butternut was considered an excellent source of nuts, for both oil
and fabric dye applications. Even the sap was collected and made
into syrup. More recently, butternut has been recognized as a great
craftwood and a superior species for intricate wood carving. The
fact that it carves easily AND has a beautiful appearance encouraged
many churches to have elaborate doors and interior millwork carved
out of wood from the butternut tree. It has been used in furniture,
paneling and small craft work. Its use has been mostly limited by
its lack of availability. Rarely do you find it in anything but
a fine wood dealer's showroom.
The Tree: Juglans cinerea
Butternut is a member of the walnut family. It has historically
been referred to as American white walnut or oil nut. It grows predominately
in central and eastern part of North American, with a limited number
of trees in Southeast Canada. The tree is of average height and
diameter, rarely more than 2' in diameter. It produces oily nuts,
as do walnut trees, that drop in the fall time with the leaves.
It grows randomly in the forest, and never in large quantity.
The sapwood of the butternut is almost white and usually quite narrow.
The heart wood is light brown, often with pinkish tones variegated
with different shades of brown….. quite pretty. It displays quite
a satiny sheen. It is relatively light weight for most domestic
hardwoods, has a straight coarse grain and rather weak in bending
strength. Once dry the wood is very dimensionally stable.
Weight: 27 lbs per cu.ft.
It is a very easy wood to finish, much like its cousin, walnut.
Wiping with a damp cloth, raising the grain and sanding before the
first coat of lacquer, might help in attaining a perfect finish,
faster. Due to its softness, you must be particularly diligent in
making sure it does not get dented in the process. You may be successful
with an iron and damp cloth, to raise the dent, if this does in
Butternut works easily with both hand and power tools. It has very
limited dulling effects. It will rarely leave burn marks but can
tear out when routing across the grain. If you do the ends of your
board first and then the sides the tear out will usually be eliminated
by the side routing. You must be particularly careful to not leave
cross grain scratches and always finish off sanding with the grain.
Butternut glues and stains easily. The coarse grain of the butternut,
requires sharp chisels when turning on the lathe.