Basic Question About Walnut

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Scott Cardais

New User
ScottC
Technically speaking, is "black walnut" different than other types of walnut or is it just a matter of black walnut being darker?

I'm asking because I'm doing some relief carving in walnut. I'm getting more chip out than some of the examples I've seen on YouTube and wondering if I need to sharpen my tools, develop better technique or get some "black walnut."
 

Matt Furjanic

Matt
Senior User
Black walnut, is from the walnut trees that grow wild, mainly throughout the eastern US. It is usually referred to as just "walnut." The word "black" does not mean it is darker. The other less common types of walnut are Claro walnut, which is darker than black walnut. These are the walnut trees that are clutivated for English walnuts, or the kind of walnuts you buy in the store. Claro walnut is usually more desireable than black walnut as it is usually more figured, a bit darker and more expensive.
European walnut is lighter in color and probably less figured. Peruvian walnut is very dark brown and much softer than other walnuts, and somewhat figureless.
One thing about commercially cut, kiln dried black walnut is: it is typically steamed which among other things, darkens the sapwood and results in a more uniform and usually darker and so etimes grayish color. Many woodworkers (including me) prefer air dried walnut, which I think results in a warmer mid brown color with more interesting lighter and darker color patterns. Black walnut is not soft, but not real hard like cherry, oak, or hard maple, but is hard enough to be durable. It does not splinter easily like oak, so is condusive to carving. I personnaly just love the stuff. Matt...
 

danmart77

Dan
Corporate Member
Scott I have ask 2 questions before I give a thought or two.

1. Are you carving the walnut to match a piece you are committed to doing?

2. Are you practicing on a piece of hard wood?


If you are a new carver I think you are better served by starting with straight grain mahogany. Walnut is a good wood but the brittle kiln dried stuff that many are selling is not so good when carving. Like Matt, I use strictly air dried walnut. As a carving material air dried and kiln dried are 2 different animals.

When you carve mahogany you can really move along and maintain good edges if you tools are SHARP. If they are not your work will be fuzzy. I try to use sharp tools and avoid sanding. It just never works for me.


The shell below is the demo done in less than the 2 hour allotment I was given. It is ragged but the mahogany was the only wood to allow a carver to go that fast and furious and get some edges. Others would recommend basswood or butternut. In the demo I had to follow on with coloring with Aqua Fortis or nitric acid and iron filings so the bass would not work there.
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This bear head tomahawk was so hard I had to use some files to get it done. Maple is not the wood I go to unless the project calls for it. In this case the rifle owner gave me the wood that he wanted a couple tomahawks made out of the maple. Curly to boot.

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Scott Cardais

New User
ScottC
Dan:

Thanks very much for detailed reply. I am not trying to match anything - at least not now. I've done "flat work" for several years but now trying to learn various types of carving to decorate my flat work. So - I'm learning about the "carvability" of woods I've used for years and really enjoying it. There's this new thing call YouTube that has hundreds of hours of instruction. Who knew? :)

I've never paid much attention to air vs kiln drying and I don't know how to tell if it is air or kiln dried. Aside from asking the seller, how can I tell if air or kiln dried?

So far, I've done about 15 - 20 practice pieces in a variety of woods - just learn their properties. Poplar, walnut, cherry, oak, sapele, ipe and a few other woods imported from South America that I happen to a little of.

I bought some basswood blanks from Heinecke in WI but haven't done any carving in it yet.

I'll post a few pictures of some of my practice carvings in a separate thread later.

Thanks again for your thoughtful responses.

Scott C.
 

TENdriver

New User
TENdriver
Scott, I think Matt answered your basic walnut question though I’ll amplify his point that kiln and air dried will work differently. I’ve also seen significant differences in wood I suspected wasn’t kiln dried properly.

Perhaps it would be helpful if you could show the relief carving and point out where the chipping or tear out is occurring. As you probably already know, some tools and some cuts just by the nature of the action can be very prone to chipping or tearing.

EDIT: Got called away mid-post and you and Dan added to it. So I’ll echo something Dan mentioned, develop your carving skills in an appropriate wood. Ipe and a variety of South American mystery woods aren’t a good recipe for success in learning to relief carve. Use the basswood you have and try some other “known” and more typical carving woods.
 
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jlwest

Jeff
Corporate Member
Improper drying can harden the surface, case hardened, making it brittle and subject to bowing when cut.
 

Henry W

HenryW
Senior User
So far, I've done about 15 - 20 practice pieces in a variety of woods - just learn their properties. Poplar, walnut, cherry, oak, sapele, ipe ...

Waaaait a minute. You carve ipe? How?
I can barely convince my table saw to cut it, or my sanders to sand it, and that is with power tools. And yet you carve it! With a jack hammer I presume?

That bass wood sounds like the carving ticket to me.

NOTE - no experience carving, but when I do, it won't be ipe.
 
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Jeff

New User
Jeff
Black walnut (Juglans nigra).

http://www.wood-database.com/black-walnut/

I can't speak to the carving characteristics but for general woodworking air-dried and kiln dried black walnut are indistinguishable with the exception of commercially kiln dried material which is done in steam kilns. That's a different beast from the first two and is generally less desirable for its final appearance and behavior. The appearance of the steam kiln dried stuff is characterized as muddy, washed out, lacking definition, etc.

American black walnut janka hardness is 1010.

Janka hardness
Basswood

Mahogany (Honduran)
410

900
American cherry950
Soft maple (red maple)950
Claro walnut1130
English walnut1220
Red oak1220
White oak1350
Hard maple (sugar maple)1450
Ipe (brazilian walnut)3510

I suspect that the harder woods really require patience and very sharp tooling for hand carving. ????????
 

Scott Cardais

New User
ScottC
You got that right!

I've done several flat work projects in ipe. Some included shaping using files and rasps. It's fabulous in some ways. With rasps, it shapes well and it finishes beautifully. Since I was experimenting, I wanted to see how it carved - knowing that it would be tough on me and the tools. It was and I wouldn't recommend it.
 

Scott Cardais

New User
ScottC
Thanks for your suggestions. I'm hoping to take some lessons locally if I can find someone. As far as my wood choices, remember, I was experimenting. :)

So far, I like the look of walnut the best but I'm looking forward to trying the basswood.

I've attached two photo's. One shows a relief of leaves on a walnut panel about 15" x 5". Could be the top or a box or front of cabinet. The other is a hinged lid box in oak and walnut. The leaves in the walnut portion are basically incised or outlined - not relief. The other leaves on the top that serve as a pull are carved from one of the mystery woods from South America.
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Steve_Honeycutt

Chat Administartor
Steve
Corporate Member
Scott,

Basswood is a very good carving wood. It is easy to cut, accepts fine detail, has very little grain. With relief carving, I like to define my major levels with a router. The router gets rid of much of the waste quickly and allows you to get to the details quicker. Then there is power carving with a Dremel, Fordham, etc. which will open up a new level of carving. I have done high relief, low relief, in the round, knife carving (whittling?), and chisel carving. I have never attempted chip carving or chain saw carving.

Steve
 

Hmerkle

Hank
Corporate Member
Thanks for your suggestions. I'm hoping to take some lessons locally if I can find someone. As far as my wood choices, remember, I was experimenting.
Scott,
I think you carving is GREAT, you will only get better with practise and training (lessons)
One place we always suggest is Mary May: https://www.marymaycarving.com/carvingschool/

Since it is a long haul down to Charleston (which I wouldn't care about to get instruction from Mary) you could opt for the online classes she offers from free all the way up to $159 per year with full access!
 
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