Domestic and exotic hardwood dealers, such as J. Gibson McIlvain are seeing continued growth in the demand for exotic hardwoods, particularly for use in exotic hardwood floors. Domestic hardwoods have traditionally been used for this now-trendy application, so the comparison is natural. One particular pair of woods that begs comparison is the domestic hardwood, Black Walnut, and its exotic counterpart, Brazilian Walnut, which is also known as Ipe (pronounced as “ee-pay).
One characteristic of a wood used for flooring is its hardness. The industry-standard Janka Hardness Scale gives Ipe a very high rating of 3680, while Black Walnut comes in at 1010. The exotic variety clearly tops the domestic, in this category, offering higher durability and pest and rot resistance. Untreated, Ipe is estimated to last approximately 40 years; if effectively treated and properly maintained, it can last up to a century. As a result of its high level of resistance to decay, Ipe is often used for decks and other outdoor applications.
By contrast to domestic Walnut’s black-ish brown appearance, Ipe has a fairly wide range of coloring, from olive to black. The fine, swirly graining of both woods are similar to one another, but the domestic variety tends to have more swirls and other variations in color throughout. In this area, the domestic and exotic woods are probably on par with one another.
While the prices of most exotic woods are much higher than domestic varieties, the price of Black Walnut is similar to that of Ipe. Engineered Black Walnut costs between $5.00 and $5.50 for 3- to 5-inch planks, while 3-inch Ipe ranges from $7.40 to $8.80, with fluctuation due to importation issues. While the domestic Walnut clearly wins the price war, it is far from being considered a bargain.
The reason for the relatively high price for the domestic Black Walnut is that the wood has natural limitations such as size and shorter growing seasons. To compare Walnut to Maple, which grows in the same geographic areas and has similar growing seasons, Walnut trees are smaller and demand more light. Black Walnut trees also fail to fare as well as Maples do in areas exposed to high winds. Black Walnut trees also often top off between 30 to 70 feet high, making long planks extremely rare, and lower branches make knots more prolific than other domestic hardwoods. These natural limitations to Black Walnut that can meet FAS (Firsts and Seconds) grading system requirements. As a result, the grading system for FAS Walnut has been downgraded, a change that only makes sense.
While domestic Black Walnut may have understandably given way to its Brazilian counterpart in use for hardwood flooring, lumber experts can recommend many other excellent applications for domestic Walnut lumber.
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