The wood commonly known as Butternut is known to botanists as Juglans cinerea. J. cinerea is distributed from southeastern New Brunswick throughout the New England States except for northern Maine and Cape Cod. Its range extends south to include northern New Jersey, western Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee. Small isolated pockets occur in North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina, northern Georgia, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, and Arkansas. Westward it is found in eastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. Disjunct populations occur in Wisconsin, Michigan, and northeast into Ontario and Quebec. Throughout most of its range, J. cinerea is not a common tree and its frequency is declining. The ranges of J. cinerea and J. nigra (black walnut) overlap, but J. cinerea occurs farther north than and not as far south as J. nigra.
For the sake of simplicity and common understanding I will hereafter refer to J. cinerea as Butternut.
The heartwood of the Butternut is most often a light to medium tan color that on occasion may have a slightly reddish tint.
The growth rings of Butternut are dark and for a fairly distinct grain patter. Butternut sapwood is yellowish white.
The sapwood of Butternut is usually a pale yellowish white.
Butternut grain is most often straight. Butternut features a medium to coarse texture with a silky natural luster.
In terms of decay resistance, Butternut is rated as moderately durable to non-durable, so this is not a great choice for outdoor applications. Butternut is also susceptible to insect attack.
Butternut is easily worked with both hand and machine tools.
However, being so soft, Butternut has a tendency to leave some fuzzy surfaces after planing or sanding, and sharp cutters and fine-grit sandpaper is recommended.
Butternut glues, stains, and finishes well.
Butternut has virtually no scent or odor when being worked.
Pricing and Availability:
Butternut is available in both lumber and turning/carving blank formats. One should expect to pay mid-range prices for Butternut in comparison to other domestic hardwoods.
In this blog, I almost always recommend several vendors with whom I have done considerable business and in whom I have great confidence. These vendors are: West Penn Hardwoods, Bell Forest Products, NCWood, WoodTurningz, Amazon Exotic Hardwoods, Griffin Exotic Wood, Exotic Woods USA, Got Wood?, and Wood Turning Blanks 4U. Note: ALWAYS green turn wet blanks from NCWood as their wax will not hold for extended drying periods.
At this time none of these vendors are selling Butternut bowl blanks, however WoodTurningz is selling standard pen blanks for $0.95 and Got Wood is selling 2” x 2” x 6” spindles for $2.25, on sale, with only 14 in stock.
Butternut is proving to be elusive, however, a simple Internet search reveals several potential vendors of Butternut but I don’t have any direct experience with any of them.
Woodfinder is an excellent website that is dedicated to advertising wood dealers. In your search for Butternut, this can be an invaluable resource provided you use multiple search terms to capture all the possible listings. I can’t speak to the quality of any of the listed dealers, but Woodfinder does have the advantage of allowing searches to be performed based on location which might allow an interested buyer to visit a listed wood dealer in person to hand pick pieces at a comfortable price.
A significant problem with using Woodfinder is that many vendors are listed for woods that, upon further investigation, they do not offer. I don’t know if perhaps once they did and they didn’t update their listings or if some vendors use a standardized list of woods that include most everything conceivable with the idea that once you land on their page you will find something you want to buy even if you didn’t know it beforehand. It happens to me all the time!
Butternut finds a range of uses including, but not limited to: veneer, carving, furniture, interior trim, boxes, and crates.
Butternut is not listed as being endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II nor does it appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.