Ash Lumber — Key Characteristics, Grains, Finishes

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Ash wood is a real workhorse in the world of woodworking and furniture crafting. It’s a popular hardwood for good reasons. If you want to know closer what makes ash lumber tick, you better explore its unique grain patterns, standout qualities, and the finishes you can apply to it.

But that’s not all. Let me shed light on the pros and cons of using ash wood in your projects. In the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of this versatile material.

What is Ash Wood: Color, Grain Pattern, Appearance

Ash is a hardwood with light color and smooth grain. Moreover, its traditional, unvarying grain pattern and various tones of beige make it a desirable choice for luxurious furniture. 

Ash wood has a long legacy in the production of furniture in America due to its durability, featherweight, aesthetic appeal, and its effective ability to absorb stains.

Origin of Ash Wood

The United States is home to numerous species of ash trees, estimated to be more or less 40 to 60 types. Also, it can be found growing in various regions along the east coastal part of North America, including some areas of Canada. 

Ash grain wood pattern

European Ash Wood

The heartwood has a hue ranging from light brown to medium brown, with occasional darker markings that are marketed as Olive Ash.

European Ash, scientifically known as Fraxinus excelsior, has been grappling with ash dieback [1], also known as chalara for a significant period, which has led to its classification as an endangered species since 2016. 

Despite continuous attempts by the government to tackle the disease’s spread, the associated consequences are both damaging and financially burdensome.

White Ash Wood + Origin and Tree Sizes

The lightest colored type of ash tree available is known as the White Ash, or Fraxinus americana. It has tree rings that are less tightly packed together compared to the Black Ash.

These trees are abundant across North America. Vermont falls directly within this line, making them native to the area. In their natural habitat, white ash trees can grow up to approximately 100 feet tall. 

Ash wood

The lower stem of the tree typically remains without branches or leaves, while the upper portion grows into a densely packed crown of foliage and branches.

Is it a Hardwood or Softwood?

Ash wood falls into the hardwood category, coming from a type of tree called a dicotyledon. This particular hardwood, ash, is renowned for its impressive strength and long-lasting quality. It’s a top choice when you need wood that can stand the test of time.

Density + Janka Hardness Rating

Janka Test is utilized to assess the strength of wood by pressing a ball of steel into a wood block until it sinks in half. The level of pressure required to accomplish this is recorded, and in the US, it is commonly displayed in pounds of force (lbf) or Janka units. 

Ash wood has a density ranging from 650 to 850 kilograms per cubic meter and a Janka hardness of 1,320 pounds of force (lbf).

Durability and Strength

Ash wood is recognized for its excellent durability and strength, primarily due to its high Janka hardness rating that falls within the range of 1320 to 2000 lbf. This indicates that it can endure indentation and maintain its structural integrity for a prolonged period.

Ash lumber

Furthermore, ash wood possesses a relatively high density and remarkable shock resistance, which enhances its overall durability and strength. 

Uses

Early civilizations utilized it for a diverse range of purposes, ranging from making weapons to constructing wagons, and also ascribed spiritual or healing properties to it.

Currently, ash wood continues to be widely chosen for various applications, including but not limited to flooring, cabinets, furniture, tools, sports equipment, and weaponry. Its versatility and desirable qualities make it a popular choice across multiple industries and sectors.

Additionally, its pleasing appearance and ability to be stained or finished in different ways make it a favored option for furniture and cabinetry. 

Eco-Friendliness

The sustainability of ash wood stems from the fact that these trees absorb carbon from the air, which is then stored in ash furniture for an extended period of time. 

Ash dining table

Since numerous ash trees have perished due to the Emerald Ash Borer, utilizing timber from deceased trees is considerably more eco-friendly than harvesting those live ones.

Best Stains and Finishes for Ash

When it comes to staining and finishing ash wood, there are a few options to consider depending on the desired look and level of protection.

Oil-based and water-based stains are popular choices in staining ash wood as they penetrate deeply into the wood fibers and are an eco-friendly option. For finishes, wax and polyurethane are popular choices as they provide a smooth and durable finish. 

Does Ash Wood Darken or Lighten Over Time?

As time passes, most types of hardwoods undergo a slight alteration in color. In general, lighter woods will become more intense, while woods that are darker will somewhat lighten. It is a natural occurrence caused by the wood’s exposure to oxygen and UV light.

Ash desk

How to Distinguish Fake From Genuine Ash Wood

When you’re trying to tell real ash wood from impostors, keep an eye on some important clues: the pattern of the grain, its color, how heavy it feels, if it looks consistent, and inspect the end grain. 

Don’t hesitate to consult with an expert, too, as their knowledge can confirm the authenticity of the wood.

Can You Use Ash Outdoors?

Due to its low resistance to rot, ash wood is generally not recommended for outdoor use.

FAQ

What are the disadvantages of ash wood?

The disadvantages of ash wood to consider includes its porous open grain, which may not be suitable for outdoor use due to its vulnerability to rot and decay. Additionally, ash wood can burn relatively quickly, which can make it less desirable for certain applications.

Is ash a cheap wood?

Ash is a cheap wood as it is readily available at most retailers that sell hardwood lumber, thus, it is generally considered to be one of the more affordable options among native hardwoods.

More wood-related reads here: 

Conclusion

Ash lumber stands out in the world of woodworking thanks to its distinctive, straight-grain design that many craftsmen covet. What makes it even more appealing is its versatility when it comes to finishing options, allowing you to create diverse visual and tactile effects.

When handled with care and precision, ash proves to be an outstanding pick for a broad spectrum of woodworking endeavors. Whether you’re crafting furniture, cabinets, or other projects, this hardwood can truly shine in your hands.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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