Despite numerous quarantines and regulations throughout affected areas in recent years, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has been difficult if not impossible to control, and lumber suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News believe availability concerns will continue to increase.
Bob Laurie of L.L. Johnson Lumber Mfg. Co. in Charlotte, Mich. says ash lumber is selling, but there will be less and less of it over time because most of the trees have died in his state, where the EAB was detected in 2002.
“We’re still able to buy loads of ash but I’m not sure how much longer it will last. The EAB is working its way south but there still seems to be plenty down there,” says Laurie. “They try to cut the trees even when they die up to a certain point until they start rotting. Right now, we still get it. We just know that it won’t be around long.”
The EAB is a wood-boring pest native to Asia that is responsible for destroying tens of millions of ash trees in at least 35 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Laurie says customers can select a thermally modified ash product, which prolongs the life of existing lumber by making it resistant to the EAB.
“We can have it taken to a kiln where they cook all of the sugars and such out of the wood so there’s nothing in there that the bugs desire. So, you can use it outdoors where just normal kiln-dried ash won’t last very long. The wood becomes a little more brittle when modified so it’s used for outdoor furniture, decking and things like that,” he adds.
Skip Kise of Good Hope Hardwoods in Landenberg, Pa. says ash is still a steady seller and is considered a nice alternative to white oak. He primarily buys ash logs to sell as slabs for tables, benches, bar tops and headboards. While availability isn’t an immediate concern, he also believes it’s only a matter of time.
“It’s not going to be long until you can’t get ash anymore. It’s wiped it out in a lot of places already. If the bug has wings, you can’t stop it no matter what you do. If you quarantine it, it just flies to another area,” says Kise.
Greg Engle of Certainly Wood, a veneer supplier in East Aurora, N.Y., suggests European ash as a fine substitute.
“The European ash trees are a little larger and the color is a little whiter than the domestic ash,” says Engle. “Some of our suppliers in Europe are starting to hear from their log sources that they’re having similar issues as we are in the states with the EAB. But they’re nowhere near where we are in the U.S. with regards to restrictions and transporting logs.
“Most of what we’re selling ash veneer for is its bending properties. So, quite often we’re sourcing it out in thickness of about 1.5mm which is about 1/16”. It’s a really nice veneer to use when you’re doing bent lamination work. It bends well like rift white oak but when people want something that’s not oak, something a little brighter, then ash fits right in.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.