The Castanea spp. genus (chestnut) contains about 12 species, and is in the beech family (fagaceae). Chestnut trees are primarily grown in the Eastern United States, Europe and Asia. Often referred to as American chestnut or sweet chestnut it is often sold as “wormy chestnut.”
Commercial quantities of American chestnut were once harvested from New England to northern Georgia. American chestnut was attacked by blight in the early 1920’s wiping out nearly three billion mature trees. This blight was caused by an accidentally introduced Asian bark fungus. The wood is resistant to decay, but the dead trees were then damaged by insects, leaving holes and discoloration. These trees once stood upwards of 120’ tall with 5’-7’ diameter trunks. American chestnut is both rare, and relatively valuable. Most Chestnut sold today is salvaged from old structures and sold as reclaimed lumber.
Used in flooring, furniture, decorative millwork, and cabinetry.
The heartwood can be a light to medium greyish brown that darkens
to a reddish brown with age. The sapwood can be pale white to light brown.
The grain is straight, spiraled, and/or interlocked with conspicuous
growth rings. Ring-porous grain with narrow rays.
DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: ABOVE AVERAGE
Chestnut has a dimensional stability factor of 3.4 percent (radial) and 6.7 percent (tangential), meaning this species may shrink/swell up to 6.7 percent of its given width, depending on how it’s cut, when going from green (30 percent MC) to oven dried.
DIMENSIONAL CHANGE COEFFICIENT:
Average = .00116 (radial),
Average = .48
Very easy to work with, but has a tendency to split easily. The air compressor PSI will need to be reduced to avoid tongue splitting. Use of 18 gauge cleats work best.
Chestnut sands very easily. Follow standard grit progression sequence. The final grit used is normally higher than other domestic species. Chestnut stains and finishes very nicely.
Chestnut is not listed in the CITES appendices or on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of threatened species.
Chestnut is widely cultivated today for its edible seeds. Chestnut seeds have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. The United States produces only one percent of the planet’s chestnut production. To the early Christians, chestnuts symbolized chastity. Chestnuts are the only nuts that contain vitamin C. The Christmas song, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” was written in 1945 by Mel Tormé, then later sung by Nat King Cole in 1946. The chestnut tree of One Hundred Horses grows on Mount Etna in Sicily, and is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world. It is between 2,000 and 4,000 years old and 190 feet in circumference.
SOURCES: The Wood Database; Copyright © 2008-2016, Eric Meier |Wood Handbook (Wood as an Engineering Material), USDA Forest Products Laboratory.
Chestnut Leaf Photo Courtesy of The American Chestnut Foundation.