There are very few wood varieties that come close to walnut in their prestige and demand. As fads come and go, and the appetite of the market changes, there is always a place for fine walnut furniture as it never truly goes out of style. Not only does it look good, but it feels good to own. Because most American walnut is grown in commercial plantations and orchards, it is an environmentally sustainable wood to use in furniture. Walnut is one of the most popular woods that we get commissioned to build with. When we receive a commission for a custom piece of walnut furniture, we are faced with the question of how to build it. Below is a summary with photos of the two different building styles we build walnut furniture in.
In traditional furniture building, the highest quality products are made from solid wood. This is a relatively simple process of gluing individual boards together to make whatever design has been commissioned. In flat surfaces like tabletops, desktops or headboards, sometimes this can cause slight coloration issues. Though predominantly brown, the color of walnut varies board to board in its tone and can display purple, orange, red, and even green hues. Some of the highest quality walnut boards feature many of these hues side by side. Because of the color variability, flat walnut panels can have a slight ‘zebra’ aesthetic. Some of our clients love the look, for others becomes a barrier.
We have another method of building with walnut that addresses these concerns and elevates the aesthetic potential of the raw walnut. We call this the patten match style. Instead of using many boards to make a flat panel, we use only one board, and process it on our band saw to make multiple 3/32” thick skins. We then “fold out” these skins onto a sheet of plywood or MDF so that the same piece of walnut covers the whole panel. This turns a board with plain grained into a visually intriguing display and makes figured wood almost overwhelming in its beauty.
Because we mill these skins in house, they finish around 12x thicker than standard veneers. The wood skins behave similarly to solid wood in their durability and impact resistance, although they have better resistance to seasonal wood movement. In other words, in this process, our pattern matched walnut furniture meets or exceeds the level of quality and durability that it would be if we glued multiple boards together.
In the past we have built desktops, headboards, and whole bed sets in this style. Unfortunately many pieces of furniture we build do not get photographed in their new homes, but please enjoy some shop photos of our Cloudscape Headboard (above) and Oahu Platform Bed (below).
So which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.
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Woodworking is a rewarding hobby, but it is not without its difficulties. We at Open Door Furniture have compiled a list of 23 things you need to know if you're just beginning your journey in woodworking. We hope that you can learn from some of our (and many others) early mistakes and flourish in your own ambitions as woodworkers.