Butternut is overshadowed by the highly popular black walnut, its closest relative. Yet this is a quality wood worthy of attention in its own right. Known also as white walnut, a term describing the creamy tan color of the wood, this is a relatively soft species with a hardness rating about half that of its cousin. Figuratively speaking, butternut cuts like butter for sawing, planing, and routing.
Even though the wood is easy to cut, butternut's long fibers and softness require that blades be exceptionally sharp to prevent tearing and splintering, especially for turning. A thin application of sanding sealer can help quite a lot when eliminating butternut "hair," which is composed of fibers that are difficult to sand. Carvers will find that the wood is easy to work and holds its shape, for excellent results. The open grain accepts glue, stains, and finishes well. Adhesives deeply penetrate this ring-porous wood for strong bonds, and the texture and natural oils in butternut combine to create a rich lustrous appearance when it is stained or finished.
Since it is in the same weight class as basswood, some woodworkers turn to butternut when trying to reduce the weight of large pieces. However, because of its strength limitations, butternut is not recommended for structurally critical components under stress. In addition, lack of decay resistance makes butternut suitable for indoor applications only.
Wood grain images provided by HobbitHouseInc.com