Out of curiosity why is ash the wood of choice for canoe seats gunwales thwarts etc as opposed to other woods?

White ash
is tough and strong; has straight, close grain; bas good elastic properties (flexibility); the tree is a tall straight growing tree with a trunk free of limbs for at least 30 feet (important for 20 ft long clear wood gunnel material; the wood is easy to work with hand and power tools; good fastener holding properties; glues well; and is readily available where the major canoe companies are located.

The same reason the first baseball bats were made from straight grain ash.

Paddlin’ on


Someone recently said that close-
grained ash is actually more likely to split than ash with more widely separated grain. I made a canoe paddle shaft from ash where the growth rings are 3/16" or more apart, and it has shown excellent ability to withstand high force and substantial bending.

I would like more information, because I just took delivery on a composite ww boat that has close-grained ash gunwales. I think they’ll last OK, but I’m curious as to how they compare to ash with a wider grain.

By the way, there’s a really
destructive ash beetle loose in the land, and unless they find a solution, ash is going to get real scarce. Maybe like American chestnut.

May have been refering to Black ash?

– Last Updated: Aug-13-08 11:50 PM EST –

Just a guess that they may have been referring to Black Ash rather than White Ash. Black ash trees are very slow growing swamp trees that leaf out the latest of any tree in the area in spring and drop their leaves before any other tree in fall. This results in very close growth rings. This ash is known for making superior splits for weaving baskets. The wood splits readily at the rings. Black ash still makes beautiful showy figured lumber, but it's not as tough as white ash, it is a porous water absorbing wood, and unfortunately it is prone to split along the annual rings.

True. They are just about…

– Last Updated: Aug-14-08 8:03 AM EST –

...all dead around here. We've got three sixty-footers out back that are standing deadwood right now.

BTW, I always thought that "close-grain"(pronounced 'kloze') meant the opposite of "open-grain" in reference to lumber. I would have called ash, like oak, an open-grained hardwood.

Huh. After some searching around, I've found confusing and conflicting info on 'close-grained' wood. It seems like it can refer to both the spacing of annual growth rings or the texture of the species. I've always called the cosely spaced stuff 'old growth' or 'forest grown'. Apologies for having questioned your usage, g2.

Ash is heavy

– Last Updated: Aug-14-08 8:01 AM EST –

The majority of Old Town wood and canvas canoes had spruce or mahogany gunwales. Morris used cedar for stems. Chestnut used a lot of maple for thwarts, decks and seats and butternut for decks. Chestnut also used spruce for rails, but later Chestnuts also used ash. Old Town also used a lot of birch for decks and thwarts.

I'm a little surprised at the "need" for ash. It is a good choice, but there are other wood options.

I think DuMoose is right.
It’s got to do with matching properties of the species with availability and price.

Is weight really an issue when we’re talking about a set of rails for a canoe? How many ounces can you save by choosing mahogany over ash, and where can I get an 18 ft. long 1X6 around here without having to pay through a nostril?

Long ash is hard to find too.
I spent a fair amount of time this spring looking for long ash. After several weeks, I finally found a 17 ft piece to make a keel with.

I just scarfed a piece of mahogany and steam bent it for rails, it worked fine.

Anyway, I was just pointing out that there are other wood options. All you hear about all the time is the weight of canoes and how folks want to get weight down, but then the consensus is to put ash all over them which is a dense heavy wood. Spruce makes good gunwales. It is flexible and light weight.

Flame on.

Didn’t mean to be flip, w/c
T’was meant to be an honest question, though poorly worded perhaps.

BTW, I had occasion to visit Mr. Thurlow’s shop a couple of years ago. It was a real treat. I’d buy one of his ‘Cheemauns’ in a minute, if I could afford one.

Flamed out, TK

Yeah, I think woods like oak are
referred to as “open pore” or sometimes open grained, while cherry (for example) has no pores and is sometimes called closed-grain. Ash is somewhat porous in the darker bands, but it’s not nearly so difficult to get the grain of ash filled as it is with oak.

There seems to be something special or “plastic” about the lighter zones in ash.

The scraps
Ash makes super firewood. Lights easily, burns with a bright yellow flame and burns all the way down to just a wisp of ash that you can blow away. I think they use ash because their wives like to use the scraps in the fireplace.

You mean the Ash borer - -
It’s creating havoc in some areas. Anyone who runs a lumber operation is scrambling to either buy all the ash tre’s they can before they die, salvageany recently killed, or eliminate the bad ones.

I live a few miles north of the quarantine line. If you get caught hauling firewood over the line, it’s a $2000.00 fine. Problem is that most freight companies haven’t followed the rules regarding pallet lumber and shipping lumber, so a lot of it gets moved anyways. The Amish and some local old timer loggers have been claiming that this scourge has been around for a long time, and that it’s nothing new, just healthier than usual - - so they ignore all the restrictions.

Hocking Hills (Ohio State Park) is doing selective cuttings to check for this Ash Borer. Once it hit’s down there, it’s gonna be a mess in Ohio.

I have had boats with both ash and
with select sitka spruce. Yeah, the sitka is stiffer and lighter, but it cannot take a shot like ash can, and sitka also rots much easier.

I say this from the perspective of a whitewater paddler. If I were paddling mainly lakes and portaging, I would be glad to have sitka spruce. I have a private supply of sitka that I use for thwarts, where the toughness of ash is not needed.

Hey…nice ash.

Is it possible
that Northern White Ash is so popular because the earliest canoe companies (Old Town, Moore, Lanfford, Chestnut etc) were located in areas where ash was readily available? It had teh desired properties, and was economical to obtain to boot.

Serindipitously, it has worked well for many many years.


I believe the Indian
(native American, or First Squatter) canoe builders also favored ash. Certainly that it was available was important, but I can’t think of another wood in the birchbark states that steam bends like ash, works easily, and withstands shock and bending.

Old Town
Old Town used very little ash for rails, some for trim.

I’m no birch bark authority
but I think they are mostly northern white cedar which is also used in wood canvas canoes because it is easily steam bent.

Not sure how well ash carves with a crooked knife either.