Ash is a light colored, smooth-grained hardwood that grows throughout the east coast and parts of Canada. With its typical straight grain and beige-to-light-brown hue, ash wood is a very attractive option for fine furniture. It’s one of the most durable varieties and has an extensive history in American furniture making. It is durable, lightweight, aesthetically pleasing, and absorbs wood stains well. Its characteristics as a lightweight and shock-resistant wood have made it a favorite for baseball bats, tool handles, and restaurant furniture. Today ash is making a splash in home furnishings, particularly in the mid-century modern style.
Fraxinus, the scientific name for ash, is a member of the olive tree family. There are dozens of varieties of ash trees native throughout North America. White ash and green ash are the most prevalent. Both grow abundantly in Vermont, as does black ash.
|Color||Beige or light brown|
|Source||White Ash Tree (Fraxinus americana L.)|
|Density||1320 on the Janka scale|
|Cost||$2.50 to $7.00 per board foot|
|Common Uses||Furniture, floors, cabinets, sports equipment, tool handles|
The name ash comes from the word “spear,” which could be a reference to its spear-shaped leaves or the fact that ancient peoples used the tree to make weaponry. It’s also tied to many legends. Norse mythology refers to it as “The World Tree” and claims the first man came from ash and burning ash as a Yule log assures a prosperous year ahead.
Because there are many ash wood products on the market, people often wonder how it compares to other wood types and what it’s like to own a piece of ash wood furniture. We’ll address some of the most common questions below.
Unlike other trees which have large color variations between the innermost part of the tree (heartwood) and the outermost part of the tree (sapwood), it can sometimes be difficult to see where the line between the two is with ash. Overall, it’s quite light and tends to be various shades of beige which will darken slightly over time.
All hardwoods tend to change hues a bit as the years go by. Generally speaking, lighter varieties will become richer, while darker woods will lighten some. This is a natural process caused by exposure to UV light and oxygen.
Going back to ancient times, ash wood has been a major part of people’s lives. Early cultures used it for everything—from weapons to wagons—and even believed it had spiritual properties or the ability to heal and bring prosperity. These days, ash remains common in furniture, cabinets, flooring, tools, weapons, sports equipment, and more.
Ash wood almost always has a straight grain, though the conditions the tree grows in will occasionally create unique patterns. For example, if it’s strained or succumbs to a pest, that can impact the appearance of the grain. This is referred to as “figured wood.” For this reason, you’ll sometimes see curly or birdseye grain, among others. Spalted ash, in particular, is quite popular with artisan furniture designers, though figured woods are a bit harder to find than the straight-grained variety.
While most people think “hardwood” is a reference to the durability or density of wood, it actually only refers to the type of tree the wood came from. If it’s a hardwood, that means it came from a dicot tree-- typically a broad-leafed variety of tree. If it’s a softwood, it came from a gymnosperm tree-- typically a conifer. Ash is a hardwood, along with cherry, oak, walnut, and maple. In contrast, some of the common softwoods found in woodworking include pine, fir, and cedar.
In order to determine the durability of a wood, the Janka Test is used. Basically, a steel ball is pressed into a block of wood until it becomes embedded half way. The amount of force required to do this is then measured. In the United States, we typically display this number as lbf (pounds of force) or Janka, though you’ll see different measurements used in other parts of the world.
White ash wood, the one most commonly used in furniture, measures 1320 on the Janka scale. This puts it right below maple and white oak, which sit at 1,450 Janka and 1,360 Janka, respectively. However, it tops red oak, walnut, and cherry, making it is one of the most durable options available for fine furniture.
There are somewhere between 40-60+ types of ash trees, many of which are native to the United States. More often than not, if you purchase something made of ash wood, it came from the white ash tree (Fraxinus americana L.).
The white ash tree is quite prevalent throughout North America. If you can picture a map in your head, place a point in Colorado, then imagine a spray of trees triangulating eastward—reaching as far north as Quebec and as far south as Florida. With Vermont being directly in that line, they’re native here as well.
When ash grows in is natural environment, it can reach nearly 100-feet tall. Although most of the lower half of the trunk will remain bare, the uppermost portion will develop into a very dense crown of branches and leaves.
It’s really difficult to tell if a piece of furniture is made from ash wood because it closely resembles oak when stained. In fact, many antique pieces get passed off as being oak when they’re really ash wood. Even professionals mistake the two from time to time when relying on visual indicators only. For this reason, it’s important to purchase ash furniture from an experienced and reputable seller; that’s the only way to know for certain unless you’ve got a microscope and scientific knowledge.
Realistically, no real wood furniture should go outside, simply because it would require maintenance at least once a year and, even then, it would still degrade. Ash wood also tends to be one of the least rot-resistant species, so it’s not something you’d want to keep outside. That said, Vermont Woods Studios makes gorgeous outdoor furniture guaranteed to last a lifetime. It’s crafted with recycled plastic lumber (RPL), a dense plastic that looks like real wood but withstands the elements and requires minimal care.
Ash trees have more than thrived for centuries throughout North America. In fact, many resources consider them to be “invasive” because they can take hold almost anywhere. Unfortunately, the Emerald Ash Borer, a wood-boring pest, slipped into the country a few years ago. It is decimating our ash tree populations. A healthy ash tree that becomes infested may only live a matter of years. The government has stepped in and quarantined ash trees, meaning they can’t be transported out of certain parts of the country in an effort to prevent the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer. Sadly, the Emerald Ash Borer has been detected here in Vermont as of mid-2018. Ash trees are now considered “critically endangered,” meaning they’re at high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. That said, many agencies have come together to eradicate the pest, and trees can go on to live long healthy lives if they’re treated.
The ash wood we use is always sustainably-harvested, meaning our woodworkers take special care not to harvest wood in a way that harms the environment. They also choose local wood as much as possible, so the carbon footprint is reduced because there’s minimal transportation. That said, as more ash trees succumb to the Emerald Ash Borer, it will become more difficult to find furniture made with ash wood.
Now more than ever, it’s important to select local products. The Emerald Ash Borer isn’t native to the United States. It was a hitchhiker brought in with international wood imports from Asia and/or Russia. Those who are concerned about the environment will want to take every precaution to ensure that their piece was sustainably-harvested, and won’t contribute to the loss of ash trees in their natural habits. In addition to this, you’ll want to make sure that any ash furniture you purchase is built well. Although ash wood is incredibly durable, quality craftsmanship will ensure your furniture lasts a lifetime.
Our craftsmen are true experts who honor natural ecology, and as such, our furniture is eco-friendly and comes with a lifetime quality guarantee.
Ash wood can be finished in numerous ways, including varnish, wax, lacquer and oil. Each finish will require different care. That said, you’ll want to keep your ash furniture in a dry area and dust it regularly. It’s best to avoid commercial cleaners and polishes, which may damage the finish or make it sticky.
Ash wood is one of the few types that can be stained without losing the grain or texture. Because of this, it is often stained to look like oak or in any number of stunning colors to suit decor. However, it also looks absolutely gorgeous in its natural state, though should have some form of wood finish to give it protection. In addition to a clear lacquer finish, we also offer Ash with the following wood stains.
Given the current status of ash trees, it’s essential to be mindful when making a purchase online. Only purchase ash furniture from a reputable company that is dedicated to the preservation of our forests.
At Vermont Woods Studios, we have always taken great care to work with craftsmen who choose sustainably-harvested wood and who get it right here in Vermont as much as possible. Moreover, our dedication to service, craftsmanship, and quality mean that you can not only feel good about your purchase, but that it will remain beautiful for years. Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it. Check out our reviews first, and then browse our catalog and see for yourself.
Learn more about our wood types on our wood page, or use the links below to read about specific types: