Arts & Mysteries: A Disappearing Favorite

1512-AM-2-01 ash laundry basket 2 (2)Will our grandchildren ever get to work with lightweight, versatile ash?

by Peter Follansbee

p. 50

My kids are often telling me that this or that toy is their favorite, but it seems that there are several that get this descriptor. Maybe they are rubbing off on me, but I find that I have more than one “favorite” wood.

As long as I have worked wood, I have worked with the local ash tree, in my case white ash (Fraxinus americana). In fact, the very first attempt I ever made was an axe handle, with a riven quarter of an old, dry piece of ash supplied by a neighbor.

The instructor in the night-school workshop looked at me like I had two heads when I brought in a piece of firewood and a spokeshave, and asked him to help me make an axe handle. I didn’t go back to the next session.

After my aborted attempt at that first axe handle, I was lucky enough to meet up with several practitioners of what we called “green woodworking.” As I began to focus at first on chairs, ash was a timber I often used.

Straight-grained clear ash is a wonderful material. For Windsor chairs, ash is great for the spindles and bent parts; strong and flexible, it’s well-suited for the task. For a ring-porous wood, ash turns remarkably well. Early New England chairs were often made with it; its light weight is a plus for the over-scaled 17th-century style.

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From the December 2015 issue

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