close up photograph of american chestnut tree blooming

The American chestnut tree was once dominant in forests of the Eastern United States — until a fungal blight killed virtually all four billion of them. Remnants of the population remain, but few are large and almost all of these are severely sick from the blight fungus.

As a result, the primary source of American chestnut wood is old cabins and barns. This wood is likely more than 100 years old. Because I am a member of the board of directors of The American Chestnut Foundation and I am active in the Maryland Chapter of TACF, I can obtain American chestnut wood from trees that died recently.

Why do I like carving American chestnut wood?

Because of its natural beauty, and the challenge. Plus, the restoration of the American chestnut tree is one of my passions. When people see my work, they usually ask me about the woods I use for carving. They want to know which wood is my favorite. I tell them my favorite is American chestnut wood. I also tell them that a person must be crazy to carve American chestnut wood. That elicits a quizzical look until I explain.

American chestnut wood is ring porous. (Other domestic ring porous woods include oak, ash, sassafras, and elm.) Each annual ring has a layer of porous spring growth and a summer growth layer with few pores. That gives chestnut wood a dramatic and beautiful grain pattern.

Carving tools tend to dig into the porous layer and carving details within the porous layer is quite tricky. Also, chestnut wood splits easily (think twenty-foot-long split rails for fencing). I have often had to reorient a bird head or glue a piece of wood back onto the carving.

Finally, recycled chestnut wood (or any other recycled wood) is non-uniform. Some areas of an old beam are harder or softer, some are more brittle, and often there is internal insect damage (as seen in this photo I took of “wormy” American chestnut wood).

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a photograph of gary carver of carverscarvings standing in his aviary holding his pet cockatoo named punky


Gary P. Carver, Ph.D. is the talented artist and master craftsman behind the unique stylized bird carvings found here at CarversCarvings.

Gary is also a long-time member, and Director Emeritus of The American Chestnut Foundation.

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