Is Ash Good For Woodturning? (11 Essential Facts To Know)

Ashwood is a popular wood for woodturning, and it takes to stains and finishes well. Here we take a look at Ashwood for woodturning in greater detail.

Here’s the Rundown on whether Ash is Good for Woodturning

Ashwood is well-liked by craftsmen for woodturning, due to its intricate patterns and moderate hardness.  Ashwood ranks between maple and cherry wood on the Janka scale of hardness and is thus a moderate hardwood which makes it ideal for woodturning.

What is Ash?

Ash comes from the Ash tree, which is of the genus Fraxinus. This family includes Lilac trees and olive trees. There are both light and dark wood trees, with white, fluffy-looking flowers blooming in certain seasons. 

Ash is likely named for its arrow-like-shaped leaves, and there is a great deal of mythology and folklore surrounding this tree. There are those who believe it holds healing properties and can be used in a number of healing rituals. 

Is Ash a Hardwood or Softwood?

Ash ranks between 1,010-1320 on the Janka scale. For those unfamiliar, the Janka scale tests the strength of wood against the force applied to a steel ball to get the ball embedded halfway into the wood.

Ash ranks below Oak and Walnut, but above Cherry wood, and is considered softer to moderately hardwood. 

Although not considered an exceptional hardwood, it is considered very sturdy and shock-resistant and can be used for a variety of high-stress tools such as hammer handles and similar tool handles.

What are the Appealing Characteristics of Ash for Turning?

Ash is considered rather pliable and easier to mold due in part to its hardness. It is not a very hard wood, yet very adaptable, and is therefore rather popular for sporting equipment and household furniture. 

One of the most common tools made from Ash includes handles for hammers and baseball bats due to the fact it is highly resistant to shock and shattering. 

Although, one of the most commonly cited reasons for loving ash wood for projects is the beautiful patterns in the grains of the wood. 

As one scrapes away the outer layers of this wood, you will begin to see intricate patterns embedded in the wood. Often these veins are a darker hue than the rest of the wood, and when a bowl is turned and polished these veins really stand out in a beautiful manner. 

Are there Different Types of Ash?

The simple answer to this is, yes there are many! To name a few varieties, there is white ash, black ash, European ash, green ash, blue ash, Oregon ash, and of course, the olive tree which is a relative.

White and black ash are certainly some of the most popular for woodturning. White ash is said to be a lovely light hue with some variations in hues. Black ash, on the other hand, is prized for its ribboning of dark and light contrasts that make for lovely furniture and utensils. 

Olive ash and the olive tree are not the same trees, but they are the same family. Olive ash gets its name from the coloring it has that’s similar to that of an olive tree. 

Generally, each of these is valued for similar reasons. They each have a moderately strong yet not overly hard, thus not too difficult to carve or turn. They have unique patterns coupled with a nice smell. 

Is Ash Easy to Turn?

Ash is relatively easy to turn, with the aforementioned softer texture allowing for smooth carving and turning. Northern Ash seems the most common for the task since these varieties tend to have intricate ribbons of color without disrupting the grain of the wood. 

One of the most popular objects to turn with ash wood is a baseball bat. This is said to be for the wood’s shock-resistant quality and the way the colors and patterns appear when it is polished. 

People also like ash wood for making tool handles and spindles for bedposts or staircase posts. Part of the reason people love this wood for their furniture is that the ash maintains its patterns even after being stained and thus serves as a great palette for creativity. 

Can you Turn Green Ash?

Simply stated, green ash is very similar to white ash which is excellent for woodturning. Both are commonly used for tools and baseball bats, and polish nicely. Both are slightly “wetter” as they are not dry wood, and have some flexibility when you are working them without snapping. 

Green ash wood is known as “green” more for the greenish hue of the bark of the tree than for the green color of the interior wood. The wood has a soft, white hue and it is similar looking to white ash.

These trees are commonly used in parking lots on the little islands between the aisles and are prized by homeowners for the abundance of shade they give. 

The differences between green ash and white ash are primarily with the leaves, and where they grow (green tends to grow in swamp areas, whereas white grows in dryer areas). At the core, however, they are very much the same. 

Does Ash give you a Good Finish after Turning?

Ash is valued for the ability to stain easily, and for the finish to contrast and highlight the stain and natural patterns very well. Some of the best illustrations of this wood’s beautiful appearance after being stained and turned is a wooden bowl or bedpost. 

This video is a great example of how to turn an ash bowl, and how it appears after completion. I would recommend watching from 2:45-14:00.

Some important factors to highlight from this clip are the importance of sanding the wood well before finishing it in order to ensure any cracks in the wood are evened out. Glue is applied to these areas as well to reinforce the strength of the wood.  

Does Ash Check or Crack when Woodturning?

The general consensus seems to be that Ash is not any more prone to crack or check than other woods of similar strength. Additionally, due to its softer nature, it tends to stain easier and absorb glues better so that imperfections are easier to cover up. 

This softer nature also lent it as a favorite wood by Native Americans for tasks such as basket weaving, since the wood is very pliable. 

The thing Ash is most susceptible to is insect attacks and rot. For this reason, it is not a good option for outside furniture or other outside projects. Rather, it is a better option for interior furniture and similar inside projects.

Is Ash an Expensive Wood?

Overall, Ash is not terribly expensive when compared to other woods of similar quality and size.

Ash tends to go for about $2.50 per plank. This is about $.50 less than the average price for oak wood of similar size and quality. 

Although some websites had planks available for around $7.00 a plank, this wasn’t the average cost I found online. 

Do You need to Prepare or Treat your Ash for Turning?

Most advice centers around ensuring any stain you’ve chosen to color the wood are absorbed completely. Additionally, ensure any glues or tack used have filled the cracks you sought to fill and you smooth it over before applying any finish. 

If the ash wood was blue or green ash, you might want to allow more time to dry out the wood as these varieties tend to be softer and moister.  In contrast, white ash is a much harder wood, and one of the perks is it dries faster; however, it is harder to stain and turn. 

What Finishes can you Use on Ash after Turning?

One of the more frustrating aspects of ash wood is that it has a tendency to become yellow with age, even when stained or finished. Some reviews on online forums and customer reviews indicated that Danish oil and teak oil are excellent because they keep the natural grain. 

The downside of these oils is they do not handle UV rays (sunlight) very well and don’t protect the wood in the long run from turning yellowish hues. This is the biggest complaint about ash wood versus other woods such as oak. 

Beeswax is decent, especially for utensils and bowls due to its non-toxic nature. Although, beeswax does not stop the wood from turning yellow either.

Liming wax is a good choice as well, due to its ability to be absorbed by the pores nature of the wood. 

What can you Make with Ash Wood?

Tool handles, wooden bowls, and wood utensils are some of the most common projects made from ash. In part, this is due to the ease at which one can carve and polish the wood and bring out the natural patterns in the wood. 

Ash was used as cabinets and kitchen furniture in the ’50s and was well-liked for its colors and hardness of the wood. Although, the fact that it eventually turned colors caused it to fall out of favor and was thus replaced by oak and similar woods, which do not suffer the same fate.