Wood of the Month:

European and Japanese Horse Chestnuts Differentiated by Heartwood Color

By Jo-Ann Kaiser



Aesculus turbinata (Japanese horse chestnut) and Aesculus hippocastanium (horse chestnut) of the family Hippocastanaceae.


Horse chestnut, Japanese horse chestnut, tochi, tochi-noki.


Average height and weight for the Japanese horse chestnut is 70 to 82 feet and 36 pounds per square foot. Specific gravity is 0.59. European horse chestnuts can grow to 131 feet tall with an average weight of 32 pounds per square foot and a specific gravity of 0.51.


Wood works well with hand and machine tools, with a slight blunting effect to cutting surfaces. It nails, screws, glues and finishes well. Wood dries fast. There is tendency for distortion and end splitting. Slow kilning at low temperatures is suggested. Sapwood is susceptible to attack by the common furniture beetle. Wood is perishable but can be treated with preservatives.

  Horse chestnuts in Europe (Aesculus hippocastanum) are very similar to the Japanese horse chestnut (Aesculus turbinate), which is native to Japan.

Trees related to both species grow in many parts of the world. More than 20 similar species grow in the United States and are known as buckeyes (Aesculus octandra). In the U.S., chestnut is the name used most often for the species Castanea dentata of the family Fagaceae.

The wood from the European horse chestnut (shown above) is creamy white and can be used for general turnery, carving, furniture and cabinetry. The wood is a favorite for making handles and brushbacks as well as kitchen utensils, fruit storage trays, boxes and toys. It is also used for the grip parts for tennis, squash and badminton rackets. Its light color and properties make it a good substitute for holly, although time of cutting has an effect on the wood?s color, according to some.

"If the tree is felled in early winter it is extremely white like holly, but timber felled later in the year is a pale yellow-brown color," write the editors of World Woods in Color.

Some logs are sliced as veneer and some veneer are dyed and used for marquetry as hardwood. The lumber has low bending strength and very low stiffness, with medium crushing strength.

Japanese Horse Chestnuts

The heartwood from Japanese horse chestnuts is a much warmer color than that of the horse chestnuts from Europe. The golden brown wood grain can be wavy or crossed, with occasional logs containing an unusual mottled figure that?s sliced into high-priced veneer. In the book World Woods In Color, author William Lincoln writes, "Selected logs containing mottled figure and incipient decaying yellow patches of discolored wood enclosed by black zone markings are highly prized for decorative work for cabinets and furniture."

Japanese horse chestnuts rate a good steam bending classification, with low stiffness and medium crushing strength and medium resistance to shock loads.

The tree is characterized by its huge leaves, which can be up to 3 feet wide, and flowers, which are white with red or pink blotches.

Distinctive-Looking Trees

Lumber and veneer from horse chestnuts and its close relatives, the buckeyes, have a variety of uses. However, neither horse chestnuts nor buckeyes are considered major commercial timber trees on the level of oak or cherry. The trees are readily identified due to some very distinctive features, including sticky buds, large fingered leaves, tall flowered candles and chestnuts. Chestnuts are inedible and encased in prickly green containers called conkers.

Some feel the trees are messy because they have a lot to shed. They became popular ornamental trees after being planted around the world many years ago.

"The horse chestnut was brought into Western civilization from Turkey in Elizabethan times," writes Hugh Johnson in his book, Encyclopedia of Trees. He said horse chestnuts turned out to be the biggest of all the flowering ornamental trees, hardy, fast growing, capable of growing in a variety of soil conditions and long living. "The oldest dated trees planted in England were planted in 1664."

The authors of the book, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, Timbers and Forests of the World, say most think the name horse chestnut comes from Turkey where it?s said the nuts were fed to horses, although nuts from the buckeye trees in the United States are considered inedible and poisonous by many. Albert Constantine Jr., in the book Know Your Woods, writes that early settlers used an extract from the bark of buckeye to make medicine.


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