The Definitive Wood Guide: Ash
Ash wood has a proud history. Woodworkers know the close-grained wood of the ash tree for being tough and elastic. It was these qualities that made it the preferred wood for producing spear-shafts. The Old English æsc means “spear”, as a result.
- Characteristics of Ash
- Types of Ash
- Solid, Veneer & Laminate
- How Does Ash Age?
- Most Common Finishes
- Care and Maintenance of Ash
- Popular Ash Pieces
- Is Ash Eco Friendly?
Ash wood is also connected to many legends. Indeed, Norse mythology calls it “The World Tree”. There are claims that the original man came from ash. Burning ash as a Yule log is an assurance that the year ahead will be prosperous.
Characteristics of Ash
Ash is a light coloured, smooth-grained hardwood that grows in groups. The European Ash (Fraxinus Excelsior) grows in woods. It also flourishes along hedgerows and in streets and parks throughout the UK and much of Europe.
It is among the UK’s most abundant trees. There are another 14 species that grow throughout the world. Its typical grain is straight. It comes in a range of hues from beige to light brown. Ash wood has been a popular choice for fine furniture. It’s very durable and has an extensive history within furniture making.
Apart from being durable, it is also lightweight and pleasing to the eye. It absorbs wood stains particularly well. It’s light and shock-resistant. These characteristics make it a favourite for sports bats, restaurant furniture and tool handles.
Its splash in home furnishings dates from the mid-20th century modern style that came from Scandinavia.
Types of Ash
There are 15 types of ash used in furniture making. White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) tends to have a lighter heartwood colour. It also has wider-spaced growth rings. By contrast, the heartwood colour of Black Ash (Fraxinus Nigra) tends to be a little darker. The growth rings are also generally much closer together.
Black Ash is medium to coarse textured – like oak. What characterises it is a light to medium-brown hue. The sapwood tends to be quite wide. This part is often coloured beige to light brown. It is almost always regular and straight.
These Black Ash trees grow best in wet, cold areas. They are quite tall. Their average height is 15-17 m.
Black ash, with a slower growth rate than the white ash, is less dense. It is popular. People use it for basket weaving. It is also used for the bodies of electric guitars, types of flooring, boxes, sports bats, and tool handles.
White Ash trees grow up to 25 m. Their spread is between 12 and 21 m.
The heartwood is light to medium brown in colour. The colour of sapwood is anything from beige to a light brown. The grain can be a little curly but tends to be straight and regular. The texture is medium to coarse.
White ash is very shock resistant. Woodworkers use it to make hardwood tool handles like shovels and hammers. It is also used in sports goods thanks to its stiffness and resilience.
Other ashes include the Blue Ash. This tree’s heartwood is light to medium brown. It is a little darker than white ash. It’s similar in texture. This is medium to coarse. The grain is straight and regular if sometimes curly. Its Janka hardness of 1290lb makes it durable.
Blue ash trees grow to around 18 m. The name emanates from the tendency of the tree’s inner bark to turn blue when exposed to air. The tree has a square-shaped trunk and dark green foliage.
The European Ash is also called Common ash. It is a very durable variety with a Janka hardness rating of 1,480lb. Its heartwood is light to medium brown. But darker streaks do appear.
Solid, Veneer & Laminate
In technical terms, Veneer describes a thin layer of hardwood. It is typical to glue or bond the top veneer to a cheaper surface below. A veneer is then sanded, painted and stained. This is possible because it is real wood. But be careful not to overdo it. The layer is very thin. It can wear down fast, especially with a power sander.
Laminate can be either made with synthetic materials or very thin, sliced wood. It can look like wood grain, using a similar method to printing.
Laminate is often finished to look shiny. It is useful when a durable surface is preferable. It is much less expensive than solid wood or veneer. Laminate is very easy to clean and to maintain. It can be painted after a light sanding.
Solid Wood is what it says. Sanding, staining or varnishing are among the treatments available. Some softwood can show wear, like worn corners and edges. But this tends to happen after many years. When pieces use hardwoods they have a much more durable lifespan.
How Ash Ages
All hardwoods tend to change hues as time passes. Generally speaking, lighter varieties become richer. Darker woods lighten some. It is a natural process that results from exposure to oxygen and UV light.
Most Common Finishes
Ash wood is among the rare types that do not lose their grain or texture when stained. As a result, you will find ash is often stained to take on the look of oak. It also comes in many stunning colours designed to suit a range of decor.
But, ash also looks gorgeous when left in its natural state. Having said that, a wood finish gives it protection. As well as clear lacquer there are many wood stain options including:
- Soaped Ash
- Weathered Ash
- Seared Ash
- Taupe Ash
- Sand Ash
Care and Maintenance of Ash
Ash pieces need a good regular dusting. It’s best to avoid commercial cleaners. These can leave residue on lacquered wood or damage other finishes. Oil finished furniture does best with the application of natural linseed oil once a year. If you live in a warmer climate this you may need to do this more often.
Solid wood is a living material. Daylight, humidity and temperature affect it. Perfect relative humidity for Ash is generally between 30% and 60%. The furniture should never sit close to sources of heat. So position the furniture away from radiators or wood-burning stoves.
Daylight matures wood. This means it’s important to move items like vases and candlesticks. It will stop them creating undesirable colour differences. There are several methods for keeping your Ash furniture healthy. These include applying linseed oil and lacquer to make the most of the finishes.
Popular Ash Pieces
With its straight grain and beige to light-brown hues, ash wood makes attractive furniture. Durable and lightweight, the pieces are good to look at, and they absorb wood stains well.
Among our most popular ash items are the String String composition 02. This String Shelving is very flexible. It allows you to build a system of storage that can be large or small. The design dates from 1949. The designer was Swedish architect Nils “Nisse” Strinning. The system has won many coveted design awards.
To offset your shelving there is the Stellar Works Ren Rectangular Dining Table. Created by Space Copenhagen, Rén grew out of a desire to design a series of Danish Modern tradition pieces. This is high quality, thoughtful design. It balances form and function.
All Rén items come in stained ash. The tables and chairs rely on a distinct Nordic philosophy. They incorporate craft techniques and details from Japanese and Chinese design traditions. This results in a collection that is international and ageless.
When it comes to living space the Carl Hansen KK47000 Safari Chair is an iconic ash piece.
The KK47000 Safari Chair is typical of Kaare Klint’s work. Klint transformed what was a historical archetype. He made it into a collapsible and modern chair. It’s a design that is ideal in any contemporary interiors.
Is Ash Eco Friendly?
Ash trees have more than thrived for centuries. In the past, people saw them as “invasive” because they used to grow with ease in so many different habitats.
Unfortunately, they are now blighted by Emerald Ash Borer, a wood-boring pest, and Ash Dieback.
These diseases are decimating ash populations. There are programmes for replacing the trees as they die off. But this process can take many years.
Ash trees are now on the “critically endangered” list. But ash used in Olson + Baker products are always sustainably-harvested wood.
Special care means the harvesting of wood is done in ways that do not harm the environment. The craftsmen and women choose local wood as much as possible. This helps reduce the carbon footprint as there is minimal transportation.