As a design company who use Ash to produce some of our furniture, the reports in the news recently of 'Ash dieback' is little worrying....it seemed a good idea to investigate these reports further. Ash dieback, also known as Chalara dieback of ash, is a serious disease that is killing ash trees across Europe. Ash is a very important tree in the UK both ecologically and culturally so this disease is causing great concern about the damage it will do.
Ash dieback currently affects European ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) and is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. It blocks the water transport systems in trees causing leaf loss, lesions in the wood and on the bark and ultimately the dieback of the crown of the tree.
The number of confirmed findings is continuing to increase and the distribution is reported by the Forestry Commission on a regular basis. Young trees are particularly vulnerable and die quickly once they succumb. Older trees can be slowly killed by a yearly cycle of infection.
Whilst this is serious news for the European Ash, the positive news is that the Ash used to craft Figura furniture is American Ash, or White Ash (Fraxinus Americana), which is not affected....phew!
White Ash as a species is different from the European Ash trees found in Britain and these trees appear to be resistant to the Chalara fraxinea fungus which is now threatening more than 80 million trees in the UK.
Scientists believe that it may be possible to create a new type of European ash tree that is resilient to the infection by breeding them with their resistant American counterparts and other species from Asia.
The approach would mean that British forests could be replanted with trees that still have the same characteristics as our native ash trees, but are also immune from the disease.
White Ash - Description
American White Ash is similar in appearance to European Ash. The sapwood is light coloured to nearly white and the heartwood varies from greyish brown to light brown. The wood is generally straight grained with a coarse uniform texture.
White Ash has very good overall strength properties relative to it's weight. It has excellent shock resistance and is good for steam bending. It can be stained and polished to a very good finish.
The strength and rich, creamy colour of white ash make it a popular choice for furniture. It is a coarse-textured wood with strength comparable to oak, but because it's less dense, ash is easier to work with. Because it bends very well with steaming, ash is ideal for curved furniture, trim and crafts.
Sustainable wood comes from sustainably managed forests. It is renewable because the forests and landscapes are managed to prevent damage to eco-systems, watersheds, wildlife and the trees themselves, taking a long term rather than a short term view of the resource.
Sustainable hardwoods are harvested from forests managed to maintain a natural balance of tree and plant diversity. The harvesters also take pains to reduce the impact of the harvest by maintaining a buffer of trees around waterways and reseeding areas damaged by the lumbering equipment. That's good news. But lumber producers must do even more to earn FSC certification for their products. They must document the journey of the lumber from forest to retail shelves with a chain-of-custody paper trail to prove that the wood was harvested legally from a certified sustainable forest.
Sustainability in this context means the forest should still be there for your grandchildren and great grandchildren, able to soak up carbon emissions and keep our air clean for generations to come, as well as provide a haven for wildlife.
Oak or Ash?
Figura kitchen are often made from Oak or Ash due to the aesthetics provided by the grain of these woods. Some clients prefer Ash as it is lighter than Oak, with a more open grain as well as being versatile and easily moulded to produce curved units and features. Ash is one of the hardest hardwoods, it is in fact harder than Oak and is also use to make baseball bats. It is less resistant to moisture than Oak.
Oak is renowned for its durability and defined grain, offering a high resistance to moisture and humidity.
All Oak woods have a radial pattern that is highly visible when viewed perpendicularly to the regular grain. Ash does not have radial grains, so looking at the wood from one side will only show one pattern.
I was interested to read about Robert Penn, who writes features and comment for the Sunday Times, Independent on Sunday and Conde Nast Traveller. He is a columnist for Cycling Plus and Tree News. In a recent project, he cut down an ash tree to see how many things could be made from it.
After all, Robert says, "ash is the tree we have made the greatest and most varied use of over the course of human history".
Journeying from Wales across Europe and Ireland to the USA, Robert finds that the ancient skills and knowledge of the properties of ash, developed over millennia making wheels and arrows, furniture and baseball bats, are far from dead. The book chronicles how the urge to understand and appreciate trees still runs through us all like grain through wood.
Robert decided to write a book to tell the story of man’s relationship with ash. To do this, he felled a single ash tree near his home in the Black Mountains and had the entire thing converted into artefacts and products. Andy Dix, a friend and fellow bicycle nut, made a desk for him out of the finest timber boards. Bart Bagnall, a talented local woodworker, made a set of spoons out of thin branchwood; Phil Gregson, one of the last traditional wheelwrights left in Britain, took some timber for cartwheel felloes and for the rims of an old bicycle he was restoring.
Other bits of his tree were used by a multitude of other artisans to make a toboggan, catapults, cricket stumps, axe handles, components of surfboards, chopping boards, a set of dominoes, kitchen work tops, panelling, benches, tent pegs and coat racks. He made charcoal, firewood and kindling out of the sticks and branches. Some of the sawdust went to animal bedding; yet more of the sawdust was used to smoke meat and fish. He left some of the wood to rot and return to the earth, in the woodland where the tree fell. In total, he got 44 different uses, and several hundred individual items, out of one tree.