#58: Arizona Ash

Bird number: 90
Date: August 10, 2012
Wood: Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina)
Source: Back yard

Arizona ash is a popular shade tree in the Austin area, primarily because it grows quickly and has a large and thick canopy. On the down side, the tree is short lived. Typically, Arizona ash trees live only 20 to 30 years. They live much longer if they’re maintained. Owners who have the trees pruned periodically by a good arborist, and make sure to water and fertilize the tree, can expect the tree to live 50 years or longer.

We have one Arizona ash in the back yard, next to the garage. We don’t have it pruned regularly, but it’s at least 17 years old, and I suspect older. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the tree has been here for 30 years. We don’t take special care of it, and it’s still going strong. It drops small limbs from time to time, usually on the garage roof where I have to climb up and pull them down. I prune the tree every few years, but I’m hardly a good arborist. Now that I mention it, there is a lot of dead wood in that tree. Perhaps I should get out the pole saw soon.

This bird is carved from a limb that I took off the tree a few years ago. It had been sitting in the firewood pile.

I had no idea that the wood was so beautiful.

The holes in the side are from some kind of insect. The hole in the tail was a knot that fell out while I was carving.

I really was surprised at the beauty of this wood. I find it surprising that I haven’t heard more about people carving or turning it. The stuff is plentiful around here. Not as common as mesquite, but not at all difficult to obtain. I showed this bird at my wood carving club meeting last week, and afterward a half dozen people approached to tell me that they had some Arizona ash wood that they’d be happy to let me have.

I would classify the wood as medium hard. It rates 1,320 on the Janka scale, with a specific gravity of about 0.53. It’s somewhere between black walnut and cherry in terms of hardness. I carved this bird with the Foredom, but the wood should carve well with a sharp knife. It also should hold detail very well. Anybody who enjoys carving fruit wood should enjoy carving Arizona ash, too.

This is the fourth bird I’ve finished with the Danish Oil / Deft method. Although the finishing process takes a little longer, it gives a depth to the carvings that I just didn’t get with the simple oil / wax method. I think I’ll stick with this finish for a while.