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Kanamono in the form of a cricket on two chestnuts by Haruaki, MFA # 11.24044


Flowering Chestnut by John Edwards MFA# 69.143

Deciduous trees of the genus Castanea, native to temperate zones in the United States, Europe, northern Africa and parts of Asia. The American chestnut, Castanea dentata, and the European chestnut, Castanea sativa, produce a light reddish brown wood that is relatively weak with a coarse grain. The bark is light when the tree is young but turns dark and furrowed with age. Chestnut trees produce a soft light wood that splits easily but does not turn well. It is used for general construction, framing, fencing, poles and barrels. Chestnut wood was commonly used for painted panels, especially in Italy (Gettens and Stout 1966). Chestnut wood, like oaks, contains many tannins. These vegetable tannins are of the pyrogallol class and were often used to tan leathers because their low pH and low salts content produced a firm leather with a pale, reddish color. Additionally, the extract from the bark of the chestnut tree was used as a dye. Its dark color extracts were used in 19th century Italy and southern France to make an inexpensive fast black dye for silk. The fruit can be peeled and eaten most often after roasting. Additionally, they can also be dried and milled into a powder to starch and bleach fabrics.


Synonyms and Related Terms

American chestnut (Castanea dentata); European chestnut (Castanea sativa); Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissma); Kastanje (Dan., Ned.); Edelkastanie (Deut.); castaño (Esp.); châtaignier (Fr.); Kasztan (Pol.); castagno (It.)

Note: not the same as Horse chestnut, water chestnut or chestnut oak.

Collection Risks

  • Susceptible to worms. Highly acidic.
  • Like oak, chestnuts contains many tannins, that may slowly corrode some metals such as iron.
Silk dyed with chestnuts; Uemera Dye Archive

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Large tree growing over 30 m.
  • Bark=smooth dark brown
  • Leaves=simple, ovate with veins and serrated edges.
  • Flowers=tan (male) or tiny pale green (female) catkins (8-10 cm long).
  • Fruit=Large husk containing 2-3 shiny brown nuts.
  • Soft, lightweight wood with porous rings (specific gravity= 0.48; density= 36-46 ppcf).
  • Wood is low in salts and high in acids.

Working Properties

Chestnut wood has excellent outdoor resistant. The light brown color is often mistaken for oak, but the timber from old trees is neither as hard or strong as oak. It can split and warp when harvested. Chestnut is rarely found in building structures, but rather as small pieces such as barrels, stakes and fencing.

Additional Images

Resources and Citations

  • Alden Identification Services, Microscopic Wood Identification: Link
  • Virginia Tech Dendrology website at (accessed Oct. 8, 2005)
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 185
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • F. H. Titmuss, Commercial Timbers of the World, The Technical Press Ltd., London, 1965
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Pam Hatchfield, Pollutants in the Museum Environment, Archetype Press, London, 2002
  • R. J. Gettens and G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966.
  • Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, Douglas M. Considine (ed.), Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1976
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998

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