The Blasphemy of Ages! or "Why I hate Oak and Walnut"

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Blog entry by BobTheFish posted 08-03-2011 06:35 AM 2910 reads 0 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Walnut – A deep rich reddish brown wood with an assortment of nice grains. A wood that speaks of luxury and refinement, of the old days when men were men, and of old smoking lounges where one might enjoy a nice congac and cuban. The king of domestic woods, with Red Oak it’s queen.

Red Oak – a stunning course textured wood with a riot of variation between the grain. Quartersawn varieties show off its tiger stripes, the seductive huntress of domestic woods….

And I hate them both.

“Why”, you might ask?

Because they’re overrated. Because there’s more woods out there than oak, walnut, and pine. Because despite how much we are trained to think of walnut and oak as luxurious expensive woods, they really aren’t.

Oh trust me, I hate pine too. But at least pine is treated somewhat like the bastard child it is of the wood world.
Pine doesn’t induce the average consumer to drool over it like walnut does. Show the average non-woodworker a piece of aged, brown rosewood, and they’ll probably assume their being shown walnut. And here’s the funny thing: tell them it’s rosewood, and they don’t know WHAT to make of it. You’d be better off letting them believe they have a chunk of common steamed walnut in their hands than the more exotic wood it actually is!

I know this because I work in selling furniture, and have witnessed it!

Oak gets less ooh’s and ahh’s, but at the same time gets a lot of attention. It’s supposedly the #1 hardwood in the US. It’s the “not pine” of the furniture world. Its status is that of a grand hard wood that will last almost as long as walnut (though walnut is jesus-wood to the common consumer. It’ll last 900 years without a scratch), and because the grain is so distinct (and identifiable), it’s often considered an admirable quality.

But, those three woods aren’t the only woods out there!

Maple is MUCH cheaper($9 walnut, $5 oak, $4 for non-white hard maple off of one source), much harder (Janka ratings: 1450 for hard maple, 1290 for red oak, and only 1010 for walnut!), has a finer grain, and better figuring!

Hickory is another. Comparable in price to oak, hickory is THE wood for furniture making. It bends well, is remarkably strong and hard (hardness of 1820!), and takes stains well.

In fact, instead of staining oak, cherry gives a much better, much more natural reddish color, and only increases its luster over time (but it is softer and midway between the walnut/oak price range).

And we’ve only touched upon the more common domestics!

Exotics are even more amazing, with greater variety and with even more amazing hardnesses. Woods literally harder than iron. Woods with so much color, their names speak for themselves: Osage Orange, Purpleheart, Zebrawood, Bloodwood, Canarywood, Tulipwood…. Aromatics like rosewoods, Grain patterns unheard of: leopard wood, lacewood, wenge…

So oak and walnut? Yeah. Rather boring woods. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty, but not worth the fanfare.

24 comments so far

View Tango's profile


105 posts in 4528 days

#1 posted 08-03-2011 06:53 AM

Totally agree with you! People has the tendency to “ignore” what they don’t recognize or is unfamiliar with.
Great post!

View SSMDad's profile


395 posts in 3572 days

#2 posted 08-03-2011 07:04 AM

I agree with some, especially that there are other alternatives that can be less expensive…but I still LOVE walnut!

-- Chris ~~Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3573 days

#3 posted 08-03-2011 07:48 AM

I agree about the oak, red oak that is. However, I really like working with walnut. In my opinion its great. I consider walnut and cherry to be the best or most desired of the widely availabe american hardwoods. Birdseye and figured maple, burled walnut and QSWO I consider to be in a class and price range of their own.

View rustfever's profile


797 posts in 4285 days

#4 posted 08-03-2011 11:22 AM

Sorry, but I consider Walnut the ‘Holy-Grail’ of woods. At least I feel that way of Claro Walnut.

I love the smell when machining and sanding. It is filled with graining that is tremendously beautiful. It will take a simple finish and leave a thing of beauty for generations to come.

-- Rustfever, Central California

View David Murray's profile

David Murray

187 posts in 4089 days

#5 posted 08-03-2011 02:08 PM

I like Cedar both western red and aromatic, I also use Red Oak, Walnut, and yes Pine. Exotics are fine for turning and small projects, but most of us would have to take a second mortgage out to use them on large projects. I’ll stick to domestic hardwoods and pine, sometimes I make a mistake and it doesn’t break the bank (or bring a tear to my eye).

-- Dave from "The Sawdust Shed"

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3668 days

#6 posted 08-03-2011 02:11 PM

I dislike red oak. I would have used “hate” but a gentleman from Texas pointed out that I shouldn’t use that word unless I mean it. However I depart with you, Fish, on walnut; my favorite of the non-exotics. Maybe even my favorite, period. It’s true that it seems to be everywhere but commands a premium $/bf. I’m with RustFever, it puts a smile on my face, even if it’s expensive (kind of like a jacked up redneck dually).

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Jon Spelbring's profile

Jon Spelbring

199 posts in 5228 days

#7 posted 08-03-2011 03:18 PM

I’m with Bertha on red oak – do not want! White oak, on the other hand, I quite like. Walnut is OK – I like the smell. I haven’t worked much with hickory or maple, but I’ll get to it.

For turning, one of my new favorites is butternut (white walnut).

-- To do is to be

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3993 days

#8 posted 08-03-2011 05:31 PM

About the only thing I dislike about Walnut and Oak is the tannin that is in them that stains my hands black whenever I work with them. This also occurs with Hickory and several other woods. I sweat like a dog and often my T-shirts become tie dyed an ugly color and the Li’l Lady says I can’t wear ‘em going out!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3668 days

#9 posted 08-03-2011 05:48 PM

I love everything about walnut except the price. I could do without the mounds of nuts on my property, as well. I actually like hickory quite a bit and I’ve got some in my stash. The hickory that was gifted to me is very springy and it does unpredictable things when being ripped. I’ll usually cross-cut the boards to length before ripping and give them a day or three to do their thing. Some do acrobatics; others are dead flat. The grain/color of hickory is kind of forgettable to my eye, but it’s a really nice wood to work with otherwise.

You guys are on your own hating walnut. Maybe I’ll strike up a trade with you haters if we both score caches of hated wood;)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View jeepturner's profile


946 posts in 3767 days

#10 posted 08-03-2011 06:04 PM

I agree on the red oak, mostly because I dislike the odor. The only wood that I dislike more than red oak is cottonwood. That stuff is nasty! A stump of a cottonwood tree will stink for years. My neighbor, bless his heart and small pocket book, would use cotton wood for most of his projects. His home made pole lathe, shaving horse, and work bench stunk up our neighborhood for months.
My favorites would include walnut, cherry, and maple(all kinds), of the locally available varieties.

-- Mel,

View Gary's profile


9416 posts in 4408 days

#11 posted 08-03-2011 06:42 PM

Man…I just like wood.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3668 days

#12 posted 08-03-2011 06:59 PM

I’m not a big fan of cottonwood but the worst, in my opinion, is aspen. That fluffy stuff it kicks out just LOOKS like a lung clogger. I can’t stand that stuff.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View SSMDad's profile


395 posts in 3572 days

#13 posted 08-03-2011 07:01 PM

Gary: My thought exactly. I’m not picky when I find it for free. haha

-- Chris ~~Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

View Blakep's profile


232 posts in 3777 days

#14 posted 08-03-2011 07:23 PM

I have not worked with oak much as it gives off more of a rustic look to me. I normally work with maple and walnut and pine if i’m building something with a cheap price tag. I love doing projects where I can use the maple and walnut together to get the light and dark contrast. Although I have never worked with it (because I couldn’t affort to make a mistake) birdseye maple is is probably the most beautiful wood you can get in my opinion.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17128 posts in 3593 days

#15 posted 08-03-2011 07:56 PM

I have to disagree with you on walnut too, Bob. Love the stuff. It cuts nice, chisels and chops well, and planes like a dream. Takes finish wonderfully, too. Hickory, on the other hand, is downright nasty stuff to work with IMO. I like the challenge / haven’t given up the goat yet, but it’s a problem wood for me. Red oak I haven’t messed with / don’t have any. White is what’s available to me so I use it.

Woods on my list to work (on-hand, haven’t picked projects yet): cherry, sycamore, sassafras and cedar.

Great topic!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

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