Bullets and Black Walnut

Walnut With BulletsLast winter I was visiting a friend in Mississippi near Vicksburg. The farm at which I was staying is located on a road that leads directly to that city’s famous battlefield. In fact, the Confederate army marched down that very road to get to the fight. While I was talking to my host about the battle of Vicksburg and the national park that is located at the battlefield, he mentioned a tree. Apparently, this tree had the unlucky fate of being located directly between significant numbers of soldiers of the two opposing armies. When the bullets started to fly, and then continued flying for a long, long time — the tree was one of the early casualties of the battle. According to my host, so many bullets hit the tree that it eventually fell over from the weight of the lead embedded in its wood fibers.

Not so long ago, I was reminded of that story as I built a table that would be featured in the print magazine. (Woodworker’s Journal, October, 2012 … Walnut Game Table) As I was preparing the stock for the table, I noticed a couple of voids in the wood. Walnut Game TableThinking it was insect damage, I continued to plane the stock to thickness. Then I noticed that the bug holes were shiny.

Turning off the machine, I took a close look and found that the wood was full of bullet holes … and bullets. There were too many slugs to be found in these chunks of wood to be a random shot … my guess is that someone had hung a target up on a black walnut tree. (Unless, perhaps, it was in some less well-known battle!) Now, I’ve found bullets in boards before. It is not too uncommon and, if you surface a lot of wood, you’ll run into some sooner or later. But I have never before found so many bullets in such a small stash of wood. It was an odd but enjoyable event in my shop … and one that I thought you might get a kick out of.

Rob Johnstone

Editor in Chief


Posted in:

  • Rick Chaney

    A similar incident happened to me. For several years I’d put off cutting down an oak tree that was very close to my neighbor’s storage shed (and Boat), because the tree was rotten inside and about half of the outside. I soon found out the likely reason when I started to cut it down this past spring. I ran into a hard, metallic object and had to readjust my cut. After I completely felled the tree and got a closer look, I found that sometime, long ago someone had placed a small horseshoe in the tree (maybe just a knothole at the time?). Anyway the tree had completely grown around it and hid it until my chainsaw found it. It didn’t bring me good luck–maybe it worked for the previous landowners?

  • Hi Rob,
    Not long after I opened my business in Perth Western Australia some 23 years ago and began selling cabinet grade timber including imported species like White Oak and Black Walnut, I was splitting some 50mm [8/4] Black Walnut to meet a customers order for 25mm[4/4] stock I was surprised to find right in the middle of the board which I had just sawn through on the bandsaw two half silver bullets. I had sawn straight through the middle of the board, and the middle of a slug. Lucky it was lead, so no blade damage, but it was surely a ‘silver bullet’. Customer was happy to take it, I was momentarily happy that he was, as the boards were mega expensive and I wasn’t doing so well that I wanted to absorb a loss, but as soon as it left the premises, I wished I had kept it…would have been a great feature and talking point in a table top or cabinet door set. Hope he got some extra value from it !

  • dan

    Wouldn’t it have been a more appropriate use of the walnut to make a gun cabinet instead of a game table??

    Love the magazine. Keep it coming!!!

  • Jack Hoying

    I also have hit a few lead slugs over the years. When building oak kitchen cabinets for a customer who loved hunting, I used one of the boards in a lower door panel and explained the reason for the black streaking. The customer loved it.

  • Tom Novak

    Having a large black walnut tree growing close to my garage apron which deposits staining pollen clusters in the spring, nuts and shells in late summer and leaves followed by leaf sticks, the tree is more of an irritation than a source of use. I have a sentimental attachment to the tree as I grew it from a nut but it’s a problem. So instead of cutting it down in frustration, I’ll just shoot it.

  • Great story, I have found odd objects at times when cutting wood. The oddest would have to have been the nails that were in one tree. There must have been hundreds of them. Not sure why, it was in about a 2 foot section of the tree. I guess it could have been kids just hammering nails, really seemed odd though. Would love to find some civil war bullets, but I doubt I will run into many of those here in Iowa. Thanks again.