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Ash: Get it while it’s hot

Ash

Despite the ongoing threat of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), woodworkers shouldn’t have much trouble sourcing ash at a familiar price, according to lumber dealers surveyed by Woodshop News.

Bob Putnam of Rare Woods U.S.A., a supplier of over 150 species in Mexico, Maine, says ash is very popular due to its versatility and price.

“We have a new shipment of 4/4 coming in because we just sold out and although I’ve been hearing about the borer my entire five years here – I’m sure it’s affecting things – we seem to have no trouble finding some,” says Putnam.

“It’s pretty popular because people are more familiar with it. Some of the exotics we have, it’s more of a risk to take it on, but people know ash. It’s utilitarian and pretty, I think. Our most recent sale was for kitchen cabinetry. It works good and finishes nicely with a bright color a lot of people like.”

Ash (Fraxinus americana), also known as white ash or American white ash, has a medium to coarse texture similar to oak. The grain is almost always straight and regular, though sometimes moderately curly or figured boards can be found, according to The Wood Database. The heartwood is a light to medium brown color, while the sapwood can be very wide and tends to be a beige or light brown.

The EAB (Agrilus planipennis) was first identified in the U.S. in Michigan in 2002. It’s an invasive green beetle responsible for the destruction of tens of million ash trees in 30 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Scott Roberts of Roberts Plywood in Deer Park, N.Y. reports strong ash sales due to its workability and affordability.

“I’ve been selling a lot of ash lately, and some people want all white, and some people want color. It’s an easy wood to work with. I stock 4/4, 6/4, 8/4. I have no problems getting stock and I have two good suppliers, one out of Pennsylvania and one out of New York state,” says Roberts.

“I haven’t seen any defect you’d get from the EAB and the same thing goes for ash veneer plywood. I move that regularly. The flat cut and quartersawn, customers use it for architectural interiors. And I love talking to people when they’ve got an ash project. Some are just going with a clear (finish), some paint it black, some paint it white … a bunch of different stuff.”

Bruce Stevens of Highland Hardwoods in Brentwood, N.H. says ash accounts for about eight percent of his overall lumber sales.

“It’s not a big seller. You’d think it would be in light of the fact that many other items have gone up in price at a far quicker pace than ash,” says Stevens. “The biggest portion of our sales is 4/4, 9” and wider widths for custom flooring. That’s where most of our ash goes. It’s a very dense and durable product that stands up well for flooring applications.

“The volume of saw logs isn’t what it used to be. People are still producing ash but in lesser quantities. It’s still good, but you see evidence of the ash borer everywhere. How long a good commercial side will be available, we just don’t know.”

Ash (4/4 FAS) was selling for about $4.50/bf in September. 

This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue.

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