Uses For Horse Chestnut Wood – Building With Horse Chestnut Trees

Uses For Horse Chestnut Wood – Building With Horse Chestnut Trees

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Horsechestnut trees are common in the U.S. but are also found in Europe andJapan. These are prized ornamental trees and not always associated withwoodworking. Building with horse chestnut lumber isn’t common because it is aweaker wood compared to others, and it doesn’t resist rot well. But, with itspretty, creamy color and other desirable characteristics, there are some usesfor horse chestnut in woodworking and turning.

About Horse Chestnut Wood

There are several varieties of horse chestnut tree,including several types of buckeye native to the U.S. Horse chestnut is alsonative top parts of Europe and the Japanese horse chestnut, of course, isnative to Japan. In landscaping, horse chestnut is prized for its quick growth,ornamental shape, large and distinctive leaves, and striking spikes of flowersthat emerge in spring.

The wood of the horse chestnut is an attractive, light,creamy color. The color may vary a little depending on when the tree wasfelled. It may be whiter when cut in the winter and more yellow when felledlater in the year. Japanese horse chestnut heartwood is usually a little darkerthan that of other varieties. It can also have a wavier grain that makes itdesirable for veneers.

Horse chestnut wood is fine-grained. It is also soft, whichmakes woodworking with horse chestnut easy. Although some wood workers do notprefer it because of the wood’s low density. This can give it a fuzzy textureon the worked surfaces.

Uses for Horse Chestnut Wood

Horse chestnut for building and construction is nottypically advised. The wood is not very strong and it absorbs moisture, so ithas pretty poor resistance to decay. However, the ease of working with the wooddoes make it desirable for some uses such as:

  • Turning
  • Carving
  • Veneer
  • Cabinets
  • Trim
  • Plywood
  • Some furniture

Horse chestnut lumber and wood is specifically prized forturning bowls or other storage pieces for fruit. The wood’s ability to absorbmoisture helps keep stored fruit longer. Some other turned or worked items thathorse chestnut is commonly used for includes racket grips, broom handles,kitchen utensils, boxes, and toys.

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Two kinds of local chestnuts: edible and toxic

Q: My mother picked a whole lot of chestnuts off the front lawn this year in Kerrisdale. Are they in fact edible? I have been told that our variety that grows here is not.

A: Two different chestnut species grow here. One kind is edible, the other is poisonous.

The toxic kind (the Horse Chestnut) is the one that is most frequently grown here and its very likely this is the one your mother picked.

The horse chestnut has very large leaves composed of five leaflets attached by short stems to one sturdy main stalk. The nuts tend to be rounded and there is usually (though not invariably) one nut in each spiny case.

Horse chestnuts are definitely unsafe. They have been known to cause nausea, diarrhea, loss of co-ordination, weakness, paralysis and at times even death.

The edible kind is called the sweet chestnut. This has oval leaves with serrated sides. Each leaf is on its own stalk. The top of the nuts is pointed and often one side is flat while the other is rounded. Frequently two or more nuts share space in one spiny capsule.

Q: We have a very healthy 10-year-old wisteria, which grows plenty of foliage but only produces two or three blooms each year. It faces west and is growing over an arbor. We have tried fertilizing, extra watering, less watering and hard pruning all with the same result. How can we help the plant produce more flowers?

A: Quite a few gardeners have problems getting wisteria to bloom. I wonder if yours gets enough sun. Just because its facing west doesnt mean it gets abundant sun. Are tall trees or tall buildings in the way turning what should be full sun into partial sun?

Theres often delay in getting a wisteria to flower, but six years is usually the longest you can expect if your wisteria was grown from cuttings. Seed-grown plants can wait even 10 to 12 years. I wonder if you bought the plant yourselves or inherited it when you bought your home.

What is under your control is fertilizing. High nitrogen fertilizer is definitely to be avoided because this encourages the vine to produce even more leaves, stems and suckers than it would normally. It could be your soil has become overly rich from the fertilization youve already done.

Many gardeners prune wisteria, not only hard but also very frequently. Its not uncommon to find them pruning long, new whippy growth and suckers once a month in mild winters. Once the pergola or arbor is covered, they keep cutting the young growth back so the wisteria continues to fit into the space its been given.

In late winter, the future flower buds will be the round, fat ones. The vegetative buds are thin and pointed.

I think your chances of getting more flowers are good since you already have a few.

Q: I have a lovely pink peony in my back garden that is over-run by eight very tall Asiatic lilies. Is it too late this fall to dig the lilies up and replant them?

A: Its much safer to replant your Asiatic lilies in the spring. If a severe cold snap came along in November, your bulbs could suffer badly if theyd just been transplanted.

Common Types

There are about eight to nine types of chestnut trees. However, there are four types of chestnut trees that are common. They are:

  1. American Chestnut Tree
  2. Chinese Chestnut Tree
  3. European Chestnut Tree
  4. Japanese Chestnut Tree

1. American Chestnut Tree (Castanea dentate)

American chestnut trees are large deciduous trees that are native to eastern North America. They were the most prominent and important forest trees in the region before the chestnut blight (a fungal disease) devastated them. They were considered the finest types of chestnuts trees in the world.

In the first half alone, about 3 to 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed by the blight. Today, only a few trees are found in the region that survived the blight. Many small shoots of trees that were alive formerly still remain.


American chestnut trees are deciduous trees that grow rapidly. They can grow to be as tall as 30 meters. A rapid growth paired with a large number of annual seed crop resulted in the large population of these trees before the attack of blight.

Some morphological traits distinguish the American chestnut trees from other chestnut species that are similar. The leaf shape, nut size, and petiole length are some of the distinguishing features.

The leaves are shorter and broader as compared to those of sweet chestnut. They are about 14 to 20cm in length and 7 to 10cm in breadth.

American chestnut is monoecious. It produces small, pale-green colored make flowers which occur tightly long catkins. The female parts of the flower are present near the base and appear later in Spring to early summer. American chestnut trees are self-incompatible which means that two trees (any member of the genus Catenea) are required for pollination.

The nuts of this tree are a distinguishing feature, as mentioned earlier. They are enclosed in a tan velvet lined burr that is spiny and green in color. The burrs open and fall to the ground near the first frost of the season.

The nuts are an important resource. They are edible and are used to treat ailments such as heart conditions, whooping cough, and chafed skin.

TheRevival of American Chestnut Trees

The flowers of the predominant chestnut species in eastern forests before the early 1900s bloomed so beautifully that it appeared like a sea with white combers plowing across a surface (naturalist Donald Culross Peattie). Unfortunately, in 1904 when a blight that came with imported Asian chestnuts resulted in the exuberance to fade. By the 1950s, the destruction was so widespread that only a dozen American chestnut trees survived out of billions! However, after so many years there finally has been a ray of hope. Several hundred chestnuts were planted and this historic planting has completed their first season of full growth in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.

2. Chinese Chestnut Tree (Castanea mollissima)

Chinese chestnut trees are native to China, Korea, and Taiwan. The scientific name of these trees mollissima has been derived from young leaves and the softly downy shoots.

They grow best in zones 6 through 10. They can survive cold winters in northern parts of the U.S.


They are deciduous trees, growing to a height of 20 meters. They have a broad crown. The leaves are arranged in an alternating fashion. Leaves have a toothed margin. Flowers of Chinese chestnut trees are produced in catkins that are 4 to 20cm long. The female flowers are located at the base while male flowers occupy the rest of the catkin. The fruit of Chinese chestnut trees is a cupule which is densely spiny. It contains two to three brown colored nuts that are glossy in appearance.


The nuts of Chinese chestnuts are edible. They are sweet and considered the best tasting of all chestnuts. Nuts serve as an important food source for wildlife.

3. European Chestnut Tree (Castanea sativa)

European chestnut trees are flowering trees that are native to Asia Minor, Southern Europe, and are widely cultivated throughout the temperate world. They are long-lived deciduous trees.

European chestnut tree is commonly called sweet chestnut to distinguish it from the horse chestnut to which it is distantly related. Other names by which it is commonly referred include Portuguese chestnut, Spanish chestnut, and marron (which is a French word for chestnut). Sativa is a Latin word which means ‘cultivated by humans’.


European chestnut trees grow to a height of 20 to 35 meters. The bark of these trees has a pattern of net shape (retiform). It has fissures or deep furrows that run spirally up the trunk in both directions. The trunk is straight. The branches emerge from low height from the trunk. They live for 500 to 600 years. They can even grow to be as old as 1000 years if they are cultivated. The leaves are oblong, lanceolate, and are boldly toothed. The nuts are edible, having great nutritional value. They are spiky and usually contain two nuts in one capsule.

The wood of European chestnut trees is hard, strong, and light in color. It is used to make barrels, furniture, and roof beams. The timber is highly dense which makes it durable. This makes the wood to be used for external purposes like fencing.

4. Japanese Chestnut Tree (Castanea crenata)

Japanese Chestnut trees are also called Korean Castanea and Korean chestnut. They are native to Japan and South Korea.


Japanese chestnut trees are deciduous trees of medium size that grow to a height of 10 to 15 meters. The leaves are small in size. They have small teeth on the edges. The burrs of the Japanese chestnut tree are a dense mass of spines that are interlocked in a thatched pattern. Each burr contains up to three nuts.

The nuts are larger than nuts of the American chestnut. The tips of nuts are pointed. They have a few hairs on its surface. Each bur contains two to three nuts.

The nuts of Japanese chestnut trees are sweet and edible. They are resistant to chestnut blight. They are used in the development of disease-resistant hybrids with American chestnut in North America.

American Chestnut Versus Chinese Chestnut

I am wondering if this is American chestnut? I know that AC trees are extremely rare, like only 28 known to be alive in the US, but the homeowner who had this tree in their yard ate the nuts all the time, so I assume that rules out horse chestnut. Is there another edible chestnut besides AC? Also a lot of the boards have bad grain separation. If you drop them on the ground they just shatter along the grain.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor H:
Looks like butternut to me. If it is very soft like pine, it would support my guess.

From contributor J:
Butternut with ring shake. Either that or there are now only 27 chestnut trees.

From contributor T:
There are likely many more than 27 or 28 American chestnut trees in the wild. These trees may have developed some resistance to the blight. There are several trees commonly mistaken for American chestnut, foremost among them is the Chinese chestnut, host of the infamous blight that wiped out the American chestnut. The nuts are edible, and I was told the wood is not discernable from the American. To further complicate things, there are likely many thousands of hybrids of the American and Chinese chestnuts.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The pure American chestnut tree will develop today in the wild or in a plantation to about 6" diameter and perhaps 25' high and then will die due to the blight. It will produce some nuts before death, which gives us seeds for the future. It also will root sprout. There have been a hundred years of reports about blight resistant true American chestnut trees, but such a tree has not yet happened. Hybrids, genetic crosses and other chestnuts (such as Chinese) apparently can survive the blight's attack.

From contributor G:
I was going to post what the good Dr. said. In the late 80's we cut over 200 ac in SKY and it had a field of about 5 ac on it that was all AC. At about 4" diameter they would start to die and a few made it to about 6" diameter. To walk it and look at it was something.

From contributor T:
It must be Chinese chestnut then, because this tree was huge - about 50" diameter. I will do some research on Chinese chestnuts and see what I can turn up.

From contributor V:
I dealt with a lot of American chestnut and Chinese chestnut. The board in the top picture has some cathedral grail that looks identical to American chestnut, but the rest of the grain in both boards is hard to identify because of the grain structure and the photo itself. The bottom board's larger cathedral grain is hard to identify also, as it is so comparable to ash and a few other woods. Seems darker colored than American chestnut, yet much lighter than Chinese chestnut, which is a darker form of tan and almost brown with a creamy white sapwood.

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