English Walnut

English Walnut is a wood that is not usually used for purposes of timber, but rather it is the source of the most commonly consumed variety of walnut nutmeats.

Geographical Distribution

The tree and resultant wood known as English Walnut is scientifically known as Juglans regia.  Despite the name, the tree is not native to England at all, but actually originates in Asia.   More specifically, J. regia is native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, extending from western China, parts of the central Asian steppes and from the lower ranges of the Himalaya mountains and on into as far as eastern Turkey.

In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great introduced this “Persian nut”.  The trees were hybridized with trees native to the area and these hybrids spread through human cultivation throughout Europe.  In some areas, they have become naturalized and grow in the wild without specific cultivation assistance.  Cultivated distribution now includes North and South America (Chile, Argentine), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan.   In other words, the tree grows throughout most of the temperate regions of both the northern and southern hemispheres.

General Characteristics

The heartwood of English walnut can range from a lighter pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker brown streaks.  Interestingly, the color can also sometimes have a gray, purple, or reddish cast. The rarely used sapwood is nearly white.  The wood is generally nowhere near the color of other commonly used walnut wood, such as Claro Walnut or Black Walnut.

English Walnut features a medium texture with mid-sized pores.  Porosity in some pieces may be so severe as to require fillers to achieve a completely smooth finish.  The grain is usually straight, but can be irregular.  On occasion, English can be found with figured grain patterns such as curly, crotch, and burl, although this is not common.  Most pieces of English Walnut that I have worked with ultimately prove to have dramatic color variations and swirling grain patterns although this may not be immediately obvious to the wood worker.

English Walnut is considered moderately resistant to decay although it can be successfully attacked by insects.  However, given the common uses for this wood, this should be irrelevant.

Some claim that English Walnut can demonstrate the characteristic of chatoyancy, or the appearance of three dimensional depth in a two-dimensional surface.  This characteristic is usually found in gemstones but is claimed in certain woods, especially when the surface is wetted, with the effect disappearing once dry.  Shellac and varnish finishes, however, can cause this effect to endure even when the finish is dry.

Working Characteristics

English Walnut is reportedly typically easy to work provided the grain is straight and regular.  Tear out may become an issues if irregular or figured grain is present but this is true of any wood generally speaking and isn’t a unique fault of English Walnut.  End grain tear out when turning on the lathe is moderate, greater than with other commonly turned hard woods but lesser than is commonly found with other species of walnut or even cherry.   English Walnut glues, stains, and finishes well, however it is uncommon to stain walnut since the natural wood coloration is usually the attraction in the first place.  I have found that the true beauty of a piece of English Walnut is rarely revealed until at least a shellac or wax is applied to amplify and clarify the swirling grain and figure, but this process does not add specific color to the wood.

Reportedly there is no characteristic odor associated with English Walnut but having worked with it recently, I would say that there is a faint sweetish odor present with the wood is hot from aggressive cutting on the lathe.


Only relatively small amounts of English Walnut wood reach the world market since the tree isn’t usually harvested for timber purposes, being instead an orchard or ornamental tree.  Therefore, when pieces are available, which is rare, they tend to be expensive and may only be available as veneer pieces.  I can’t locate pricing on this wood and it doesn’t appear to be readily available commercially from any source that I can identify.  The pieces I had were given to me from a resident of an area in which these trees grow in orchards and it is likely that my specimens were from an orchard or ornamental tree that was harvest singly and not for commercial distribution.  Because the wood is so hard to locate, I would imagine it would command a high price but I can’t verify this.  If you know people who live near such trees, they might be able to find pieces but otherwise it may be out of reach of most wood workers.

Most all posted prices for “walnut” are for Juglans nigra, or black walnut native to the eastern United States.  This is decidedly not the same as Juglans regis and should not be confused for such.

Woodfinder is a website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers and I can’t speak to the quality of any of them, but they do have the advantage of performing searches based on your location which might allow you to visit a wood dealer in person to hand pick what you want to work with at a price you are comfortable paying.  A search of this service revealed only 18 dealers nationwide who claim to have this wood in stock at least some of the time.  The concentration of them is located in northern California, which is logical given the wide cultivation of the species in orchards in that location.


Because of its general rarity, English Walnut has few applications.  Small pieces may find use in applications such as: furniture, cabinets, gunstocks, interior paneling, veneer, turned items, and other small wooden objects and novelties.

Health Hazards

Severe negative allergic reactions are uncommon but English Walnut has been known to cause reactions in sensitive individuals.  Therefore, care should be taken especially if an individual has experienced allergic reactions with other woods or wood dust.

Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database along with additional information about the best use of a dust collection system, coupled with the use of personal protective equipment such as respirators, which is highly recommended when machining this wood.  Fortunately, I have never experienced any negative side effects from working

My Personal Experiences

I have been fortunate enough to have large enough pieces of English Walnut to create small dishes as well as bottle stoppers with the wood.  My pieces are very dry and tend to be very dusty when turning but they ultimately turn quite well indeed.  The wood is fairly hard and dense, although relatively light to handle in terms of weight.  English Walnut certainly can and will dull turning tools, and presumably all wood working tools with an edge for that matter, so frequent sharpening or the use of replaceable carbide cutters is necessary to succeed with the wood.  As I have previously noted, I detect a slight sweet odor when working with this wood, but certainly nothing compared to highly fragrant woods such as sandalwoods, rosewoods, or Paduak.  I have also previously noted that the full beauty of the wood is really only revealed once a basic finish, I use a shellac and wax compound, is applied.  This does not color the wood but it does an admirable job of highlighting the existing whirls of color that vary from almost white to purple and brown throughout the pieces I have worked with.  I can only assume that this is characteristic of the wood, however all of my pieces derived from the same tree and it could be that I was extremely lucky in selection.