December 30, 2022
Yes, Aspen gets classified as a hardwood. It has a Janka Hardness rating of 420 lbf or 1,868 N. This Janka rating is lower than many hardwoods, so Aspen gets tagged as soft hardwood. Yet, these combos of characteristics and properties of hardwood and softwood make Aspen unique.
What is Aspen Wood?
The term Aspen is a common name for specific tree species belonging to the Populus genus. These species include Populus Adenopoda, Populus davidiana, and Populus Grandidentata. The Aspen wood used in many applications usually comes from two trees: Populus tremuloides, or trembling Aspen, and Populus Grandidentata, or Bigtooth Aspen.
Aspen trees are native to the Northeastern United States along the Lake States and Canada. It is the most widely distributed species of hardwood in North America. This tree is a quick and prolific seeder. However, most tree regeneration comes from root sprouting. This root sprouting happens once the root gets disturbed and there is ample sunlight.
Is Aspen Wood Hard?
Aspen wood, of course, is harder than all softwood. Nevertheless, it is softer than many hardwoods, given its Janka Hardness rating of 420 lbf. This rating, of course, is far lower than the frequently used hardwoods, so Aspen gets often referred to as a soft hardwood.
Aspen wood structure features a diffused porous structure with remarkable staining properties. Its ring structure, however, is almost unrecognizable. Besides, the porous structure’s diameter gets evenly distributed and relatively small. Since it exhibits a tiny, porous structure, its hardness and density are high.
Aspen wood is not so much susceptible to expansion and contraction due to temperature and weather changes. It has excellent stability compared to other hardwoods. Nevertheless, its density and hardness are lower than many hardwoods due to its uniform and soft texture.
Aspen Wood’s Properties, Characteristics and Colors
To understand further the characteristics and properties of Aspen, we are going to assess Aspen wood according to the following factors like color and grain, drying, weight, stability, and rot resistance:
Color and Grain
Its heartwood favors a light brown hue, while wide sapwood tends toward a pale yellow tone to almost white. The separation between heartwood and sapwood is not delineated.
Heartwood and sapwood have white colors and are difficult to delineate. The texture and grain of Aspen are good, but the annual rings are not easy to see. Its key feature is its being splinter-less.
Aspen is not difficult to dry as long as bacteria do not infect it. It requires quick drying because slow drying can produce blue stains.
Fresh Aspen wood might weigh around 40 to 45lbs/cubic foot and can even increase to 50lbs due to the wet wood. Green Aspen bark can be heavier, with an average weight of 55lbs per cubic foot.
Once Aspen has dried, the wood exhibits excellent stability. It can change its size up to one percent tangentially with 6% change in MC and 1% radial change for 10% change in MC.
Aspen wood shows high resistance to changes in temperature and weather. Thus, it does not warp or crown quickly. Its wood, however, will fail to handle extreme cold or heat. Nevertheless, it will remain a bit stable. Thus, using Aspen wood in areas with fluctuating weather is okay, primarily if you use it for flooring, because it can withstand the vicissitudes of weather. However, when exposed to extreme weather, it might get damaged.
Aspen grows much in North America and can handle weather changes well. One issue, however, with Aspen is the rotting issue because it shows susceptibility to moisture. Hence, it is not a perfect choice for kitchens and bathrooms. You may treat Aspen wood, but it will not solve its susceptibility to water and moisture.
Working with Aspen Wood
Before choosing Aspen wood for your woodworking projects, it will be best to know if it is workable or not. Does it accept finishes and stains well? Does it hold screws and nails well? Below are the succinct answers to these questions:
Aspen is known to hold paint well. In fact, it is one of the easiest and best hardwoods to finish with paint. It also accepts stains and other finishes. It is like fir, hemlock, pine, and spruce in receiving stains.
Absorptions, however, can be uneven, leading to blotchiness in appearance. You can use a wash coat or sealer before you stain it to remedy this issue. Besides, Aspen accepts ink quickly. Thus, you can print on it with ease.
Aspen is easy to nail and screw. It doesn’t readily split. However, the strength of its nail joint is relative to its density. Since Aspen has low density, it performs below the performance of high-density woods.
You will notice this when you figure out the wood’s resistance to nail withdrawal. Besides, nails driven onto fresh or green wood decrease their withdrawal resistance once the wood seasons.
Machining and Gluing
One remarkable characteristic of Aspen is its ease of gluing. Among the native American wood species, Aspen ranks the highest regarding its ability to be glued. However, it is absorptive of glue, so you need to apply pressure immediately after gluing; otherwise, the glue dries out quickly and will not bond well.
Applications and Uses of Aspen
Aspen wood has many uses and applications. It is naturally not flammable, making it an ideal material for making matches and paper. It is one of the safe woods for use in these two applications. Packaging and stuffing industries also use Aspen wood as wood wool at the bottom of most packages. Besides, engineered wood like particle boards and OSBG get lined with Aspen strands and flakes.
You will also find Aspen wood used in the sauna’s interior. You can also use it as backrests and sauna seats. Moreover, you can use Aspen for moldings and other high-end applications like kitchen cabinets. Besides, you can use it for wall panels.
Aspen wood is also perfect for carving and a first-rate alternative to basswood. You can fashion it into solid paneling, light-duty pieces of furniture, and millwork.
Other uses of Aspen include construction uses for farms, and you can use it for barn floors. You can also use it for making toys, mouse traps, tabletops, legs, and snow fences. Besides, you can use it as firewood. However, some people think that Aspen produces more ashes than other firewood. It doesn’t burn sufficiently hot.
Once heat treated, Aspen exhibits strong resistance to warping and rotting. Besides, Aspen wood gets used in most animal bedding furniture and products. It is also safe for pets and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals and resins. It also doesn’t exude a pungent odor.
Is Aspen Sustainable?
If you intend to use Aspen wood, you might also be asking whether its use is sustainable. Will it tip off the ecological balance if you use aspen wood more often? Yet, among the naturally growing trees in North America, Aspen has the most expansive area of proliferation. The reason is that it can grow and regenerate quickly. Thus, more Aspen trees get planted for every Aspen tree cut for timber.
The use of Aspen wood is very much sustainable. Since this tree exhibits fast growth and can regrow itself from its roots, it can be replenished with ease. Thus, you can plant thousands of Aspen trees for every acre of land to compensate for every cut Aspen tree. Cutting some Aspen trees without damaging and tipping off the ecological equilibrium is possible. Besides, Aspens get already farmed, which means it is a sustainable wood.
If you live in Northern America, where the weather is temperate, and you have Aspen trees in your land, you might be considering cutting a tree for its timber. Having read the abovementioned pros and cons of using Aspen, you are now in a better position to decide whether Aspen is the suitable wood for your woodworking projects. Aspen may not be the hardest wood, but it has its uses and applications. You can utilize it well in your woodworking projects as long as you use it right.
Aspen is very much available in North America, and it is a sustainable wood. So, if you’re a bit worried about using it, you should not, for its use will not tip off the ecological balance. Besides, you can plant and grow a replacement tree with ease.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.