My wife and I were visiting our families up in North Carolina. As usual I tried to spend a little time out in the shop and while out behind the shop I ran into a stack of lumber that I had almost forgotten about. About two years ago we had to demo my Great Grandmother’s old house as the state was building a new four-lane and the old house turned out to be a casualty of progress. After removing the old plaster we realized that about 90% of the framing in the house was chestnut or what we call wormy chestnut.
It is estimated that before the 1900’s 25% of trees in the Appalachian mountains were American chestnut, I have read that the mountains looked snow covered in the spring when the chestnuts were in bloom. Today they are gone due to a chestnut blight that hit in the early 1900’s, with only a few mature trees are know to exist in the Appalachian mountains. What we call wormy chestnut is actually trees that were damaged by the blight but were cut to be used as timber for houses and barns rather than to lay and rot.
Wormy chestnut was a popular wood for local woodworkers at the time when I grew up and honestly I have always thought of it as a bit old fashioned and rustic. But standing there looking at the stack of lumber I realized that it was part of my heritage and that I should try and incorporate it into the style of work I build.
I decided that since the wood is so durable and perfect for the outdoors, that the first project I am going to work on is building a bench to go outside the front door of my home. The challenge is building a bench that is somewhat contemporary but using a wood that is definitely on the rustic side. Some of the challenges in working with this type of wood is that a lot of the boards are split or deteriorated from exposer to weather and insects, this must be taking into account when planning to ensure you have enough material. Another major concern is that because the wood has been used in framing there tends to be nails in it. A visual inspection will not always find all of the nails because some have rusted until there is nothing on the surface, a metal detector is the best way to make sure all the nails have been removed.
I look forward to getting started on this project and will post more soon!
The picture of the board is an actual piece that I am working with, and although I took this picture because there were a lot of holes in it, it is a pretty true representation of the wood. Also, the picture below is a gun cabinet that my father built before I was born so it means a lot to me.