The American chestnut tree is well known for its nuts which are delicious roasted in the oven. But what is it like for firewood? It’s unlikely you’ll find this type of firewood for sale, but you may have an old tree that’s fallen. If you’re wondering whether American chestnut is good firewood, then keep reading. In this guide, we’ll look at its strengths and weaknesses compared to other popular firewoods.

Is American chestnut good for firewood?

American chestnut can be used for firewood if you’re in a pinch. It provides low-moderate heat output and tends to spark excessively, so it isn’t recommended for open fireplaces without a guard. This type of wood is scarce, so it would be better used for making rustic furniture. American chestnut firewood is superior to horse chestnut or Chinese chestnut.

  • Easy to split if it hasn’t been seasoned.
  • Often gives off sparks as it burns.
  • Doesn’t give off a lot of smoke.
  • Offers poor coaling properties.    
American chestnut firewood statistics

Chestnut firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Heat output is important to consider when you’re deciding which firewood is best for your home. It needs to provide adequate warmth, especially if you’re in a chilly part of the world.

American chestnut provides 18.0 million BTUs per cord which is at the lower end of the spectrum. That’s at a similar level to boxelder, hemlock, and aspen. Its heat output is lower than popular hardwoods like beech and oak.

A low BTU rating doesn’t mean the firewood isn’t worth using though. If you’ve got unwanted wood lying around, chestnut will make useful kindling. It can also be burned in the shoulder season when temperatures aren’t too cold. You may want to combine chestnut with other wood that has better coaling properties like oak.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of chestnut to various other common types of firewood. 

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Buckeye13.8
Basswood13.8
Alder17.5
Boxelder18.3
Chestnut18.0
Aspen18.2
Hemlock19.3
Coffeetree21.6
Black Walnut22.2
Beech27.5
White oak29.1

2. Smoke

Chestnut often gives off moderate levels of smoke as it burns. It’s not as bad as firewood like Douglas fir, but you may end up with red eyes if you’ve got an open fire. Wood stove owners won’t find smoky wood like chestnut a big issue.

Seasoning the wood properly will go a long way toward reducing the smoke output. If it’s still green, the wood contains high levels of water content and will smoke as it burns. The fire uses its energy to burn off the water rather than produce heat, which is inefficient.

3. Ease of splitting

Splitting chestnut isn’t too hard if you get it done before it gets dried. Well-seasoned chestnut turns hard, and a heavy-duty maul will be needed.  If you’re finding it difficult to split, we suggest waiting for an icy cold morning to make the task easier.

4. Sparks

Chestnut is known for giving off a lot of sparks as it burns, although it’s a better option than mulberry, pine, or juniper firewood. You should take care if you have an open hearth or are out camping. One random spark when you’re not paying attention could create a fire hazard

5. Aroma

American chestnut has a mild, pleasant fragrance that most people enjoy as it burns. Although you may hear reviews of this wood smelling unpleasant, that’s usually horse chestnut which is a very different type of tree.

If you need wood for smoking, we don’t recommend chestnut as it burns fast, and doesn’t add much flavor. Barbecue enthusiasts and meat smokers are better off using another variety of firewood like cherry, mesquite, or hickory.

6. Coaling

Firewood that produces good quality coals means you’ll enjoy the warmth for longer. Frequently adding more wood to the fire isn’t necessary, so you set the fire and relax. 

American chestnut has poor coaling properties as it burns fast. This firewood pales in comparison to beech. 

You’ll need to restart the fire from scratch the next morning as the embers will have burnt out.

7. Creosote build-up

Any firewood will create creosote build-up inside the chimney, a black tar-like residue. You’ll find that well-seasoned chestnut doesn’t produce high levels of creosote. That means you won’t have to clean out the chimney as often as you would burning pine.

  

Other types of chestnut trees

Sweet chestnut: A common variety in North America, also known as Spanish or European chestnut. It is a common firewood option in the United States.

Dwarf chestnut: A small tree or shrub that may reach 30 feet tall if the conditions are right.  

Chinese chestnut: A fast-burning firewood that some complain gives off an unpleasant odor as it burns.

Chestnut trees are a fast-growing species.

How long does it take to season chestnut?

Chestnut will take 12-18 months to season in hot, dry climates. Those living in cooler, damper areas are best to give the wood at least 24 months before burning. Burning firewood too soon will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than properly dried wood.

You’ll reduce the seasoning time if you’ve got an old chestnut tree that’s been dead for some time. Most of the moisture will have already been removed.

Tips for seasoning chestnut

To speed up the seasoning of chestnut wood, follow these helpful tips that don’t require a lot of extra work.

Split the firewood: splitting the rounds will increase the surface area that gets exposed to heat and wind.

Position correctly: drying time can be reduced by pointing the exposed stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.

Cover the wood: use a suitable cover to protect the stacks from snow and rain.

Set up gaps between the rows: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each to allow air to circulate.

Elevate the wood: lay the firewood on planks or pallets to create airflow beneath.

Light green spiky chestnut blossoms
Closeup of blossoms containing chestnuts.

How can I identify American chestnut firewood?

American chestnut has light-medium brown heartwood that transforms into a reddish-brown shade as it matures. Its sapwood is pale white to light brown. The wood’s texture is coarse and uneven.

Fast facts

  • A deciduous tree that is native to eastern North America.
  • Mature American chestnut trees are scarce due to ink disease which has drastically reduced their numbers since the 1800s.
  • The botanical name for the American chestnut is the Castanea dentata from the beech family.
  • A fast-growing tree that reaches heights of 60-90 feet but occasionally grows over 100 feet.

Summing up

The American chestnut isn’t the best firewood on offer. It doesn’t give off a lot of heat and the sparks and smoke may not appeal. You’re best to use it for kindling or shoulder season wood.

American chestnuts that have reached maturity are few and far between. You’d only consider using it to burn if a tree has already fallen. Even then, this type of wood is prized by woodsmiths, so you’re better off using or selling it for other purposes.   

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