This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
The wood of this tree is usually of a brown colour, and on being cut shows a brilliant grain. It is soft, binding, and easy to work. Of all woods, it is the one whose colour varies most. Although its colour is generally brown, samples are to be found in which the veins are almost black on a white ground. This freak of nature is sometimes found in the same tree which at other parts is equably coloured. The best walnut for the carver is that of a brown uniform tint, slightly bronzy; its veins should be regular and offer an equal grain under the gouge. The white varieties are softer than the above named, and would be preferable, were it not for the black veins before described, which entirely disfigure the work, and necessitate the greatest attention in staining to equalize the tone. The veiny brown wood is generally too fibrous and too-knotty, and is often traversed by sap-wood, which in some places becomes decomposed, forming a mass resembling a tough gritty leather, which blunts the tool without being cut. Before beginning to work, the absence of such defects should be carefully ascertained.
Trees which grow near marshy lands, or near manure tanks, absorb a sap of a peculiar nature, which has a disagreeable odour of rotten eggs, plainly perceptible when the wood is heated by rubbing, either with the hand or with a tool. The walnut is rather liable to the attacks of worms, especially in the sap-wood. This may be to a great extent prevented by washing the wood with a strong decoction of walnut " shucks" and alum, applied cold. The best walnut comes from abroad, and is much in use amongst Continental carvers, especially the Austrian; but though it is pleasant and easy to work, it has a dull and dingy appearance, so that a carving would have looked better and been more effective had it been done in any of the other woods mentioned, though the labour would have been far greater. Italian walnut is a rich and beautiful wood for a. variety of purposes, such as cabinets, panels, bookcases, and frames. It is hard, but the effect produced by its use amply repays the extra labour caused by the close texture of the material. American walnut is a very good wood for amateurs, and is much in favour with them for its dark colour. It has, however, a more open grain than lime, and therefore requires more care to avoid accidents.
It is used for many small works where much projection is unnecessary, as book-racks, letter-boxes, and watch-stands.