White Ash
August 14, 2011 | 10:33 pm UTC

Wood of the Month:
White Ash Not Just
for Baseball Bats

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Fraxinus americana of the family Oleaceae; also Fraxinus pennsylvanica and Fraxinus quadrangulata

White ash, American ash, Biltmore ash.

White ash trees range in height from 80 to 120 feet with diameters of 2 to 5 feet. Average weight is 42 pounds per cubic foot.

White ash is strong and stiff with very good shock resistance and excellent bending qualities. The wood dries
fairly rapidly with little degrade and medium shrinkage. It is easy to finish and stains well. The wood is hard and has moderate blunting effect on hand and machine tools. Experts recommend use of carbide-tipped cutters and keeping cutting edges sharpened. Pre-boring is recommended for nails and screws. Ash is non-durable and is susceptible to attack by powder post beetle.

White ash is probably best known as the wood most often used for making baseball bats in the United States. But the wood has many other commercial uses and is a popular wood both domestically and on the export market.

Ash has long been a favorite for use in sporting goods and tool handles because of its strength, relative light weight and shock absorbancy. It is a popular choice for hockey sticks, billiard cues, skis, oars and other sporting equipment. Before man-made materials took over the market, it was also the preferred wood for making tennis rackets.

Ash is one of the best woods for steam bending due to its flexibility, so it is often used for chairs and other furniture pieces with curved pieces.

"It is the porous bands of spring-growth that lend the flexibility, strength and reliability to ash, almost as if its growth were a natural lamination process," according to the Encyclopedia of Wood.

While ash's strength lends it to many utilitarian uses, it is also used in lumber and veneer form for furniture, paneling, flooring, interior joinery and cabinetry.

"The list of the uses white ash would take up many pages," writes Donald Culross Peattie, in A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America. "It goes into both church pews and the floors of bowling alleys, into rods for sucker pumps, and oars and keels of small boats, into butter-tub staves, and garden and porch furniture, into airplanes and farm wagons - everywhere that strength and lightness must be combined."

First Rate Second Growth
Ash trees grow plentifully in the United States and elsewhere in North America and the rest of the world. The United States is home to about 17 of the more than 70 species that exist worldwide. White ash and closely related species are sometimes used interchangeably, although white ash is considered to possess the best qualities.

"Normally the quantity of white ash in the woodlot will not be more than four percent of the total stand of timber," Culross Peattie writes. "Fortunately, very large and ancient trees are not required for most of the uses to which ash is put. On the contrary, the toughest, strongest and soundest white ash with the greatest proportion of the pale sapwood that retail buyers prefer, is cut from the fast growing, comparatively young trees of second growth, such as commonly constitute most of the woodlots of the eastern states."

The USDA's "Wood Handbook - Wood as an Engineering Material," says, "Second-growth commercial white ash is particularly sought because of the inherent qualities of this wood. It is heavy, strong, hard, stiff and has high resistance to shock."

White Ash Veneer
Ben Clift, architectural sales coordinator for the Edinburgh, IN-based David R. Webb Co. Inc., says his company sells white ash veneer domestically and abroad. "Its main veneer use in the United States would be for residential furniture. Some of what we sell is for custom furniture. White ash has a prominent, bold grain and is very light. Some users are staining the veneer black, ebonizing it, and using it for furniture. The veneer takes the color well, but still shows the attractive grain pattern. It is a look that goes well with contemporary styles."

"White ash is an off-white wood with a yellow hue and brown heart," says another veneer salesman. "The beauty of the light material is that it takes a stain very well from the lightest to darkest colors."

Ash is normally straight grained, but some has very decorative figures, similar to the bird's-eye and fiddleback figures of maple.

Dr. Wood, Medicine Man
Ash trees have inspired some interesting and bizarre folk remedies down through the ages. A distillation of young ash roots was once believed to be effective for earaches, unsteady hands and certain snake bites, according to the Encylopedia of Wood. The tree was also believed to be effective in getting rid of warts. The patient simply rubbed the wart with a piece of bacon and then put the slice of bacon into a cut of an ash tree, thus transferring the wart to the tree. Perhaps the strangest belief was that passing children through a split ash sapling could "cure" them of rickets. After the children were passed through the sapling, the tree was bound. It was believed that if the tree healed, so would the child.


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