BOTANICAL NAME: Juglans cinerea of the family Juglandaceae, the walnut family

There is only the one species in North America, but there are also 3 species of butternut that grow in the Orient. These are J. ailantifolia, J. cathayensis and J. mandshurica

juglans is the classic Latin name of walnut, meaning nut of Jupiter (the God) and probably refers to his favorite snack as opposed to his testicles, but hey, I could be wrong about that.

COMMON NAMES: grey walnut, lemon walnut, nogal blanco, oil-bean-nut, oilnut, tocte, tropical walnut, white walnut

TYPE: hardwood

COLOR: heartwood is medium brown to tan, sometimes with a golden, pinkish, or amber tinge, and the narrow sapwood is very light tan. Grain lines are darker, sometimes quite dark. When fine-sanded and oiled or waxed, it is very beautiful, with a creamy, buttery, golden brown

GRAIN: straight to irregular, very noticible and can produce excellent "cathedral grain" figure. Occasionally, butternut will have FLUTED GRAIN

TEXTURE: uniform and medium to coarse but even so, it has a satiny luster that can be brought out with very fine-grit sanding and a light touch

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: a relatively light, soft wood that is easy to work, machines and turns well although you have to be careful about tearout when turning. sanding may cause a fuzzy surface unless fine grit abrasives and a light touch are used. Works well with both hand and machine tools, and is good for nailing, screwing and gluing, with low strength, stiffness, shock resistance

DURABILITY: Moderate to poor --- resistance to heartwood decay is low to none and it does not take preservation treatment well

FINISH: finishes well but will not take a high natural polish (it's too soft and porous)

STABILITY: very stable in service

BENDING: weak in bending

ODOR: no characteristic odor or taste

SOURCES: native to the eastern United States and Canada from Tennessee and western North Carolina north to southern Ontario and Quebec. Its distribution is scattered, never growing in pure stands, at the edges of forests or in the open. It is found in association with cherry, basswood, oak, walnut, ash, maple, elm and hemlock.

USES: interior trim and paneling, light duty furniture applications, cabinets, veneer, light duty boxes and crates, trim, instrument cases, and general decoration. An excellent carving wood, once highly valued for church altars and used for decorative scrollwork because of the ease of turning and carving.

TREE: reaches heights of 100 ft, with a 3 ft diameter

WEIGHT: light; about 33 pounds per cubic foot


AVAILABILITY: readily available

COST: the one report I saw said moderate to high but I have not yet checked this myself

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[NOTE: most reports and discussions of butternut comment on its similarity to walnut, of which it is a relative]

Resembles black walnut when stained but lacks its strength and stiffness

Much of antique furniture boasted butternut carvings that were stained to be indistinguishable from walnut

The grain is similar to walnut, and butternut has been used in the past as an alternative to walnut for gunstocks,cabinetry, and small projects

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The few small boards I've worked with were very soft and light and had a grainy texture all of which combined would, to me, make it highly unsuitable for much of anything

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Really nice pieces of butternut look like a poor man's English Brown Oak