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Plentiful and affordable, ash can be a ‘win-win’

Ash

While density, durability and stainability are among some of the top attributes of ash (Fraxinus americana), many woodworkers aren’t taking full advantage of its affordability due to several factors, according to lumber professionals interviewed by Woodshop News. Some say buyers simply prefer more mainstream domestics, while others point to the misconception that it’s been completely wiped out by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).

The EAB is an invasive beetle first discovered in southern Michigan in 2002 and is now responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees in 30 states.

“It’s very common that when somebody comes in here for walnut and they don’t have the pocketbook for it, we end up switching them to ash,” says Dave Norman of Parkerville Wood Products in Manchester, Conn. “One of the reasons is because ash stains up really well. You can get it to look like walnut. It’s got a very similar grain pattern. It’s got the deep cathedrals like oak, but it doesn’t have the open pores in between them.

“It’s kind of is a win-win in two directions: people like that it’s economical right now and when you explain that maybe 10 years down the road it’s going to be hard to find, it gives it that much more appeal.”

Mike Pierce of Holt and Bugbee Co. in Tewksbury, Mass. says most of the ash he sells goes to flooring, paneling and decorative projects, but design trends make it less favorable compared to other species.

“We get some decent jobs every now and then, but I wouldn’t say ash is too popular in the design world right now. Some people might use it if they’re using a dark stain, but light stains seem to be all the rave now, especially with flooring. And white oak just stains the best. You can put any type of stain on white oak. Ash is not like that. If you get the mixture in color with the heartwood and sapwood, it’s hard to stain,” says Pierce.

He says due to low demand, 4/4 ash retails for $2.80/bf, less than poplar. He adds that supply is plentiful but will likely change in the future.

“Availability is getting a little tighter because of the Emerald Ash Borer that’s kind of eating away at the product. So, it’s been a little tougher to get but all species are kind of tough to get right now,” says Pierce.

Michael Beck of Southern Indiana Sawmill in Salem, Ind., a woodworker of over 20 years who started a portable sawmill business in 2016, says he finds his customers aren’t necessarily aware of the abundance of usable ash due to the EAB situation.

“I can’t recall in the last six years anyone requesting ash. Many people think it’s extinct and that’s too bad. It’s one of the best woods to work with as far as workability and durability. It really holds up,” says Beck.  

This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue.

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