Ash is a popular wood type in woodworking, especially furniture making. Many woodworkers say it’s because ash is soft enough for painless workability but also strong enough for those looking for durable furniture.
Indeed, it’s also one of the more popular candidates for wood flooring and outdoor furniture. Its moisture and weather resistance makes it a prime candidate for these applications. So, it’s likely that you’ve already come across ashwood.
So, today we want to focus on a common question woodworkers often ask – is ash hardwood or softwood? For instance, can you use it as an alternative for the well-known hardwoods, such as walnut and cherry, or is it at the lower end of the scale, like pine and cedar?
Of course, we’ll also discuss the pros and cons of ashwood, types of ashwood, and common uses of ash, among others. So, let’s jump right in.
What is Ashwood?
Ash is a light-colored, smooth-grained wood type obtained from the ash tree. Ash trees are native to the Baltic Sea’s northern shores and were originally called Yggdrasil.
The Scandinavians believed that the branches of ash trees held the gods and that the tree trunks were the gods’ paths to the earth and the tree’s roots their ways to the underworld.
However, the trees now grow throughout the east coast and north of the US and Canada, growing to 100 feet tall or more, with a dense crown of branches on the upper half of the trunk.
Ash is used in many applications, from making picks, shovels, and rakes to tennis racquets, hockey sticks, baseball bats, and skis.
There are at least 60 ashwood species globally. However, the US is home to only about 18 of the species. The most common ones are;
- Green ash wood: Green ashwood is characterized by light to medium brown heartwood and beige to light brown sapwood. It has a medium-to-coarse texture (similar to oak) and is only slightly durable, though highly workable. Green ash trees grow to 50-65 feet tall.
- White ash wood: White ash trees are taller, typically growing to 120 feet tall, with trunk diameters of six feet. It looks whiter than other ash varieties, though it is tan, not pure white. It is somewhat coarse-textured with straight, even grains.
- Black ash wood: Native to the northern wetlands, black ash wood trees are some of the smallest ash trees. The dark brown heartwood occupies most of the tunk, leaving little room for the light-colored sapwood.
- European ashwood: Finally, the European ashwood grows throughout Europe and Asia as well some regions of North America. It has a very light to medium brown heartwood and is easily workable. Many people use it to make chairs, tables, and hardwood flooring.
Is Ash a Softwood or Hardwood?
Ash is a hardwood, along with cherry, oak, walnut, and mahogany. Hardwoods are obtained from broad-leaved angiosperm trees, unlike softwoods which come from thin-leaved gymnosperm trees. Common softwoods are pine, fir, and cypress.
How Hard is Ashwood?
Ashwood is a hard, dense, and incredibly strong/durable wood, with a 1,320 rating on the Janka scale (equivalent to 5,900 N). Here’s a summary of its hardness properties;
- Density: 650-850 kg/cubic-meter
- Ash Janka hardness: 1,320 lbf
- Stiffness (compressive strength): 1.74 Mpsi
- Bending strength: 15,000 psi
Other Ash Wood Characteristics
Ashwood is a beige to light brown hardwood with straight grains. It has a large porous structure that absorbs paint and stains well. It’s also lightweight and highly shock-resistant. The following is a summary of the main characteristics;
- Shock-Resistance: Ashwood is one of the most shock-resistant woods, which is one of the main reasons it’s used for hockey sticks and baseball bats.
- Color: What does ash wood look like? The natural color of ash wood is beige to light brown, though soft white sapwoods are also common.
- Does it change color? Yes, ashwood changes color when exposed to UV rays. The lighter varieties become darker and darker species become lighter.
- Ashwood grain pattern: Ash is a smooth-grained hardwood, though the growing conditions can result in a few unique grain patterns.
- Pest-resistance: Although ashwood is fairly pest-resistant, the Emerald ash borer is a constant thorn in the flesh.
Ashwood Pros and Cons
Finding the perfect wood type for a woodworking project often feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, here’s a quick overview of ashwood’s pros and cons to help you determine if it’s the right choice for your project.
- It is highly attractive
- Ashwood is highly workable
- Versatile (usable in many applications)
- It is highly shock-resistant
- It is durable
- It’s affordable
- It’s easy to maintain
- The open grain pattern makes it difficult to achieve a smooth finish
- Ashwood is susceptible to insects and fungus
- It’s not ideal for outdoor applications
- It splits easily, thus requires pre-drilling
- Ashwood is highly flammable, making it a fire risk
Uses of Ashwood
Ashwood is used in making furniture, flooring, doors, cabinetry, architectural moldings, millwork, baseball bats, oars, turnings, and veneers. The following is a summary of the most common uses:
- Cabinets: Ashwood is a very beautiful wood that makes excellent cabinets that are both attractive and durable.
- Furniture making: Ashwood furniture are beautiful, strong, durable, and, above all, cost-effective.
- Tool handles: Ashwood’s shock resistance makes it one of the preferred materials for making handles for tools such as garden rakes and shovels.
- Doors: If you’re looking for a strong, beautiful, shock-resistant door or door frame, ashwood is an excellent choice.
- Household items: Ash’s elastic qualities and sustainability for steam bending also make it a popular choice for making household items such as bowls and drum shells.
- Hockey sticks: Although most hockey sticks are made from maple and willow trees, these woods are often expensive. Ash is a cost-effective alternative with excellent shock resistance and bending qualities.
- Baseball bats: Ash also makes a great candidate for making baseball bats. Maple is the favorite, especially for professional-level baseball. However, ash is the perfect choice when shopping for a cost-effective alternative.
- Hardwood flooring: Finally, ashwood is also one of the preferred choices when shopping for hardwood flooring. The heartwood is highly durable and thus easily withstands traffic. It’s also a very beautiful wood type.
Are Ash Hardwood Floors Worth It?
A Janka hardness rating of 1,320 makes ashwood one of the prime candidates for hardwood flooring. Ash is also highly resistant to scratches and dents and easily takes foot traffic.
Floor installers also love that it’s easier to cut than alternatives such as hickory and maple. However, whether to use ashwood for hardwood flooring is a personal preference.
So, we’ve rounded up the pros and cons and a few other tips to help you make an informed decision.
Ash hardwood flooring pros and cons
- Ashwood floors are very hard (1,320 Janka)
- The wood has a high density (up to 800 kg/cubic meter)
- The floors are stronger than many hardwood floors, such as oak flooring
- Ashwood floors are highly durable (can easily last several decades)
- They are scratch and dent-resistant
- The floors easily take foot traffic
- Ash floors are not water-resistant
- Less moth, termite, and beetle-proof
- Not good for exterior floor sections
- Ash is highly flammable, thus a fire risk
Caring for Ash Floors
Most home cleaning experts recommend dry-cleaning ash floors with a soft broom and mop head daily to get rid of dirt. But, you need to be careful, lest you damage the floor.
You’re probably already aware that you should never directly pour water on hardwood floors, no matter the wood type. This is even more important when cleaning ashwood floors as ash has large pores that absorb a lot of water, resulting in warping.
So, when cleaning, use only a slightly dampened mop. We recommend using warm water. Mix an approved natural cleaner and warm water in a bucket and dip the mop in the solution.
Then, squeeze as much water as you can from the mop before applying it to the surface.
Comparing Ash Wood Hardness vs Common Wood Types
As we wind up, it may be helpful to compare ashwood’s hardness/strength qualities with popular alternatives to understand better where it ranks.
1. Ash vs Hickory Wood
As a species, hickory hardwood is rated 1,820 on the Janka hardness scale, making it much harder than ashwood.
It’s also slightly denser than ashwood (630-900 kg/cubic meter compared to 600-800 kg/cubic meter). This makes hickory a better choice for more stressful applications, such as hardwood flooring.
2. Ash vs Maple
Maple is also a hardwood like hickory and ashwood and much closer in hardness to ashwood. However, maple hardness ratings vary significantly depending on the type of maple.
For instance, hard maple, also known as sugar maple, is slightly harder than ash at 1,450 Janka. Meanwhile, soft maple is rated 950, which is softer than ashwood.
3. Ash vs Pine
Pine is a softwood. So, you’d expect that it’s softer than ashwood and most other hardwoods. However, the hardness values also vary widely, depending on the type of pine.
For example, at the bottom end of the scale, the Eastern white pine scores a meager 380 points on the Janka hardness rating, thus almost four times softer than ash. Meanwhile, on the other extreme, red pine has a 1630 Janka rating, making it harder than ash.
4. Ash vs Walnut
Walnut is just slightly softer than pine, though both are hardwoods. For instance, the American black walnut, one of the most popular walnut species, scores 1010 points on the Janka hardness scale. The Peruvian Walnut is also 1010 Janka.
5. Ashwood vs Oak
Finally, if you’re looking for a hardwood closest to ashwood on the Janka hardness scale, that honor goes to oak.
The two are only separated by about 30 points on the Janka hardness scale, with oak rated 1290 Janka on average, and ash rated 1320 Janka on average. So, the two are somewhat interchangeable.
How Strong is Ash Wood?
Ashwood is a hard, strong, and incredibly strong wood with a Janka hardness rating of 1320 lbf. This makes it harder than most softwoods such as pine and hardwoods such as oak and walnut.
Is White Ash a Hardwood?
Yes, white ash, also known as \fraxinus Americana, is a ring-porous hardwood. It is hard, heavy, and tough, with a light-colored, nearly white sapwood and tan or light brown heartwood.
Is Ash or White Oak Harder?
White oak is harder than ashwood. Whereas ashwood has a Janka rating of 1320, white oak is rated 1260 on the Janka hardness scale. However, both are excellent hardwoods, especially for flooring.
Is Ash Wood Good for Furniture?
Yes. Ashwood, with its straight grain pattern and beige to light-brown color tones, is a very attractive option when making furniture. It’s also durable and lightweight.
Is Ash Hardwood? Final Take
Ashwood is a hardwood. Although it’s not the strongest, a Janka hardness rating of 1320 puts it in the same range as popular hardwoods like white oak (1360 Janka) and the American black walnut (1010 Janka).
Thus, it’s an excellent candidate for furniture making, cabinetry, making doors, and making handles of tools such as shovels and garden rakes. Just remember that it’s not ideal for outdoor furniture.