If you are planning on building something around your home, then using solid wood is always one of the best options to go with. With that being said, there are plenty of types of wood to choose from, and this can make choosing a specific one quite difficult.
Two types of wood that we are going to compare today are walnut and sapele. Both are very popular, but there are also some big differences between them. Continue reading to figure out which of the two – if either – is right for your next project.
What Is Walnut?
First, we have the walnut tree, and here we are talking specifically about the eastern black walnut tree. This is a tree that can be found all throughout the eastern United States and in eastern Canada. This tree can grow up to 150’ tall and 8’ in diameter, therefore making them quite large.
This tree features wood that has a tight and straight grain, although it can sometimes have some curves. It may also have some knots, gaps, and voids. In terms of color, walnut is fairly deep brown in color, something like coffee or chocolate.
In fact, as far as North America is concerned, walnut wood is one of the only ones that grow so dark. Moreover, walnut wood gets lighter with time, as opposed to other types of wood that usually get darker over time.
This wood is quite hard and dense, therefore making it durable and physically resistant to many types of damage. Walnut wood also has some natural oils, so it is somewhat resistant to fungus, pests, and moisture, although it is generally considered better for indoor purposes than outdoor ones.
This material is often used for flooring, cabinets, carvings, furniture, gunstocks, and more. Because walnut wood is fairly slow growing, it is one of the more expensive types of hardwood in North America.
What Is Sapele?
We then have the sapele tree, which is technically a part of the mahogany family, which is why some people may also call it the sapele mahogany. To be clear, Sapele is a city in Nigeria, and because this tree originates in North Africa, it is named after this specific city.
With that being said, this tree can be found in many tropical areas of Africa. Additionally, just like a real mahogany tree, the sapele tree is also deciduous in nature, which means that it does lose its leaves during the colder seasons, and moreover, it is also a type of hardwood.
At the same time, sapele wood usually has a very tight, straight, and interlocked grain, although it may also have some waves or irregularities, combined with a few holes, knots, and gaps. Sapele wood usually has a dark reddish-brown color that will get darker over time.
This wood is very hard, dense, and features a tight grain, so it is very durable and resistant to physical damage, and it is also very resistant to fungus, pests, and moisture. Sapele wood is quite expensive, and it is a popular choice for boat building, veneers, joinery, luxury floors, musical instruments, and luxury furniture.
Walnut vs. Sapele: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both walnut wood and sapele wood are, let’s figure out what makes the two different from each other.
In terms of hardness, walnut features a Janka hardness rating of 1,010 lbf. On the other hand, sapele comes in at roughly 1,410 lbf. This means that sapele wood is much harder than walnut wood, and is therefore more physically resistant to damage such as denting and scratching. If you need something that is going to last for a long time, then sapele is probably the better option of the two.
What is interesting to note is that although sapele wood is harder than walnut wood, it is actually slightly lighter. Walnut wood has a density of around 43 lbs per cubic foot, whereas sapele features a density of roughly 39 lbs per cubic foot. Although the difference in weight here is somewhat negligible, there is a difference nonetheless. This means that although sapele is very hard and durable, it’s also slightly lighter, and should therefore be easier to work with.
Moisture and Pest Resistance
Although walnut wood does have some resistance to the elements, and it can be used for outdoor purposes, especially if properly sealed, it certainly is not the best choice for outdoor applications. This wood may start to absorb water and warp over time.
On the other hand, sapele is a fantastic choice for outdoor use. The reason for this is that it is very hard and features an interlocked grain pattern. This means that moisture and pests just have a really hard time penetrating the outer layer. At the same time, sapele wood does also feature a decent amount of resins and oils, which also help with waterproofing and pest resistance.
Overall Durability and Strength
Although walnut is a very hard, durable, and strong type of wood, it doesn’t really stack up to sapele in terms of overall durability. If you need something that is hard, resistant to the elements, and has great strength on all fronts, sapele wood is the much better option.
Both of these types of wood are fairly hard, heavy, and durable, which means that they can be somewhat difficult to work with. With that being said, sapele is a bit lighter, which does make it easier to maneuver, although it is much harder, which can be much worse for saw blades. As you can see, there is a certain tradeoff to consider here.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Another major difference to consider here is that walnut wood tends to have a much straighter and tighter grain than sapele wood, although sapele often has an interlocked grain, which at times can also be wavy. In terms of knots and gaps, these two types of wood are roughly on par. However, the biggest difference in terms of appearance is that sapele tends to be redder than brown, whereas walnut wood tends to be very dark brown in color, something like chocolate or coffee.
For the cost, you can expect to spend around $25 per board foot on walnut. On the other hand, sapele is going to cost you anywhere between $12 and $25 per board foot.
When to Use Walnut Wood?
If you are planning on making some really beautiful indoor furniture, cabinets, floors, or anything else of the sort, and you like that dark brown color, plus you don’t mind spending a good bit of money, then walnut is a good option to consider. Many people just like that really dark brown color.
When to Use Sapele Wood?
On the other hand, if you need something that is even more durable and resistant to the elements, especially if you need something that is ideal for outdoor use, then sapele is always a good option to consider. It is probably the better option as far as outdoor use is concerned.
Alternatives to Walnut and Sapele Wood
If you are looking for more affordable types of hardwoods to use, ones such as ash, beech, poplar, and alder all make for good options. However, if you are fine working with softwood, then try going with some pine, Douglas fir, or spruce.
In a separate article, we wrote in detail about walnut alternatives.
Now that you know what makes walnut and sapele wood different, you can make an informed choice between the two. both make fine choices in their own rights.