Chestnut Tree - Tree Plantation Timber and Veneer
Chestnut trees once covered large tracts of forest in Europe, Asia and North America. This once dominant tree grew to heights of 200 feet or more with trunk diameters that exceeded 10 feet. When the first European settlers discovered them growing in the Application mountains, they thought they had an inexhaustible supply for furniture and ships. However, it took just 50 years to decimate "old growth" chestnut stands.
It was about to get worse for American chestnut trees. In the early 1900’s New York Public Parks planted newly imported Chinese Chestnuts on Long Island. Unknown to the Parks Board, the Chinese chestnut trees contained a fungus blight that killed off 99 percent of the remaining American chestnut trees by the 1950’s. There are a few virgin Chestnut stands in remote corners and crevices of the Kentucky and Tennessee mountains– too isolated to be affected by the blight and too knarly to be of any commercial timber value.
Types Of Chestnut Trees
There are three types of Chestnut trees; American chestnut, Sweet chestnut from Europe and Chinese chestnut from Asia.
Chinese chestnut is now the predominant Chestnut tree in North America. Chinese chestnut trees have the most beautiful flowers.
American chestnut produces the most edible nuts, which were popular “roasted over an open fire” during the Christmas holidays 100 years. American chestnut has the most valuable wood.
Saving American Chestnut
Interestingly, millions of American chestnut trees sprout up each season from the original tree roots, some of them hundreds of years old. The blight, which produces cankers along the trunk and branches of the tree, cannot grow underground so the roots remain disease free. The problem is that when the sprouts attain a caliper of an inch or so in year 3 or 4, the cankers start to form eventually killing off the young sapling. Efforts are underway to cross breed original rootstalk Chestnut tree DNA with blight resistant Chinese varieties. The results so far seem promising and soon the hope is to grow millions of seedlings to replant native forests with blight resistant American chestnut.
Most chestnut wood is Chinese chestnut, which is a lighter color than true American chestnut. Even though Chinese chestnut is less susceptible to chestnut blight, it still cam weaken the tree so insects can get past its defenses. As a result most chestnut wood is peppered with holes and sold as “wormy chestnut” wood. Chestnut is typically more expensive than oak, particularly American chestnut, which is now rare. American chestnut sold today is more often than not reclaimed timber and lumber from old barns and urban buildings.
Sweet Chestnut or European chestnut is a faster growing tree than its counterparts reaching its maximum height of 60 feet or so in only 50 years. This fast growth increases the size of it cellular structure compared to American and Chinese chestnut making it less dense and therefore not as durable or valuable. Sweet chestnut is thought to be indigenous to Italy where it grows to massive size – some trees are 50 feet in circumference.
American Chestnut North American Growing Zones
American Chestnut is native to the Appalachian Mountain region of the United States and grows south of the Great Lakes down as far as Tennessee and Kentucky.
Chestnut Tree Plantations
All varieties of Chestnut trees grow faster than most other types of hardwood, which make it an ideal candidate for a commercial tree plantation. Given the right growing conditions (lots of sunshine and water) chestnut trees can experience 5 or 6 feet vertical top growth each year when they are young saplings. They can be trained to grow straight with little side branching to create a future sawlog without knots. Once American chestnut blight resistant varieties are available, any chestnut plantations established soon after would be considered valuable indeed.
Superior Wood - Almost Impossible To Find
The following comments where collected from a national wood products discussion forum working with Chestnut in the United States and Canada.
Comment from contributor A:
If you are working with American chestnut be prepared to work with a hard and brittle wood. Most American chestnut you buy will reclaimed from an old bard or building and may be over 100 years old. Once it is milled and finished it looks amazing. I run chestnut boards through my planner just to take off the rough surfaces caused by age.
Comment from contributor B:
These days most chestnut sold will be “wormy” – filled with holes. Although still desirable to work with, some of us, me included, don’t really like all the holes in the finished product, especially for a piece of furniture like a tabletop. I use a clear or colored epoxy to fill the holes depending on what finish I want. The clear epoxy looks kinda neat – people run their hands over the wood and can’t believe that the holes are filled. I use the colored epoxy when I want to stain the piece and want to hide the holes completely. Don’t use wood filler and wood glue – both will shrink and crack. Even worse, both products will leave a tell tale depression over the hole when it hardens, which will make it impossible to finish.
No American Chestnut at this (waiting for seedling availablity)
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