American Ash vs Malaysian Hardwood

We are often asked what’s the difference between American Ash and Malaysian Hardwood, and also what’s better – ash or rubberwood?

What is Malaysian Hardwood?

Malaysian Hardwood is a tropical hardwood. It also goes by the common names of rubberwood, plantation hardwood or Malaysian Oak. The timber is a light blonde colour with a relatively straight, dense grain.

Originally native to Brazil, it is now mostly grown in extensive rubberwood plantations throughout Southeast Asia. It is commonly regarded as an environmentally friendly or eco-friendly timber option as it makes use of plantation trees that have already served a purpose for latex production, extending its productive life. Because it is essentially a by-product, it has a low cost and is an economical hardwood option.

Rubberwood is well suited to furniture making as it has very little shrinkage and takes on stains and colours uniformly. It is easy to work with, showing great strength and durability. Compared with other timbers, the boards are smaller, with approximately 1.8m in length and 50mm thickness. For this reason, furniture products made from Malaysian Hardwood commonly feature smaller lengths joined together with finger joints.

What is a finger joint? A finger joint is also commonly known as a comb joint, and is a woodworking technique to interlock two pieces of wood, which are then glued.

What is American Ash?

American Ash is a hardwood grown and harvested in Northern America. It is often also referred to as White Ash. The timber is white to beige in hue, with a relatively straight grain.

As with all hardwoods, the colour tends to change a little over time with exposure to UV light and oxygen. It is durable and lightweight with good staining and polishing qualities. Its beautiful grain and versatility make it a much sought-after material for furniture making.

It is important to choose an American Ash source and suppliers that hold Forest Stewardship Council® certification (FSC®). This means the timber will have been sourced from responsibly managed forests.

American Ash has strength and durability qualities that are comparable to oak, but because it is less dense, the material is lighter and easier to work with.

So…. What’s better – American Ash or Rubberwood?

In terms of durability and function, both of these furniture timbers perform equally as well. The differences come in terms of cost and appearance. The Malaysian Hardwood or rubberwood option is traditionally a more cost-effective option than Ash, with lower costs to the raw material, and options to import pre-laminated panels for furniture making.

American Ash typically comes with a higher price tag as it is imported as a raw material. For this reason it offers more flexibility when it comes to furniture making, but also has a domestic labour cost associated with it. Aesthetically the products vary greatly. American Ash has a much cleaner appearance with stunning grain and natural variations. It has a distinct look that is sought after, and is also available in longer and wider laminations.

Malaysian Hardwood/Rubberwood on the left versus American Ash on the right – both with a clear lacquer finish. 

Chicago vs Colorado Table Top  

At Harrows we offer a wide variety of table tops, two of them being Chicago and Colorado which on the surface are quite similar.

The Chicago top is an American Ash top, made onsite by Harrows from raw imported American Ash. It possesses the cleaner attributes described above, and is priced as more expensive than the rubberwood option. Because the Chicago Table Tops are machined from scratch onsite, they can be made to any shape or size.

The Colorado top is made from Malaysian Hardwood and is imported from Asia in pre-laminated panels. It is then cut to size by Harrows if required, but has limitations in the variety of shapes and sizes that it is available. The appearance of the tops features finger joints throughout. This can be quite an attractive feature if looking for a industrial or deconstructed style of interior, and these joins are also less prominent when a darker stain is applied.

Both styles of tops are stained and polished to order in-house.

Malaysian Hardwood/Rubberwood on the left versus American Ash on the right – both with a darker stain finish. 

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