To Steam or Not to Steam: A Purist’s Guide to Walnut

Along with midcentury modern décor and the retro or vintage look, walnut is making a comeback in the world of interior design. For years people had steered away from walnut, deeming it “too dark” and old-fashioned. Today, you can hardly flip through a home and living magazine without seeing a bold and modern retake on walnut furniture, cabinetry and woodworking.

What you may not know about walnut is that there are different types of walnut and different milling processes that will give you a variety of colors and grades of wood. At Forest Products Associates, our selection of walnut wood in Franklin County, MA is kiln-dried. When wood is first milled, harvested and cut into boards, it contains a lot of moisture. If you were to use this green, moisture-rich wood right away, not only would you find it hard to work with, but you would find that it would warp and even split as it dried. To prevent this from happening while still making sure that the lumber is ready for use as quickly as possible, the drying process is artificially hurried along. That’s where the kiln-drying method comes in.

Kiln drying is simply heating the lumber in a kiln, a metal furnace-like chamber, until the moisture in the lumber is reduced to about 6 percent. The temperature and humidity within the kiln is carefully controlled to ensure that the wood dries quickly and evenly. The end result is a beautiful walnut lumber that is ready for use. Most mills find the kiln-drying method to be the most convenient and profitable way to dry walnut. Where you will find that mills differ is in their use of steam prior to the drying process.

Walnut, when freshly cut, has a strikingly two-tone appearance between the dark heartwood (the inner wood) and the light sapwood (the outer wood). To help create a more neutral tone, most mills steam walnut before drying it. The steam causes the sapwood to darken until it is much closer in color to the heartwood. While this does create a more uniform appearance, what you end up with is a washed-out gray color.

While uniformity has its place, its place is not at Forest Products Associates. We take a more purist approach when it comes to preparing our walnut for use. We believe that walnut is beautiful when left in its natural color, and we see the striking difference between the heartwood and the sapwood as a positive feature and not a defect. While we do steam our walnut after drying for integrity reasons, we do not steam it beforehand to change the coloring. Walnut purchased from us will always have its natural color.

If you’re like us and prefer that the wood you work with be pure and natural, then stop in to Forest Products Associates and check out our selection of walnut wood in Franklin County, MA for yourself. We guarantee that, if you appreciate the beautiful look of natural walnut, you’ll love what you find here.