Walnut vs. Ash: Which One to Use?

Walnut vs. Ash: Which One to Use?

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Do you know the differences between walnut and ash trees?

Both walnut and ash have some amazing properties that lend themselves to specific projects very well and are some of the best types of wood for woodworking. However, if you use them for the wrong project and in the wrong environment, it could end up being a costly mistake.

This article will let you know all about walnut and ash wood, so you know which one to use and when.

What Is Walnut?

Walnut is many woodworkers’ favorite timber, and it is used frequently in high-end projects. This wood is a tight-grained hardwood that comes from the walnut tree.

The walnut tree family has 21 types of trees in it. However, two main types are used for woodwork, these are the European walnut and the black walnut. The black walnut has darker tones than the European walnut.

The walnut tree is revered around Europe and has a rich history. Greece and Asia are where the tree can be found as a true native species.

However, it has been introduced throughout Europe over the centuries to the point where many now consider it a native, even if it is not, scientifically. The tree has a dual purpose, it can produce food and great timber, which is one of the reasons why people planted it throughout Europe.

What Is Ash?

Ash is a beautiful, light-colored wood. Unfortunately, in recent years a huge amount of ash has had to be cut down in Europe because of ash dieback, a fungus that targets the common ash tree and other trees in the Fraxinus family.

For a while, this meant that ash could be bought relatively cheaply, however as demand for the wood increased and the supply did not, prices have risen again.

Two common types of ash encountered in woodworking are black ash and white ash, however, there are also European ash, Oregon ash, olive ash, and green ash.

Walnut vs. Ash: What Are the Differences?

Walnut and Ash are two visually contrasting timbers, but there are a lot more differences than just their appearances. In this section, we’ll outline the differences between walnut and ash.


It should be noted that the strength of wood is defined by many factors, not just the species of tree it’s from. You have to look closely at the wood to understand any defects and weaknesses that will reduce its strength. For example, short grain, knots, checks, shakes, and splits are all examples of defects within the timber that will reduce its strength.

Alongside defects, the way the timber is milled impacts its strength, with quarter-sawn being the preference over through and through.  This is because the direction of grain defines a lot of a piece of timber’s strength. If pith and sapwood are in the timber, then they will usually reduce integrity as well.

Lastly, the environment that the tree grows in greatly changes how strong the wood is. Trees of the same species, grown at different altitudes and at different climates, will have different strengths. So it’s important to understand that the species of a tree will play a large role in how strong the timber is, but the wood must be inspected firsthand to work out if it is suitable for the project you need.

To compare the bending strength of the two trees, ash is 15,000 psi and walnut is 14,600 psi. This is quite close, but ash is the stronger of the two in this circumstance.

Appearance and Color

Walnut has rich, deep, dark, and chocolatey tones which sometimes have purple hues too. In comparison, ash is a very light timber that ranges between white and yellow, with darker stripes of grain.


Walnut is the more expensive timber. Ash became quite cheap for a few years as the market was flooded by trees that were cut due to ash dieback. However, the price has come back up in price now.

When to Use Walnut Wood?

Walnut is a favorite timber for many woodworkers to use. This is because it has a striking appearance and is a pleasure to work with – especially with hand tools. Traditionally it is used in higher-end projects, particularly cabinets and furniture.

Chairs, tables, and dressers are some of the most common uses for walnut. Alongside this, a lot of walnut is turned into veneer, which is highly sought after. Other uses for this wood include gunstocks, flooring, instruments, and paneling.

When to Use Ash Wood?

Ash is fantastic in some circumstances and should be avoided in others. For example, ash will rot quite quickly if exposed to the elements and a lot of moisture. However, this wood has some elastic qualities that make it incredibly resistant to impacts.

This means that it’s frequently used on tool handles and baseball bats. This material also bends very well when steamed and was used to construct wheels in the past.

More recently, the lighter tones of ash have brought it back into popularity, with designers looking to create minimalist, modern designs out of wood. The tones and strength of ash make it great for this situation.

Alternatives to Walnut and Ash Wood

Sometimes we can’t get hold of the timber we need, or it costs too much. In these situations, there are alternative woods to explore. Below we’ll go over some options you have. You might also want to check our detailed article about walnut alternatives.

Douglas Fir

Douglas fir has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios out of all the woods. It has lighter tones and lends itself well to structural work, as well as joinery and some furniture pieces.


Cherry is a rich hardwood. With tight, close grain, it can polish to a very high sheen that looks exquisite. Furniture, cabinets, kitchen utensils, and paneling are all common uses for cherry.


Walnut and ash are two favorites of woodworkers. It is hard to find two timbers that look so different, particularly in coloring. However, this is one of the reasons why they are often paired together in furniture design, to create a strong contrast.

Once you understand what your project requires, the environment it will be in, and the characteristics of the pieces of wood directly in front of you, the choice of timber usually becomes much easier.