If it ain’t oak…

Lately I’ve been able to use some of my all-time 2nd-favorite local hardwood. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog a while know that it isn’t walnut.

 

white ash bolt

It’s ash. Down here in southeastern New England it’s white ash. My whole furniture career I have used this wood, at first I made JA-inspired ladderback chairs out of it quite often. Way back when…

At the museum, I have mostly used it for turned chairs, like these three-legged monsters.

three footed stool, ash & cherry

Four legs too.

ash chair, oak slats. Hickory bark seat

It turns so nicely, not as well as maple, but the combination of strength, dead-straight grain, great splitting ability, and good turning details makes it well suited for chair work. 


I have done some joinery with it from time-to-time, recently I put up some photos of my bedstead at home, and it has lots of ash components.

bedstead foot board

I have a joint stool frame made from ash too. Historically, you find some joiner’s work in it. Not a lot, but some. It has little decay resistance, especially compared to oak. Victor Chinnery told me that this chest at the Wadsworth Atheneum is made of ash. It’s eaten alive, so maybe Vic was right.

joined chest, Devon England c. 1660-80.

 

But there were several years, maybe 6 or 8, where I made lots and lots of baskets from ash, in addition to the chair work.

two baskets, c. 1988

Traditionally, basket splints were pounded from the whole log, crushing the early wood pores to separate the growth rings into splints for weaving. Here is the end grain, showing the ring-porous growth rings. It’s the open pores of the spring wood that crushes, leaving the more dense growth as the splint.

white ash end grain

That’s the best method to use if all you want from the log is basket splints. There’s very little waste that way. But if you want to make some chair parts from the same log, it’s best to rive out blanks and work them this way & that – some shaved & turned into chair work, tool handles, and others pounded apart into splints.

ash splints pounded


Many visitors to my shop comment on the smells of the wood. I don’t notice them as much as most folks just walking in. But this ash log I can smell, mostly because it’s not that often that I have some. And the scent of it brings back great memories of my earlier days at green woodworking. Funny how olfactory stuff is so tied to memory.

With the onslaught of the Emerald Ash Borer problem, I have often thought of how much I like ash timber, and how I would miss it if it disappears. Such a shame if future woodworkers won’t get to use wood like this. To that end, I am trying to make the most of each log I get from ash. Hoping that somehow the objects can stand if the tree is gone…it has made me re-think my feelings about the romantic sound of a wooden baseball bat making contact with the ball. Ash is the “traditional” wood for bats, ideally suited for it. But given the dubious lifespan of a bat, I think we’re better off with chairs, baskets – let’s aim for something that’ll be around a while

This log is going into some tool handles, a cupboard, a joined stool and some baskets. I guess I should make some shaved chairs from it for old times’ sake too…

Here’s some video shot by my friend Rick McKee from the Plantation showing how I pound apart the splints.

I have said it before, but be sure to go read Rick’s blog the Riven Word. I don’t miss a post – great tone, filled with fun and information. 

http://blogs.plimoth.org/rivenword/

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12 thoughts on “If it ain’t oak…

  1. Peter,

    Just a head’s up, the video of you pounding splints shows it to be private, when I attempted to watch. Perhaps others are also affected by this.

    Cheers,

    Lee Laird

  2. I’m not sure why, this video seemed almost like woodland magic to me. Pound pound pound, what the heck is he doing? Huh, look at that. It’s breaking apart. Then when you did the micro-riving…I think I’ll go look for an ash tree in my forest this weekend.

    I bet my scout leaders would have liked to know this technique on some of our campouts. “Here kid, go pound that billet.”

  3. Well, well ! I never knew you could do that with ash. A real piece of magic. Thanks Peter. I have some ash on my patch of land and I’m going to give it a shot.

  4. I’ve seen that pounding done only once before, someplace here in central Alabama. The guy was using black ash, and he remarked that it was getting hard to find. But he had made some beautiful baskets out of it.

  5. Finding different woods here is never easy, and finding greenwood varieties are more difficult. The more I read the more I learn. Thank you Peter.

    Richard

  6. […] Follansbee, joiner here at The Plant, touched on this very subject in his recent post about ash, If it aint oak… Please have a look at Peter’s blog if you haven’t already. It’s an inspiration. […]

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