The world is full of beautiful and extremely useful timber.
Out of all the tree species in the world, walnut and acacia are some of the most interesting to use in woodworking projects. But knowing the right time to use one wood over the other is vital to make sure your project looks its best and also lasts the longest.
This article will discuss walnut and acacia, so you know which one to use and when.
What Is Walnut?
Walnut is a hardwood that is loved by woodworkers and used in a lot of high-end products. This type of wood comes from a walnut tree. In particular, from two types of trees out of a family group of 21 species.
These two timber-producing trees are the European walnut and the black walnut. Often when talking about walnut, the European walnut is known as ‘walnut,’ and if the tree is a black walnut, it will be referred to as that.
This tree has a rich history. The tree is native to Greece and Asia and made its way through Europe over many centuries as people spread the tree across the continent. The combination of a tree that produces food and creates exceptionally strong and beautiful timber makes walnut wood highly sought after.
What Is Acacia?
Acacia is a hardwood that has grown in popularity in recent years in European and American markets. The timber is native to Australia, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. As the world has looked for more sustainable timber options, more varieties have become available to woodworkers, acacia being one of them.
Particularly because the tree grows very fast and will grow in tough environments, with minimal input from foresters to help it survive.
Acacia is part of a very large family of trees and shrubs called Fabaceae, which has more than 1,000 members in it. The two types of acacia most commonly seen and used in North America are the Hawaiian koa and the Australian blackwood.
Walnut vs. Acacia: What Are the Differences?
Acacia and walnut are two very different types of wood. In this section, we’ll discuss the differences between the two trees, concentrating on strength, appearance, color, and price.
It’s important to understand that the strength of timber depends on the specific piece of wood in front of you. For example, if the wood is full of knots, or if it has been milled quarter sawed or ‘through and through,’ it will have a significant impact on the integrity and strength of the wood.
Similarly, if you are working with a piece of timber that contains sapwood, or pith, or has been grown fast, these will all impact its strength. The environment the tree grows in also changes the integrity of the wood.
For these reasons, woodworkers should be wary of blindly choosing a piece of timber for its strength without inspecting the wood and knowing where it has come from.
However, there are commonly accepted ways to measure the strength of trees. For example, on the Janka hardness test, acacia is harder than walnut. Acacia has a hardness of 2300, and walnut just 1100. Both types of wood are strong hardwoods in comparison to the majority of the market.
Appearance and Color
Walnut is known for its dark, chocolatey colors and straight grain. Straight grain is highly sought after by traditional furniture and cabinet makers for its strength, appearance, and workability.
Walnut is a ‘classic’ timber’ in the sense that when many people draw what they think a wood looks like, they draw something similar to walnut.
There are many different species of acacia that all give off different appearances and color variations. One of the most widely known species is the red acacia, which has a similar grain to tiger stripes.
Some acacia species have a straighter grain than others, while some can have an unpredictable, wavy grain that moves in irregular patterns.
Walnut trees grow very slowly, while acacia trees grow very fast. This is one reason why walnut is usually more expensive than acacia. Alongside this, walnut has embedded itself as a ‘high-end’ timber for projects.
This demand also means that people charge more. Companies pay massive amounts to get walnut burls to turn it into veneer.
When to Use Walnut Wood?
Walnut is considered by many woodworkers to be a very ‘classy’ timber. The dark chocolate tones and the rich smell it creates when cut makes it a favorite of many.
Alongside this, the timber feels exceptionally pleasing to work with, especially when shaping it with hand tools such as planes and chisels.
Traditionally, walnut has been used for many high-end applications, such as cabinets and furniture.
Modern furniture design often pairs the dark tones of walnut with lighter wood to get a striking contrast between the tones. Table tops, legs, and chairs look very beautiful in walnut when crafted by a good woodworker.
The veneer of walnut is also highly sought after. Other applications that you might see walnut used in are gunstocks, flooring, instruments, and paneling.
When to Use Acacia Wood?
Acacia wood is used all over the world for loads of different reasons. For example, the red acacia was supposedly used to create Egyptian coffins, Noah’s Ark, and the Ark of the Covenant. Also, this wood is burnt as incense in North and West Africa.
In fact, acacia lends itself well to a lot of different projects. The timber has become very popular with furniture makers, especially when it comes to chairs, dining tables, coffee tables, benches, cupboards, and shelves. However, there are a lot more uses for acacia than those listed.
As noted earlier, acacia is an extremely hard timber. Hardwood flooring is loved by a lot of homeowners because it is long-lasting, durable, and looks great. Acacia is a perfect match to use in a hardwood flooring project because not only is it strong, it is visually striking.
Alternatives to Walnut and Acacia Wood
It can be difficult to source the perfect timber when you need it. Sometimes it’s just not in stock, its price is too much, or the timber is not quality enough to use for your project. In these situations, there are alternative timbers you could use instead of walnut or acacia.
Mahogony is a very high-end material. It costs a lot of money to buy and can be hard to source. It’s essential when buying mahogany to know that it comes from a sustainable source because there has been a lot of deforestation and unethical harvesting of mahogany in the past.
If you do manage to get hold of some mahogany, you will have a strong, dark timber that polishes beautifully.
Sapele is a very stable timber that resists weather well. People often use it as an alternative to mahogany because it is more accessible to source and easier to know if it was sustainably harvested. Some uses for sapele include doors, door frames, windows, and furniture.
Cherry is a rich, closed-grain hardwood with reddish hues. It polishes very well and is used in furniture and cabinetry.
Walnut and acacia are two fantastic types of wood. Woodworkers like to argue endlessly about their favorite types of wood to work with and why it’s better than others.
Both walnut and acacia have a lot of fine qualities that lend themselves to a range of projects. Understanding the properties of each timber will help define which is best for your job.