Steaming of Walnut

Properly done, steaming adds an even dark tint to walnut. But the wrong technique gives unsatisfactory results. October 4, 2007

What does steaming do for walnut? Color? Is it necessary? How is it typically done in industry, and can it be done by the small batch in a small shop?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor D:
Steaming lumber gives it a uniform color, but it is critical to do it right. Type in "steaming lumber" in the WOODWEB search engine and you should find the answers to most of your questions in the Knowledge Base.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Steaming darkens the heartwood color a bit and darkens the sapwood extensively, when done correctly. In addition to the archives here, also check the out-of-print book "Drying Eastern Hardwood Lumber," which has a section on steaming walnut.

Drying Eastern Hardwood Lumber

From contributor J:
With all due respect to contributor D and Gene, I disagree. On the outside of the rough lumber, steamed walnut is hard to distinguish from the real stuff, but once you plane it, the true colors will fade right out. I have found that the steamed walnut has a washed out heartwood and the sapwood that looks nothing like the heartwood. It will come out blotchy and blue/grey in appearance. The steam seems to wash out all the red tones. If you plan to stain, finish and tone, this may be dealt with, but if you plan on using a natural finish, you will be very disappointed. You are better off using the sapwood as it naturally is to accentuate the design of the piece. Steaming is great for the person making and selling the lumber, but not for the furniture maker. This has been my experience over the last ten or so years. Get some and try it out for yourself.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
What you describe is exactly what happens when steaming is not done properly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of "poor steaming" people who do not follow the proper techniques.