Glulam timber choice: Is ash more popular than spruce?

Did you know ash is the third most common tree in Britain? The Latin name is Fraxinus Excelsior and it has thrived on these shores for millennia, growing up to 35 metres tall. You’ll find a lot of love for this symbol of the British landscape.

Ash is an increasingly popular choice for glulam manufacture due to its appealing aesthetics and lower cost compared with some timbers. In terms of locally grown timber, we now use three main species for our glulam: larch, Douglas fir, and ash.

Here is a little more about ash you might be interested to know…

Where does ash come from?

The ash timber species is native to Britain. It is also found in other parts of Europe, as well as Asia and Africa. Here in Britain, druids considered the tree sacred and made their wands from it. In Norse mythology, it was considered the ‘Tree of Life’ and the origin of the first man!

The ash we use at Buckland today is mostly sourced from UK Hardwoods in South Molton, so tends to be grown very locally to us.

(Find out more about our locally grown story.)

What are the differences between ash varieties?

There are over 40 species of ash in existence, which are mostly deciduous, though a few are evergreen. There is therefore quite a range of varieties from red ash to blue ash, black ash to white ash, and everything in between!

Black ash is darker than most other types of ash, is native to the northern United States and eastern Canada and grows more slowly, which means it has a wider grain and a lower density. The heartwood colour of black ash tends to be slightly darker, and the growth rings are typically much closer together.

White ash is a medium brown colour, while the sapwood can vary from beige to light brown. The wood has a medium to coarse texture, similar to oak, and it can have a curled grain, but it is most commonly straight.

Our native ash is a light cream, occasionally with olive green or brown streaks with a medium coarse grain.

What is ash used for?

Ash can absorb shocks without splintering, making it ideal for use in the production of tools, handles and oars. If you have ever inherited any tools with a quality wooden handle, chances are they will be made from ash.

It has a vibrant grain structure, which has long been a popular feature of furniture pieces but has even been used in the carriage frames of Morgan Motor Company cars.

In terms of contemporary glulam manufacturing, it has seen a rise in use thanks to its appearance. The attractive colour and grain and very low amount of knots make it a good option for projects like house extensions where there is not a huge volume of glulam to drive up the cost but the customer wants to make a main feature out of the structure.

Can ash glulam be used externally?

Ash is not something we would recommend for external glulam structures.

While there are ways you can protect glulam from the elements (see our blog on designing for external glulam projects) it is not a durable timber, so we’d only ever recommend ash glulam for internal use.

What are the benefits of using ash?

Ash is a brilliant timber choice for glulam aesthetically. The long pale but varied grain and light colouring allow it to enhance both rustic and contemporary design, and it naturally has very few knots so it’s one of the few timbers we can actually offer knot-free.

Secondly, as the third most common tree in Britain, there is plenty of it, so its availability makes it a great choice for projects which can’t be held up by longer import timelines or limited supply.

Last but not least, thanks to its plentiful supply ash is a good cost-effective hardwood option.

Is ash dieback a concern for supply?

We are mindful of the impact of ash dieback, which threatens the tree’s future in Britain and across Europe. Ash’s resilience will be tested, and the potential commercial and ecological impact will gain more attention over the next few years.

Research into developing ash resistance is gaining pace and we fully endorse the brilliant work of organisations like The Woodland Trust that advocate for our woodlands. In the shorter term though, although the UK ash is suffering from dieback disease, it tends to affect the trees quite slowly. As a result, there are currently high volumes of ash available of which we can take advantage – better to make good use of the high-quality timber while it is available. In the long term (we guess 10 or 15 years) there may be very little ash available sadly.

How strong is ash?

We conduct a lot of in-house testing on timber species, and our tests on ash have shown very high bending strengths similar to that of oak. We don’t have a UKCA marking for ash (similar to oak glulam), so other than grading requirements, we manufacture it according to the procedures laid out in BS 14080.

Alongside strength, the other thing to consider with ash is flexibility, an area which needs more research. We look at the structural design using ash on a case-by-case basis – for example, longer-span floor beams which may have vibration issues will need careful attention. Please contact us if you are considering using ash glulam for structural purposes.

Is ash glulam cheaper than spruce or oak?

The plentiful supply of ash means it is a very cost-effective hardwood to use for glulam. It’s also a great choice if you’re on a budget as it offers the qualities of oak, but is significantly cheaper – roughly half the price of oak glulam.

That being said it is still more expensive than spruce, the cheapest species for glulam manufacture. For spruce you are looking at approximately £500 – £700 a cubic metre, whereas ash is more like £3,500 – £4,500 a cubic metre. (Prices at Feb 2024)

Don’t let this put you off though – when you factor this into say a small house extension where the design and fabrication are big parts of the cost, it may only be around a 25% increase on the overall design, supply and install structure cost. The cubic metre rate of ash glulam shouldn’t necessarily put you off investigating using it.

(You can take a look at our Glulam Beam Cost Calculator to compare prices, or get in touch with one of the team if you have questions on this.)

ash glulam at buckland timber factory (2)
customer supplied ash locally grown (8)
ash glulam at buckland timber factory (5)
ash glulam for streethill farmhouse (1)
ash glulam at buckland timber factory (3)
ash glulam beams house extension (1)
ash glulam for streethill farmhouse (2)
rockstone cottage locally grown ash glulam frame. halfway point of frame erection 1
As with all the timber species we use for our glulam manufacture, best use, cost, aesthetics etc for you will depend on the unique circumstances of your project. If we can help you with any questions on ash do get in touch and one of the team will be happy to help.