When it comes to woodworking, walnut vs acacia both offer good value for money. These hardwoods have been a staple in most constructions sites and workstations since time immemorial for their standout aesthetic and strength properties.
However, this is not to mean that they are alike. Each wood has its distinct benefits and drawbacks. As such, choosing between the two for your next woodworking undertaking is more of a personal preference-based decision.
Herein, we will take a critical look at the varying attributes of these high quality woods to help you make a more informed decision.
Next read: Understanding wood
What is Acacia Wood?
Also known as Wattle, Thorn tree, or Mimosa, acacia is arguably one of the most essential trees to humanity. Its use spans multiple civilizations as a conduit for transcendent and spiritual rites. To date, some traditional communities still use acacia trees for cultural, medicinal, and religious purposes.
The acacia tree is endemic to Australia, but has proliferated globally over millennia to Africa, the Pacific Rim, the Americas, Europe and Asia. Today, there are more than 1000 species of Acacia planted worldwide. Of these, Acacia Nilotica, simply known as Babul, is the most commonly used in North America. It is considered an invasive species in Australia and is endemic to Africa as well as parts of the Middle East.
Mechanically speaking, acacia timber is denser and harder than most hardwood varieties, making it one of the most durable woods in the market. Case in point, Babul Acacia is a commonly used variety since it is quite dense and hard, making it more resistant to dents and scratches than most commercial woods. It has an impressive Janka hardness rating of 2300 lbs.
This wood’s durability also extends to its notable rot and moisture resistance capabilities. Having natural oils which act as a sealant, acacia is fairly water resistant, making it ideal for outdoor use. Additionally, this wood is naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial. Different species of acacia contain different phytochemicals which in turn gives this wood antimicrobial properties.
Acacia also boasts of distinct visual attributes. Typically, this timber comes in a medium brown hue, giving it a nice rustic appeal. To top it off, the wood has a unique grain pattern that includes curly or interlocked figurations ideal for aesthetic art pieces and furniture. Noteworthy, these grains are diffuse porous in that they are evenly spread out across the wood’s surface without following any particular pattern. As such, you can expect some aesthetic diversity given that no two slabs of acacia are identical.
What is Acacia Wood Used For?
One of the primary uses of acacia is commercial and residential flooring. The wood’s hardness and strength properties make it perfect for use in high-traffic areas. Not only is it able to withstand pressure, but is also dent and scratch resistant.
Additionally, the wood’s rustic appeal and visual diversity gives floors an eye catching outlook.
Majority of wooden décor pieces found in contemporary households are made from acacia. This is because the wood is very durable, aesthetically appealing, and easy to maintain.
Similarly, acai is commonly fashioned into souvenirs, jewelry and traditional pieces such as ukuleles in exotic countries like Hawaii.
Cutting Boards & Kitchen Utensils
As aforementioned, acacia wood contains natural oils that make it water-resistant. It is also naturally antimicrobial, meaning it does not attract wood bacteria. As such, this wood is commonly used in making kitchen amenities, particularly cutting boards and bowls.
Due to its water resistance and robust nature, acacia is also used to make boats, canoes and other water vessels commonly fashioned from wood.
This wood’s aesthetic and mechanical properties make it good for furniture designs. Additionally, it is also fairly easy to work with. See (How to treat Acacia furniture for outdoors)
Advantages of Acacia
This is a dense and tough wood capable of withstanding heavy impact and scratches and resisting water for significantly long periods of time. Combined, these features make for a very durable material.
Prior to kiln drying, acacia wood is very pliable. You can easily carve our various shapes from this material, making it highly workable for art pieces.
Additionally, it is fairly workable even when dried. It is particularly suited for long furniture pieces such as live edge benches and tables since acacias typically reach a height of between 2.5 meters and 25 meters, meaning it is easy to get longer working pieces.
The wood’s medium brown hue and wavy grain pattern provides furniture, floors, and décor with an appealing rustic aesthetic.
In addition to growing across the globe, acacia is also a fast-growing species. The average acacia tree grow 2-3 feet annually. This means it is readily available and can be harvested sustainably without raising any resource depletion concerns.
Acacia is naturally antibacterial. It contains phytochemicals that gives it antimicrobial properties and its natural oils serve as a sealant to protect the wood. Therefore, it is safe for use in sensitive areas, and this adds to its durability due to its rot and decay resistance.
Disadvantages of Acacia
Irregular Grain Pattern
For those looking for a wood with a uniform grain pattern, acacia might not be a suitable choice as it features variegated grain patterns.
Susceptible to Heat Damage
Being a very dense wood, acacia conducts heat well. As such, it tends to warp easily when exposed to heat. For this reason, you should avoid using the wood near furnaces, radiator, heat vents and other heat sources.
This wood also tends to lose its medium brow color after getting exposed to light or heat for extended periods of time. Although this could take decades to happen, it is prudent to rotate your acacia furniture and décor pieces often to ensure the entire surface receive air and light equally. Also make a habit of using placemats for acacia tables or stools when placing hot dishes.
What is Walnut Wood?
Walnut trees are members of the Juglandaceae family. They are endemic to the Mediterranean region due to the area’s high drainage soil and temperate climate. Today, this wood species has proliferated exponentially to other parts of the globe, most notably Asia, Europe and North America. Black walnut is the most common species in North America, particularly in Eastern America, although Carlo walnut is also a dominant variety in the country.
This wood is hailed among woodworkers as one of the superior hardwoods in the market in part due to its workability. This timber’s combination of dimensional stability, straight grain pattern, and strength make it a highly workable wood option. It has a Janka hardness rating of 1010 lbf and has immense structural integrity. While this hardness rating is not as high as other hardwoods, it makes the wood highly elastic while maintaining its robust nature. As such, it is not too rigid, meaning its bends, saws, and planes quite well.
Walnut also stands out on account of its aesthetic properties. It comes in a deep dark brown hue with darker streaks. This deep hue and straight grain pattern is a favorite among woodworkers as it gives walnut an insanely attractive look fir for use on bespoke furniture and other high-end pieces.
Also noteworthy, walnut wood has a coarse texture with semi-ring open pores.
What is Walnut Wood Used For?
Bespoke Furniture & Specialty Items
Walnut is the wood of choice for high-end furniture and décor pieces. This is because not only is it sturdy but also features a unique aesthetic appeal fit for rare, high-end pieces.
Walnut wood is also used to make soundboards for various musical instruments. Its rustic appeal gives instruments an elegant appeal, while its structural integrity allows the wood to withstand strong sound impacts aptly without ruining the intended tone.
Walnut is also used for flooring purposes. It is strong and sturdy enough for this use. However, unlike harder hardwoods, walnut is softer and more susceptible to dents and scratches.
This wood is also used to make the wooden body used in hand-held rifles. Its strength capabilities ensure the material is capable of withstanding heavy recoil impact.
Additionally, walnut offers a dark, rustic aesthetic that complements a gun’s overall look.
Advantages of Walnut
This wood is truly lovely. Its intense chocolaty color, coupled with straight grain patterns, create a vibrant wooden look.
As aforementioned, this wood has immense structural integrity and is not overly rigid. As such, it is a joy to work with.
Walnut contains juglone, whose chemical properties ensure the wood is capable of resisting rot and fungi. Moreover, its low density implies that it is hard for fungi to penetrate walnut wood.
Disadvantages of Walnut
Exposure to UV rays for long periods of time causes the wood to oxidize, leading it to fade to a light orange color.
It takes walnut trees 40 to 60 years to fully mature, making it a fairly scare resource. Moreover, it is classified as a premium hardwood since it is highly sought after by woodworkers for high-end and bespoke furniture pieces. This is because of its highly desirable aesthetic and workability attributes. Therefore, this wood variety is quite costly compared to other commercial hardwoods.
Walnut vs. Acacia
Walnut features a deep chocolaty hue with darker streaks and uniform grain patterns. As such, it offers a uniform rustic aesthetic.
In contrast, acacia wood comes in a lighter shade of brown and has variegated grain patterns. It is best suited for individual who prefer an irregular aesthetic.
Durability & Strength
Acacia is more durable and stronger than walnut. As previously mentioned, it has a Janka rating of 2300 lbf (compared to walnut’s 1010 lbf). Therefore, acacia is sturdier and more structurally stronger than the somewhat soft walnut wood, making it more resistant to scratches and dents.
On the flipside, both woods are highly resistant to rot and fungi. However, walnut is more heat resistant than acacia, while acacia is more water resistant than walnut.
Acacia wood is also significantly denser than walnut wood, adding to its superior strength properties. In specific, acacia timber has a density of 835 kg/m3, while walnut has a density of 630 kg/m3.
Acacia wood has a fairly tightly packed grain, meaning it’s less likely to take in stain than the more porous woods. As such, staining acacia is a somewhat intricate procedure. To ensure the wood takes in the stain, it is important to use the right stain, water pop the wood grains and sand it down accordingly.
Dye stains are a good choice for acacia wood. This wood has tightly packed pores which leave little room for pigment to lodge. Fortunately, dye stains saturate wood fibers with color, meaning they are able to penetrate deeper into the wood. Moreover, water-soluble dye stains take long to dry, ensuring the wood has enough time to allow as much dye as possible to penetrate deeper. It should also be noted that using water as a solvent for dye stains raises the wood grains, further adding to the stain’s depth of penetration. Water-based dye stains are also cheaper and do not have toxic fumes.
Noteworthy, sanding will allow acacia to take in more stain. In addition to getting rid of any imperfections on the wood’s surface, sanding also opens up the wood’s pores for better accommodation of the stain. You should sand along the grain to ensure the sanding scratches are in line with the wood grains’ and texture’s morphology.
Once you apply the stain, you should expect to feel some slight bumps on the surface due to water popping. As such, slightly sand down the wood before applying the ideal finish. For acacia, solvent-based polyurethane is an ideal finishing choice as it provides the wood with optimum wear-resistance, heat resistance and water resistance, all of which are integral for this wood. However, do not expect a transparent finish. Polyurethane will appear somewhat cloudy, as if a cellophane is placed on the wood.
Contrastingly, walnut takes well to all kinds of stains. Its semi-porous texture and smooth texture ensure the wood takes up stains uniformly. Notably, this wood’s sizable pores will take in the stain according to their pattern, meaning the stain will certainly mirror the wood’s natural structure.
Acacia’s lovely color makes it ill-advised to paint the wood surface since it conceals its natural beauty. Nonetheless, with a viable primer, it is possible to paint this wood. Acrylic and enamel paints are notably effective paints for this wood type.
Similarly, it would be ill-advised to paint walnut wood. One of the primary features of this premium wood is its unique color and grain pattern. Given that you will have paid a lot for these qualities, it would be better to instead paint over other hardwood options.
Acacia coats quite well. However, it is important to pick a coat that allows this wood’s natural beauty to shine through, while also offering maximum protection. As such, oil-based, semi-gloss polyurethane stands out as the best choice for this task.
Apart from water-based coats, walnut wood typically adheres well to all finishes. Varnish, film finishes, and a mixture of oil and varnish are the most suitable options for this wood. Orange shellac is particularly effective as it not only offer the wood protection, but also features a color that adds warmth to walnut’s chocolaty hue.
As detailed earlier in this piece, acai is denser and harder than walnut. As such, this wood is less pliable than the softer walnut wood. It is especially difficult to work with thin acacia pieces or carve out intricate shapes, especially with kiln-dried acacia.
Also noteworthy, acacia is highly susceptible to splintering, which further exacerbates its inferior workability standing.
Walnut, on the other hand, is easy to work with. It is strong, but soft enough to allow for efficient working.
The only issue with walnut is it is prone to planer tear-out, especially when working on pieces with figured or irregular grains.
Being hardwoods, both acacia and walnut lumber come at a high cost. However, walnut is costlier than acacia since it is considered a premium grade hardwood on account of its unique aesthetics, durability, and workability.
Notably, although cheaper than walnut, acacia is also somewhat costlier than other commercial hardwoods in the market since it is considered an exotic wood in the United States. It impressive qualities, such as strength and durability, also make it more expensive than other hardwoods.
Verdict: Walnut vs. Acacia
By and large, both these woods are high quality hardwoods. They possess very attractive durability, aesthetic, and strength properties. On the flipside, they are both rather costly compared to average industry rates.
As such, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this conundrum. The choice between acacia and walnut should be based entirely on your personal preferences.
For instance, walnut is suitable for people who prefer a uniform aesthetic, while acacia is suitable for people who prefer a variegated aesthetic due to the wood’s irregular grain structure.
However, it is important to consider that walnut is more costly that acacia. Therefore, the latter is a more viable choice for individuals on a limited budget.
Additionally, walnut offers more workability, but acacia is the stronger option between the two.