sized pods (not sure what else to call them) that contain the walnuts start pelting the ground below. For a couple weeks our street is filled with the crunching sound of cars running over them.

My year old car got its first decent dent a few weeks ago when one of them dropped directly onto my hood as I pulled out of the driveway. Thankfully black walnut season wound down a week ago.

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