What Thickness to Saw Walnut for Furniture

4/4 is a versatile and useful dimension to saw, and it's quicker and less problematic to dry than thicker wood. December 6, 2012

Question
I have some fairly large walnut logs to saw into lumber for furniture. They are now in 8.5 foot lengths. I would like wide boards. What thickness is best to saw these boards: 4/4 , 9/8 , 5/4? Also, does kiln drying damage the color or strength of walnut? I've received conflicting opinions on this.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Proper drying will not weaken the lumber to any measurable amount. Avoid going over 160 F at the end. Use an accepted kiln schedule, etc. Color is basically controlled by steaming prior to any drying. Once drying starts, the color in walnut is fixed. However, the color will darken with time and exposure to light. A strong oxidizer like ammonia can also darken the wood. Many folks use a stain at the end to get the desired color.

Regarding thickness, 4/4 is a good choice unless you need legs that are better with 8/4 or want a heavy look. It is really hard to say 100% what you need, as we do not know what you are making.



From the original questioner:
My projects will be bedroom sets, kitchen cabinets, a dining table, chairs, large cedar lined chests, and bookshelves - will 4/4 be suitable for these? I will cut some 8/4 for chair legs. Is 4/4 the standard for most furniture lumber? I have enough wood to be generous in my thickness but don't want to be wasteful.


From contributor U:
For dining table and chairs I would recommend some 12/4 for legs, depending on the style you are making. If it turns out that you do not need it that thick, you can resaw it on your shop bandsaw and re-use what you take off. Itís easier to do it now than trying to locate thick stock later or even trying to glue up legs.



From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
4/4 should be fine for the items you mentioned in most designs. The heavier stick for legs must be clear to maximize strength. Note that 8/4 takes 2.5 times longer to dry and also thick walnut is much more subject to end checking and honeycomb. For that reason, many people will laminate 4/4 into thicker stock rather than use 8/4 and thicker lumber.

On the other hand, if you can produce 10/4 with no knots, all heartwood, correct width and lengths, and great color and grain for gunstocks and similar, it can be profitable indeed. You would have to do some market research ahead of time to see what is needed. The key to quality in drying is slow drying and end coating.



From the original questioner:
I would be interested on more info on cutting for gunstocks as perhaps this could help pay for the cost of sawing, hauling, kiln costs, etc. These logs are from forest grown trees and most trunks are clear of branches for 40-50 feet. Where in the log is it best to cut for gunstocks? Are most sawyers familiar with this? Most of our sawmills around here are small Amish or Mennonite run operations.


From contributor U:
If they are clear and decent diameter, you may be better off selling them as veneer logs.


From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor U has a good suggestion. Contact your county forester for help. Do not take the first offer, as often it is quite low.


From the original questioner:
Any idea about the ballpark value of a veneer log 8.5 feet long by 24" across the smaller end? I would like to have some idea before I spoke with someone about this.


From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Losing the sap is indeed an issue. The yield of a 30" log is 675 bf, but if it drops to 28" diameter due to the loss of 1" sapwood (which is conservative as sapwood is likely higher in east Texas) all the way around, the yield drops to 585 bf. That is 90 bf or about 15%. As I already stated, the sapwood on a fresh log is partly lost when the slabs are taken off to square the log. However, if the sapwood is gone, then you will lose clear, high value heartwood as you square the log.