What to Do with Holey Ash?
I have a mountain ash tree in my garden that has five large trunks starting at the base. The woodpeckers have it looking like a pincushion. My question is: Can I use the wood from this tree for woodworking projects? – R. Barbour
Chris Marshall: If the trunks are large enough, there may still be plenty of good wood left deeper inside where the woodpeckers didn't reach. But, if the trunks are too small to have a portable sawmill cut them into boards, I'd definitely chop them into rounds with a chainsaw. Think of all the bowls you could turn from that ash! And, even if some of them have holes here or there from insects or insect-loving avians, that can add some nice character to your turnings. Give it a try, at least, before you consider splitting the tree up for firewood.
I once built a tool chest from old-growth American chestnut. The wood was riddled with wormholes – Swiss cheese would be a good comparison! But, I think it makes my tool chest one-of-a-kind, and I've never regretted that choice of wormy wood. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.
Ernie Conover: The tree likely has borers, but that does not usually make the heartwood unsuitable for woodworking. The trunks would have to be felled and then sawn into boards and dried. If you have a barn or a shed you can air dry 4/4 planks in about a year. The boards have to be separated by stickers, which are 1" square sticks of any wood. The stickers have to be moved every two weeks for the first couple of months if sticker stain is to be avoided. This will be a black mark where the sticker contacted the wood. It cannot be sanded or machined away.
If you are in a northern climate, November is a most propitious month to harvest, for it turns cold enough that you do not have to move the stickers. By spring, enough water will be lost by sublimation that sticker stain is no longer a problem. By November your lumber will be ready, just in time to make holiday gifts. If you are a turner you can chainsaw blanks from which to turn bowls. The blanks can’t have a complete annular ring, so they must come from between the center and the bark.
The trunks will also make excellent firewood.
Tim Inman: Well, yes, you can use the wood, but...If you cut, saw, stack and dry the wood carefully, it will work just like any other ash lumber. However, you have already pointed out the problem - or benefit - with this lumber. It will look exactly like it has had woodpeckers poking holes in the boards. Sometimes this can be desirable from an artistic point of view, sometimes not so much. Either way the wood will work just fine after proper care and treatment.