Grades are one thing; they’re pretty straightforward, and no one customer or supplier is going to get the system changed. But expectations are different. Not only are they unique to each individual, but they shape the way we experience life and the likelihood of our appreciation and enjoyment.
If your travel plans changed from Hawaii to Alaska, but you somehow expected the weather to be the same, you’d probably be pretty disappointed — never mind unprepared. If you were informed about what to expect in Alaska, you would probably be more likely to enjoy the breath-taking views and plan some great adventures (even if you do prefer more of a beach vacation). Equipped with cold-weather gear, you’d be able to actually appreciate your visit.
Expectations are important. Now, let’s bring it back around to lumber. Walnut is a unique species. When we expect it to be priced or graded just like another species, we will not be able to appreciate its beauty. So let’s start re-shaping our expectations!
Yes, Walnut is a domestic species. We don’t have to pay for it to be shipped from another continent, so it stands to reason that it shouldn’t be more expensive than, say, Mahogany. Yet it is. Mahogany has experienced its own set of difficulties in recent years, but nature has still been kinder to it than it has been to Walnut. The American Black Walnut tree (Juglans nigra) doesn’t grow to be as big as the South American Mahogany tree. Since it comes from North America, the Walnut tree has shorter growing seasons, too.
Now, it might seem fairer to compare Walnut to Maple. Maple is a larger and much heartier tree, though. And if it’s growing in the same area as Walnut trees, it becomes aggressive, starving other trees (including Walnut trees) of important nutrients. Walnut demands plenty of light and has trouble in windy areas; however, when it is surrounded by aggressive species such as Maple trees, it won’t grow as tall. Most Walnut trees grow to be only 30 to 70 feet tall.
Not only is long Walnut lumber hard to come by, but what’s usually classified as FAS Walnut is rare, as well. The Walnut tree grows many more low branches than Oak or Maple trees do, making knots and twisted grain much more common. (Thus the downgrading of Walnut.) FAS Walnut looks different than FAS Maple, and as long as you expect that, you’ll be able to appreciate its beauty. For furniture makers, character markings are often seen as positive.
In other industries, value engineering according to species may be helpful. With a little creativity and a positive outlook, we can all learn to appreciate the unique beauty of Walnut for what it is — instead of just for what it’s not.