Is Ash Wood Good For Carving?

carving ash wood

Carving is a popular hobby that requires skill, patience, and the right tools. If you’re interested in carving, you may be wondering if ash wood is a good choice for your projects. The short answer is yes, but there are some things you should know before you get started with this dense wood.

Can You Carve Ash Wood? Tips and Tricks for Carving Ash Wood

Understanding ash wood is essential before you start carving. Ash is a hardwood that is commonly used for furniture, flooring, and baseball bats. It has a tight, straight grain that makes it very strong and durable.

However, ash is not the best wood to hand carve due to its hardness and density. With the right techniques and tools, though, you can create beautiful pieces from ash wood.

Understanding Ash Trees

There are several different species of Ash trees that are used for ash lumber and carving blanks.  The common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) stands as a staple across Europe, aka European Ash, gracing landscapes with its large canopy. Moving across the Atlantic, we encounter the white ash (Fraxinus americana), a majestic presence adorning the eastern parts of North America.

Moving further west, we encounter the black ash (Fraxinus nigra), thriving in the moist soils of North America’s northeastern regions. And let’s not forget the Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia), flourishing along the Pacific Northwest’s waterways.

Each type of ash lumber brings its unique qualities to the carving table, making them sought-after choices for artists and artisans alike. So, as we journey into the world of ash wood carving, let’s embrace the diversity and beauty these trees bring from different parts of the world.

Unfortunately, ash trees have been under attack recently in North America.  The Emerald Ash Borer has caused unimaginable destruction to the ash population in just a couple of years time.  This small beatle bores into the live ash trees and ultimately overtakes the tree, killing it.  

This destruction is bad for the environment, but has created an abundance of different types of ash woods for wood carvers, woodworkers, furniture makers and carpenters.

The Basics of Carving with Ash Wood

When it comes to carving with ash wood, there are a few basics to keep in mind. As with any woodcarving project, it’s important to have the right tools and techniques to get the job done well.

It’s important to note that ash wood is a dense and durable material, which means that it is more difficult to carve than softer types of wood like basswood or pine. However, with the right tools and techniques, it can be a rewarding wood to work with.

Ash lumber has a Janka Hardness Rating of 1320 lbf, to put it in context, this means ash is harder than red oak (Janka Rating of 1290 lbf) but not quite as hard as white oak (Janka Rating of 1360 lbf).

To start, you’ll need a set of sharp carving tools, including chisels, gouges, and knives. These tools should be kept sharp and well-maintained to ensure clean and precise cuts.  When hand carving, working with green ash wood is preferred since it will be softer and more manageable than dry ash.

When carving with ash wood, it’s also important to pay attention to the grain direction. Ash wood has a distinct grain pattern that can affect the way it carves. Generally, it’s best to carve with the grain to avoid splitting or tearing the wood.

Another tip for carving with ash wood is to take your time and work slowly. This will help you avoid mistakes and ensure that your carving is clean and precise.

Overall, while carving with ash wood can be challenging, it can also be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. With the right tools and techniques, you can create beautiful and intricate carvings that will last for years to come.

carving ash wood

Why Is Ash Wood Good for Carving?

As a woodcarver, choosing the right type of wood is crucial to the success of your carving project. Ash wood is a popular choice for many carvers due to its unique properties, availability, and characteristics. Here are a few reasons why I choose ash wood for carving:

Hardness and Durability

Ash wood is a hardwood that is known for its strength and durability. It is essentially just as hard as oak, which makes it an excellent choice for carvers who want their carvings to last a long time and hold fine details. Ash wood is also resistant to rot, which means that it can withstand exposure to moisture and other environmental factors.  As a non-toxic wood, common ash is perfect for carving spoons and kitchen utensils and woodworkers love it for making cutting boards.

Grain Structure

The grain structure of ash wood is similar to oak wood, which makes it ideal for carving intricate designs and details. The grain is straight and even, which allows carvers to create clean and precise cuts. However, it is important to note that if you get your tool edge in the grain, it sometimes splinters or splits.

Availability and Affordability

In part, thanks to the Emerald Ash Borer, Ash wood is readily available in many parts of the world, which makes it an affordable option for carvers – in fact, it’s one of the cheapest hardwoods in many parts of North America. Green wood is also easy to work with, which means that even beginners can use it to create beautiful carvings.


Ash wood is versatile and can be used for a variety of carving styles. Whether you prefer to use hand tools or power tools, ash wood can be carved to create intricate designs and details. It is also a popular choice for larger projects like furniture making.

Overall, ash wood is an excellent choice for carvers who want a durable, versatile, and affordable wood. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced carver, ash wood is a great option to consider for your next carving project.

Tools Needed for Carving Ash Wood

Carving ash wood requires specific tools that can handle its hardness. Here are the essential tools you’ll need to carve ash wood:

Carving Knives

A carving knife is the most basic tool for woodcarving. It is used to make small cuts and details on the wood surface. For carving ash wood, a sharp carving knife with a sturdy blade is necessary. A knife with a 1-2 inch blade length is suitable for most carving tasks. It is best to use a knife with a curved blade for carving rounded edges and a straight blade for straight cuts.


Gouges are another essential tool for carving ash wood. They are used to make curved or rounded cuts and are available in different sizes and shapes. A U-shaped gouge is the most commonly used for carving ash wood. It is best to use gouges with a sharp edge to avoid splitting or splintering the wood.


A mallet is used to strike the carving tools, such as chisels and gouges, to make deeper cuts into the wood. For carving ash wood, a wooden or rubber mallet is recommended. A mallet with a weight of around 12-16 ounces is suitable for most carving tasks.

Techniques for Carving Ash Wood

Relief Carving

When it comes to relief carving, ash is a great wood due to its strength and durability. However, it can be difficult to carve because of its ring-porous structure. To make the process easier, I recommend using power tools such as a rotary tool or an angle grinder with a carving disc. This will allow you to quickly remove material and achieve the desired depth and detail.

Another technique that can be used when relief carving ash wood is to carve with the grain. This will help prevent the wood from splitting and make the carving process smoother. Additionally, using stop cuts and taking small slices of wood will also help prevent splitting and make it easier to control the carving.


Whittling is a popular technique for carving ash wood, especially for spoon carving and other smaller pieces. To get started, I recommend using a sharp whittling knife and taking small, controlled cuts. It’s important to carve with the direction of the grain and use stop cuts to prevent splitting.

When whittling ash wood, it’s important to keep in mind that it can be difficult to carve due to its density. Take your time and be patient, as rushing can lead to mistakes and accidents. Additionally, using a glove on your non-dominant hand will help protect against slips and cuts.

Chip Carving

Chip carving is a technique that involves removing small chips of wood to create intricate designs and patterns. Ash wood is a great choice for chip carving because of its tight grain and strength.

To get started with chip carving ash wood, I recommend using a sharp chip carving knife and taking small, controlled cuts. It’s important to carve with the grain and use stop cuts to prevent splitting. Additionally, using a v-gouge can help create clean, sharp lines and add texture to your design.

Overall, ash wood can be a great choice for carving, but it does require some skill and patience. By using the right techniques and tools, you can create beautiful and intricate carvings for your next wood carving project.

Safety Measures While Carving

When it comes to carving ash wood, safety should always be a top priority. Here are some safety measures that I always keep in mind while carving:

Use Protective Gear

Wearing protective gear is crucial when carving ash wood. It is important to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying wood chips and dust. Additionally, it is recommended to wear a dust mask to prevent inhalation of sawdust. Wearing gloves can also provide protection from sharp tools and splinters.

Keep Your Tools Sharp

Sharp tools are safer to use than dull ones. Dull tools require more force to use, increasing the risk of slipping and injury. Before carving, make sure your tools are sharp and in good condition. Sharpen them regularly to maintain their effectiveness.

Work in a Well-Ventilated Area

Carving ash wood can create a lot of sawdust and debris. It is important to work in a well-ventilated area to prevent the buildup of dust and fumes. If working indoors, consider using a fan or opening windows to improve air circulation.

Take Breaks

Carving can be a repetitive and tiring activity. It is important to take frequent breaks to rest your hands and prevent fatigue. This can help reduce the risk of injury and improve the quality of your work.

Use Proper Technique

Using proper technique is essential for safe and effective carving. When using chisels or knives, take small bites to reduce the risk of slipping and injury. It is also important to use a mallet when necessary to avoid putting excess strain on your hands and wrists.

By following these safety measures, you can reduce the risk of injury and enjoy the process of carving ash wood.

Caring for Your Carved Ash Wood Pieces

As someone who enjoys carving ash wood, I know how important it is to properly care for your finished pieces. Here are some tips for keeping your carved ash wood looking its best:

Regular Cleaning

Dust and dirt can accumulate on your carved ash wood pieces over time, so it’s important to clean your carvings regularly. I recommend using a soft cloth or brush to gently remove any debris. Avoid using water or harsh chemicals, as they can damage the wood.


To keep your carved ash wood pieces looking their best, it’s important to condition them regularly. You can use a variety of natural oils, such as linseed oil or walnut oil, to condition the wood. Simply apply a small amount of oil to a soft cloth and rub it into the wood in a circular motion. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes, then wipe away any excess with a clean cloth.


When you’re not displaying your carved ash wood pieces, it’s important to store them properly to prevent damage. Keep them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture. You can also wrap them in a soft cloth or tissue paper to protect them from scratches and dust.


If you’re displaying your carved ash wood pieces, be sure to place them in a location that is not exposed to direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. This can cause the wood to warp or crack over time. You can also use a display case to protect your pieces from dust and other debris.

By following these simple tips, you can keep your carved ash wood pieces looking beautiful for years to come.

What’s Next?

In my experience, carving ash wood can be a challenging but rewarding task. The density and hardness of the wood require sharp tools and a steady hand, but the finished product can be beautiful and long-lasting.

Based on my research and personal experience, here are some key takeaways about carving ash wood:

  • Ash wood is a popular choice for carving because it is strong, durable, and resistant to rot.
  • The density of ash wood can make it difficult to carve, especially for beginners or those with limited tools.
  • Power carving and chainsaw carving methods can make the process easier and more efficient.
  • Ash wood can be used for a variety of carving projects, including furniture, sculptures, tool handles, a wooden bowl and kitchen utensils.

I believe that ash wood can be a great choice for carving, as long as you are prepared to put in the time and effort required to work with this dense and challenging material. With practice and patience, you can create beautiful and functional pieces that will last for years to come.

Looking for an easier wood to carve?  Check out our recent article on the easiest woods to carve!  This article is great, especially for beginners looking for inexpensive and soft woods for carving.

Author: Nick Sullivan

I'm a seasoned fella who's been whittling sticks and carving wood for four decades. I find joy in creating intricate wooden wonders that tell stories of old and help my readers expand their woodcarving knowledge. I hope you find my articles helpful and they answer your whittling questions. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any additional questions or just to say hi! Thanks for reading and Happy Carving!

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