Fixit: Money doesn't grow on black walnut trees

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 29, 2006 - 4:46 PM

Q Is there a market for black walnut wood? I have two mature black walnut trees to cut down. Would someone cut them down for free if he or she could keep the wood?

Q Is there a market for black walnut wood? I have two mature black walnut trees to cut down. Would someone cut them down for free if he or she could keep the wood?

A I get this question regularly, usually from readers who are hoping that there is money to be made in their back yard. The short answer is probably not for trees growing in urban and suburban lots. Here's why:

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) has often been used for furniture, art, gun stocks and other wood products because of the color, grain and ease of working with the wood. While most logs are turned into lumber, the best logs are turned into veneer, a very thin sheet used to cover another species of wood or plywood to give it the appearance of walnut.

There are several characteristics that determine whether a tree has value for these uses, including trunk diameter, height and branching and whether the tree is free of defects. Another consideration with urban walnuts is how the tree was used and what might be in the trunk itself. An old eye screw from a hammock could cause harm to the person removing the tree.

When assessing a tree's size, trunk diameter is measured at 4½ feet from the ground. It can be found by measuring the circumference of the tree and dividing by 3.14. Most buyers look for trees with a diameter of more than 18 inches. A few may purchase smaller trees if they are part of a group, but those with a diameter of less than 15 inches are of relatively little value.

Tree height is also taken into consideration. Merchantable height means the trunk height from the base to the point where major branches or trunk forking begin. A buyer will look for trees that contain logs with a merchantable height of 8 to 10 feet. In most cases more than one log is necessary for consideration by a buyer.

Tree quality is determined by how free the trunk is from defects such as crookedness, branches, holes, bumps, cracks, scars, insect or disease damage and wounds.

Most trees grown in an urban setting do not have the desirable characteristics for lumber or veneer. They often have shorter trunks with many low branches because they don't have to compete with surrounding trees for light, and they're more likely to have been injured or subject to disease.

A big reason, however, that most buyers will not purchase urban trees is because the trunks might contain embedded objects that could cause injury when removing and processing the tree. A tree large enough for the owner to consider selling it for lumber is an old tree; it could have a foreign object in the trunk from years before that the owner would have no way of knowing existed.

The last factor is the difficulty and cost of coming to harvest one or two trees in an urban setting. Most of those trees grow fairly close to houses, power lines and other structures that make them difficult, expensive and time-consuming to harvest.

If you think a tree meets the characteristics for a valuable lumber or veneer tree, contact the Forest Resources Extension Office at 612-624-3020 or treeinfo@umn.edu for further information on harvesting.

University of Minnesota Extension Service

Broken pin on brooch

Q I have a costume jewelry brooch that I especially like, and the pin has broken. Is there anyone who can repair it?

A Several firms offer jewelry repair; they are listed in the Yellow Pages. Call to ask if they repair your type of jewelry. If your jewelry is old, you may want to check with an antiques dealer for advice or referral.

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