What is Claro walnut? For many woodworkers, it’s the connoisseur’s walnut and it’s easy to see why. Claro is a medley of subtle intermixed colors — browns, reds, black, purple, yellows — and beautiful figure.
What is Claro walnut wood?
It is difficult to precisely define Claro walnut. The walnuts are in the genus Juglans and include the most well known member, J. nigra, black walnut, native to eastern U.S. The “Claro walnut” available to woodworkers may be any one of J. hindsi (sometimes classified as J. californica), J. regia (English walnut) grafted onto hindsi root stock, actual hybrids involving pairs of the three aforementioned species, or just California black walnut trees.
In any case, the trees grow in Northern California and Oregon and many online dealers there can ship “Claro walnut” to you. The lumber is often from salvaged logs from ornamental or orchard trees.
Ways to be gorgeous
For my taste, Claro is at its best in quartersawn and riftsawn boards with a marbled assortment of rich and varied colors. Add curly figure and this is as exciting and beautiful as any wood there is. The tree, of course, must be endowed by nature, but the skill of the sawyer is critical in bringing forth the potential in a good log. Particularly for Claro, it is therefore important to choose a sawyer-seller whose wood aesthetic is in line with yours.
Plain or fancy:
Flatsawn Claro can also be lovely, no question, with dramatic engaging swirls and colors. Good flatsawn boards are harder to come by, to my eye, because many are loaded with grain reversals and knots, the products of gnarly trees, which overpower the nice colors. As with black walnut, boards with excellent crotch figure are available, as well as impressive large slabs.
It pays to be discriminating as to how the boards were cut from the log. It can be a wildly beautiful wood but sometimes just too wild, so suit yourself.
When designing with Claro walnut, especially choice material, realize that this wood has major visual impact. It will almost always be the star of the piece and there is likely no point in competing with the depth and variety of its colors and exciting figure. I prefer engaging but non-shouting designs in this wood.
One of the fun things about Claro is its color mixture creates many pleasing options for pairing with other woods. For example, pear wood’s salmon tone connects with Claro’s reddish and brown hues and its fineness contrasts with Claro’s ring-porous texture, making for a killer combination. Differently, the fairly plain dark brown of wenge can offer a backdrop to Claro.
As pleasant to work with as it is to look at
Strength and shrinkage data specifically for Claro walnut are mostly unavailable, and the few values listed are just averages for a variety of woods under one name. Based on substantial experience with Claro, its physical properties seem to me to be very similar to those of black walnut, including the latter’s excellent hygroscopic stability. Of course, as with any species, wood from gnarly or leaning trees is apt to misbehave.
Working properties of Claro are, again similar to black walnut — very favorable. It can sometimes be slightly brittle to plane but the best surface for Claro is produced directly from a tuned smoothing plane and it is magnificent. Boards with lots of swirly grain or grain reversals can be managed with scraping as necessary. Sawing, chiseling, machining, and gluing are problem-free. Joinery is straightforward.
The fantastic mix of color in Claro walnut comes more alive under a good finish. Solvent-based varnish in thin coats, or for a lower-key look, oil-varnish mix, pop the figure and the slight amber tone enhances the color. With the exception of the box, above, by the author, the wood samples shown in this post are unfinished.
So there it is Claro walnut, my favorite wood, the one I’d choose to work if there was only one choice of wood in the world. Ha, but what woodworker would want only one choice?