Ash versus Elm

Elm and Ash, both big broadleaved trees that produce big woodgrain in boards.

ash wood solid floor and scottish elm dinig table made for our stand at decorexThis picture shows an English Ash bespoke wood floor and wide Scottish Elm dining table made by Simon Thomas Pirie furniture makers for our HIllgrove Timber stand at Decorex 2021.

One of these beautiful timbers is robust and tough and one is too sweet and gentle for it’s own good. Guess which?

Botanically speaking our Fraxinus excelsior & Ulnus glabra trees and timber have much in common.

If you’re a chair maker, a cabinetmaker or a kitchen maker you might look at these two grand dames of the hardwood timber family with their glorious grain on a grand scale and find it hard to choose between them.

Both have the potential to produce wide and long boards from trees that grew well past their centenary year. Both have homegrown sources, native to our small cluster of islands. Both produce hard, strong wood with a long history of use in buildings, joinery and furniture making and either will give you the potential for flooring, furniture, wood turning, staircases and interior joinery.

These are some of the characteristics Elm and Ash wood have in common, however they can also depart from each other dramatic and significant ways.


Common vs Rare

Ash trees can be found thriving across the British Isles, throughout Europe, North American and into Asia. Our homegrown Ash, although currently under threat from Ash dieback disease, is a widely available log being sawn in good quantities right across the grade spectrum serving all requirements. For this reason, Ash timber prices are stable, very reasonable and make it a really economical choice for any interior use.

The same cannot be said for Elm.

Elm timber much more rare due to the Dutch Elm disease suffered in the last 100 years. By the late 70’s, early 80’s Britain’s Elm were decimated leaving very few trees standing and now healthy trees can only be found in the border regions and in Scotland. Research and experimentation is being done to find resistant strains of Ulnus and foresters remain hopeful. In the meantime Elm trees are only feeled once their health, or the health of trees around them is threatened, thus, Elm is a rare timber and as such is highly prized and highly valued.


Delicate vs Rich

When it comes to aesthetics Ash is definitely the more understated of the two timbers whereas Elm wants to suck you in with some drama. Yes, they both display glorious grain, but it’s hard to mistake one for the other.

Classic Elm boards come across strong with their rich, darking red-browns, murky green-greys set in swirls forewarning the pips and clusters of catspaw and burr. These rarified hardwood boards are fixing to test the mettle of even the most tenacious maker.

Ash, on the other hand will work with you quietly, complying with demands and living up to it’s delicate demeanour. The only perturbations are likely to be a bit of neediness (prepare for repeative de-nibbing) and some surprise colour* once a surface gets planed away. The reward for choosing the humble Ash are flexibility and lightness** and a choice of plain pale creams or tonal olives and tan colours.


Perishable vs Durable

This is a departure that needs to be noted. You’ve probably figured out by now which of these timbers needs molly-coddling and which is tough as old boots.

Yup, the Ash has delicate sensibilities and needs to be kept indoors for it’s own protection to stop it’s sweet temperament from triggering it’s perishability. It’s not the end of the world if it does get wet or is kept outdoors. It will stain (black fungi down the grain usually) and yes, it won’t last as long as a timber with a BS durability classification but it won’t shrivel up and die. It just won’t stay as pristine as it once was and it won’t last forever.

Elm wood on the other hand might well be around for the next ice age if it’s cared for correctly. It’s a timber species gifted with superpowers of durability and can tough it out in the great outdoors as cladding, garden furniture or exterior joinery. It’s relative rareness means it’s unlikely to be offered for cladding or structural works but there are many aged timber buildings benefiting from those traditional specifications.


So there you are, two superb wood species to choose from.

If Oak isn’t doing it for you right now have a think about these two for your next project.

Chris and the sales team will gladly quote you in either species as options against a cutting list, or you can do your own timber selection online by making a basket or a picking list. If you prefer to select in person – just book an appointment with James or Nick and they’ll be glad to assist.

Happy woodworking dear woodfans.
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read.



Watch our Wood Knowledge videos about ELM

Watch our Wood Knowledge videos on ASH

Search our ELM STOCK

Search our ASH STOCK

Read more about ASH

Read more about ELM



  27mm ash interior cladding detail on in the POD at the woodyard no fixings 


* BTW if that happens to you… don’t plane it away… park that board to one side for machining up another day. Sods law = when you want colour it’s all pale and white, when you want pale and uninteresting every board’s got some colour!

**Katie Walker’s classic design, the Ash ribbon rocking chair, is the ultimate embodiment of these qualities

Wood Knowledge: The Pips in Pippy Oak

We asked Tom where the the pips in Pippy Oak come from, here’s what he told us…


English Pippy Oak has been one of our specialist hardwood timbers for as long as we’ve been sawing logs.

There’s a very particular quality about it that’s not common to all tree and wood species. It’s the tiny pin knots in Oak wood, often found in clusters, usually not very far underneath the bark line and sometimes, much deeper into the tree.

Tom, our MD and chartered forest manager, explains how, being such long lived trees, Oaks use these knots as a way of adapting to be able withstand substantial climatic change. (more…)

Bespoke Green Oak Price Changes

From the 1st April our m3 green oak prices will rise by 10%.

green oak supplier of structural beams showing tannin reaction that can be cleaned, sanded or planed once drier AJF5258 copy 2 green oak supplier orders from sawmills in france awaiting delivery large structural green oak beam sections for timber building and cladding supply

Our structural Oak is arguably the best in the world and comes to you direct from our French sawmill partners.

It’s a bespoke ‘just-in-time’ supply chain that has been built up over 30 years.

As log buyers and green oak suppliers we track the market closely. Last autumn the log buying market in France, our main source for structural green and seasoned Oak beams, revealed the potential for the strong price changes we have seen kicking in this winter and spring.


Timber Certification: 100% or none

At English Woodlands Timber we have firm beliefs about responsible, sustainable timber sourcing.

It all starts with the trees.

sustinable timber tom measuing and analysing a parcel of english oak butts he has sourced for sawing

Our beliefs inform our choice to subscribe to chain-of-custody certification schemes that provide assurance of ‘legal and sustainable’ timber felling as part of formal forest management plans.

The chain-of-custody is key to the tracking and tracing of the tree and timber throughout the supply chain. (more…)

#BreakTheBias for Women in Forestry & Beyond

Today is International Women’s Day and we’ve joined forces with Grown in Britain to support the #BreakTheBias campaign because it feel’s necessary to champion women in forestry and beyond.

christine luffman head of sales english woodlands timber sarah jane farmer head of sale english woodlands timber Ian mcnally owner director english woodlands timber
Here’s Christine Luffman, Sarah Jane Farmer and owner Ian McNally showing their support for #BreakTheBias.

Whilst we’re conscious that, in general, women are under-represented in the forestry and timber industries in our timber and forestry business women make up close to 50% of the leadership team.

However, we know that’s uncommon.

International Women’s Day 2022 and this campaign by Grown in Britain – the organisation that built the certification system for homegrown timber and who champion woodland creation and woodland management – is a beautiful opportunity to open up awareness industry wide.

In our view, as the forestry and timber industries grow it will need to open up recruitment strategies to include more women to progress, to innovate, to grow and to become genuinely more sustainable.

We hope you’ll take a moment to consider supporting the International Women’s Day #BreakTheBias campaign, today and throughout the year, by actively supporting equality and diversity and by calling-out gender-bias, discrimination and stereotyping whenever you see it.

Here’s to all the women in forestry and timber, past and present and to more in the future.



International Women’s Day
#BreakTheBias campaign
Grown in Britain

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