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Thread: Unusual (?) American Chestnut

  1. #1

    Unusual (?) American Chestnut

    Hi Folks,
    I'm the new guy here... Not new to woodworking, but a real newbie at turning. I just turned my first bowl, and attached a picture for your comments. The wood is wormy American Chestnut, and there is a story behind that. I will try to keep it short! About 5 years ago, I hired a tree crew to clear some trees to make room for additions. When one of the trees was felled, I noticed the tree crew gathering around. It was the American Chestnut, and on top of being somewhat rare, this one was infused with blood red streaks. I saved several pieces for future turning, and in a matter of hours, I had forestry people from the local university there, as well as a couple of guys from the USDA... How they found out, I have no idea. I think everyone wanted a piece of that tree!

    OK, it is 5 years later, and I just acquired my first wood lathe. I have done machine work for the better part of 35 years, but the bowl in the picture is my first attempt at turning wood. This bowl was cut out of a scrap piece I did not think I would be able to use, but it turned out better than I expected. My work cannot compare to some of what I have seen on this site, but have any of you run across any wood with type of coloration? I finished this bowl with a couple coats of Tung oil, and will look at something different for the next bowl, as it turned the light colors yellow. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!
    Danny
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Erie, PA
    Posts
    462
    Sure looks like Acer Negundo (Box Elder) to me. The American Chestnut I have (someplace in the shop) is a darker brown.

  3. #3
    I agree with Bill on the wood. What did the forestry guys say and do you have a leaf from the tree? A close up pic would help, too.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    E TN, near Knoxville
    Posts
    4,234

    Easy to distinquish

    Danny,

    It doesn't look like any chestnut I've seen (I have number of boards and beams). When I worked in the wood shop at Berea College years ago they had a stock and it also had a distinctive brown color. This is an example of some American Chestnut I turned:

    handmirrors_two.jpg

    Your piece and block certainly look like the classic Box Elder but admittedly color varies widely in individual trees. Fortunately there is a trivial way to eliminate one or the other from consideration. Just look at the end grain.

    American Chestnut is strongly ring porous, meaning the pores in the earlywood part of the ring are large compared to the latewood. Box elder is diffuse porous (a type of maple) and the rings are uniformly small and evenly distributed.

    All you have to do is take a small piece of wood, maybe 1/2" or 3/4" square, cut to show endgrain on one face, and shave the endgrain with a single-edge razor blade to remove any saw marks and expose the grain. This page describes this in section #7: http://www.wood-database.com/wood-ar...ication-guide/

    The difference between Am. Chestnut and Box Elder will be immediately obvious and will eliminate one or the other from consideration. I put pictures of the two together for comparison:



    If the endgrain of the wood you have does not look like the one on the left, it is not American or any kind of Chestnut.

    If it looks more like the grain in the picture on the right, there has been some mistake. In that case I can't imagine experienced forestry, USDA, and university people all making that mistake even if they just looked at a chainsawn end of a log. The only explanation would be a mixup in the blanks. American Chestnut is valuable - if it ISN'T chestnut maybe someone did a switcheroo. Yikes!

    If you want, you can mail a small piece to me and I would be glad to inspect it. (Send me a PM and I'll give you a mailing address) Or, send it to the US gov forest products laboratory and they will Id it for free. The information is in the Wood Database article I linked above in the same section #7.

    JKJ
    Last edited by John K Jordan; 01-01-2017 at 10:31 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Coshocton Ohio
    Posts
    117
    Almost 100% sure this is Box Elder. Really nice piece.

  6. #6
    Agree 100% on the box elder. If you are still in doubt, John K. Jordan offered a good tip: the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin will ID the wood for free with just a small sample. No fee, but don't be in a big hurry. I live in Wisconsin and red box elder is quite common here. I've been to the Forest Products Lab many times and it's a national treasure.

  7. #7
    Thank you for the replies! Interesting information. I don't remember exactly what the Forestry/USDA guys said, other than American Chestnut. At the time I did not give it much thought, as I had no idea about the history of the chestnut tree. I will look at the end grain as suggested and let you know what I see. I do not have a leaf. I dont guess the bark would help? Also, is the Box Elder also subject to worms? This tree certainly was infested. One other question: What caused the red streaks? I have heard a couple of theories from ground minerals to beetles... Thanks again! Danny

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Location
    Upstate SC
    Posts
    79
    The Box Elder Beetle caused the holes and the streaks. I am sure that you have Box Elder and not Chestnut. Google box elder and you will agree.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    E TN, near Knoxville
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Mason View Post
    The Box Elder Beetle caused the holes and the streaks. I am sure that you have Box Elder and not Chestnut. Google box elder and you will agree.
    Here is some scientific research on the red stain: https://www.plantmanagementnetwork.o...arch/redstain/ I didn't study it but from scanning it looks like the conclusion is the stain is caused microorganisms following damage by insect or other wounds, a non-specific response thought to be the tree's defense against further damage by fungus. The Wood Database also describes this.

    The red does fade fairly rapidly, although some seem to last much longer. Lissi Oland gave me some wood from a box elder root system that has stayed red longer than any other I've seen:

    boxelder_root.jpg

    JKJ

  10. #10
    Gentlemen, Thanks again for the responses! I did shave the end grain of a piece of the wood, and it more closely resembles the end grain of the Box Elder. I am not sure how the people who looked at it 5 years ago thought it was Chestnut, but they were obviously mistaken. It makes no difference to me, as I like the wood, and find the red color interesting. A friend is the Department Chair of Forestry at the local university. I am going to show her a piece of the wood and see if she can explain why some of her people called it American Chestnut. I am not doubting that it is Box Elder. Thanks again for all the information. Danny

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Kansas City
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    672
    You asked about other wood with red coloration. I have some pieces of sycamore with raspberry red color in it. Sycamore doesn't look like your pic, but interesting color.
    Last edited by Stan Calow; 01-02-2017 at 4:04 PM.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Northern Ohio
    Posts
    513
    Sycamore can have red in it, I have had Burl from Sycamores and they are light in color (red) and just breath taking. You have Box elder

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Location
    Huntersville, NC.
    Posts
    612
    It's beautiful whatever you call it. I would love to get some one of these days.

    Red
    RED

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    Shenandoah Valley, Va.
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    Not that you needed any more confirmation on the wood, but it is Box Elder.........obvious from your pic. Never have I seen any chestnut anywhere similar to this, and I have some in my shop....brown like the wood John J. shows in his pics. I have turned a lot of Box Elder, and have a stash of it underneath my deck now, and it looks like your pic, light wood, red streaks, all caused by the box elder beetle.
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  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    N.E. coastal, U.S.
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    133
    Oh yeah, it's Box Eder beyond much doubt. A nice one too... Box Elder is closely related to the Maple species, it surly is not the American Chestnut as anything I've encountered within the past forty years. JKJ has provided definitive visual information to identify this particular wood if you have access to a microscope...
    Last edited by Morey St. Denis; 01-03-2017 at 2:37 AM.

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