Pros and Cons Of Aspen Wood

Disclaimer: Obsessed Woodworking is reader-supported. I may receive a small commission if you purchase anything through my site.

We’ve written about aspen wood in a past article when we determined whether aspen was a hardwood or a softwood.  It was in that article that we first used the word “dendrologist,” which at that time was a new word for us.

In the field of botany, all plants are studied for their interaction with other plants and organisms and the environment in which they grow. Within the field of botany, there are specialists like dendrologists who specifically study trees.

Key Points:

  • A soft hardwood that nonetheless has its place in the woodworking shop.
  • Easy to work with, inexpensive, and versatile; not as durable or strong as other hardwoods.
  • Furniture, musical instruments, toys for the kids, including Lincoln Logs, plywood, paper, and matches – these are all aspen wood-worthy uses.

It’s a dendrologist who would tell you to consult the Janka scale to determine a piece of wood’s hardness. A dendrologist would also tell you the technical name for aspen trees is populus grandidentata. This refers to the aspen species that prefer the Great Lakes States and New England for their habitat.

Like all woods, aspen wood has its advantages and disadvantages – easy or hard to work with, good for furniture or bad for furniture, takes staining well, or takes staining poorly.  These are the thoughts that go through our minds as woodworkers when we are contemplating a new project – which wood is best? 

Where does aspen wood fit in there?

Let’s Consider Aspen Trees

Aspen Tree

Aspen trees are a type of deciduous tree that is native to North America, Europe, and Asia. They are known for their light green leaves, which turn yellow in the fall. Aspen trees are also known for their ability to grow in a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, and meadows.

Aspen trees are fast-growing trees that can reach heights of up to 80 feet. They are also relatively short-lived, with most trees only living for about 100 years. Aspen trees reproduce by sending up new shoots from their roots, which can lead to large clonal groves or stands of trees that are all genetically identical.

Aspen trees are important for a variety of reasons. They provide food and shelter for wildlife, and their leaves help to improve air quality. Aspen trees are also a valuable source of wood, which is used for a variety of purposes, including furniture, paper, and musical instruments.

Here are some of the benefits of aspen trees:

  • Food and shelter for wildlife: Aspen trees provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife, including deer, rabbits, birds, and insects. The leaves of aspen trees are a good source of food for wildlife, and the bark and branches provide shelter from the elements.
  • Improve air quality: Aspen trees help to improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They also help to filter pollutants out of the air.
  • Source of wood: Aspen wood is a valuable resource that is used for a variety of purposes, including furniture, paper, and musical instruments. Aspen wood is a softwood, which means that it is easy to work with and has a smooth finish.

Overall, aspen trees are an important part of the environment and provide a variety of benefits.

Here are some interesting facts about aspen trees:

  • They are the largest living organism on Earth. One aspen grove in Utah is estimated to be over 80,000 years old and covers over 100 acres.
  • They are known for their “quaking” leaves, which move in the wind due to their flattened petioles.
  • They are a popular choice for carving and other woodworking projects.
  • They are a valuable source of wood pulp, which is used to make paper.
  • They are a renewable resource and can be harvested sustainably.

Aspen trees are a beautiful and fascinating part of the natural world. They provide a variety of benefits to humans and wildlife, and they are a valuable resource that can be used sustainably.

What Are The Species Of Aspen Trees?

In the family of aspens, there are a handful of tree species to be aware of:

  • Populus tremuloides – Quaking aspen, trembling aspen, American aspen, mountain or golden aspen, trembling poplar, white poplar, and popple, as well as others. The trees have tall trunks, up to 25 meters (82 feet) tall, with smooth pale bark, scarred with black. The glossy green leaves, dull beneath, become golden to yellow, rarely red, in autumn. The species often propagates through its roots to form large clonal groves originating from a shared root system.
  • Populus adenopoda – Chinese aspen (China, south of P. tremula)
  • Populus davidiana – Korean aspen (Eastern Asia)
  • Populus grandidentata – Bigtooth aspen (eastern North America, south of P. tremuloides)
  • Populus sieboldii – Japanese aspen (Japan)

These trees are all deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall. They are also all fast-growing and can reach heights of up to 80 feet. They are found in a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, and meadows.

The trees are important for a variety of reasons. They provide food and shelter for wildlife, and their leaves help to improve air quality. They are also a valuable source of wood, which is used for a variety of purposes, including furniture, paper, and musical instruments.

Hardwood Or A Softwood?

Aspen Board

Aspen is a hardwood. Hardwoods are angiosperms, meaning they have flowers and produce seeds inside a fruit. Softwoods are gymnosperms, meaning they do not have flowers and produce seeds in cones. Aspen trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall.

This is in contrast to evergreen trees, which keep their leaves year-round.

Aspen wood is a soft wood, though, meaning it is not as hard as some other hardwoods, such as oak or maple. However, it is still a strong and durable wood that can be used for a variety of projects. Aspen wood is also relatively inexpensive, making it a good value for the price.

Here are some of the properties of aspen wood:

  • Hardness: Aspen wood has a Janka hardness of 420, which is on the lower end of the scale for hardwoods. This means that it is softer than some other hardwoods, such as oak or maple, but it is still a strong and durable wood.
  • Weight: Aspen wood is a lightweight wood, with a density of 25 pounds per cubic foot. This makes it a good choice for projects where weight is a concern, such as furniture or musical instruments.
  • Workability: It is easy to work with, both by hand and with power tools. It cuts smoothly, sands easily, and glues well.
  • Dimensional stability: Aspen wood is a dimensionally stable wood, meaning it does not warp or shrink easily. This makes it a good choice for projects where dimensional stability is important, such as cabinetry or flooring.
  • Appearance: Aspen wood has a light, smooth, and even grain. It is often used for projects where a light-colored wood is desired, such as furniture or musical instruments.

Overall, aspen is a versatile and affordable wood that is well-suited for a variety of projects. If you are looking for a light, easy-to-work-with wood that is also dimensionally stable and inexpensive, aspen wood is a good option to consider.

Disadvantages of Aspen

We’ve mentioned some of the major advantages of aspen above – lightweight, easy to work with, dimensionally stable, smooth and even grain.  But like all things, there are some cons, too – no such thing as a one-sided coin.

  • Low durability: Aspen wood is not as durable as some other hardwoods, such as oak or maple. This means that it is more susceptible to damage from moisture, insects, and rot.
  • Low strength: Aspen wood is not as strong as some other hardwoods, such as oak or maple. This means that it is not as well-suited for projects that require a lot of strength, such as furniture or flooring.
  • Not good for outdoor projects: Aspen wood is not a good choice for outdoor projects, as it is not as resistant to the elements as other hardwoods.
  • Not good for high-traffic areas: Aspen wood is not a good choice for high-traffic areas, as it is more likely to show wear and tear than other hardwoods.
  • Can be dusty: Aspen wood can be dusty, which can be a problem for people with allergies or asthma.
  • Not as attractive as some other hardwoods: Aspen wood is not as attractive as some other hardwoods, such as oak or maple. This is because it has a lighter color and a less uniform grain.

Overall, aspen wood is a versatile and affordable wood that is well-suited for a variety of projects. However, it is important to be aware of its limitations, such as its low durability and strength, before using it for a project.

Here are some tips for using aspen wood:

  • Use aspen wood for projects where weight is a concern, such as furniture or musical instruments.
  • Use aspen wood for projects where dimensional stability is important, such as cabinetry or flooring.
  • Pre-finish aspen wood to reduce the amount of dust that is released during sanding.
  • Use a sealant on aspen wood to protect it from moisture and insects.
  • Avoid using aspen wood for outdoor projects or high-traffic areas.

By following these tips, you can minimize the disadvantages of aspen wood and maximize its benefits.

What Are Some Common Uses for Aspen?

Genuine Leather Lounge Chair with Ottoman, Mid Century Recliner Replica with 8-Layer Solid Wood and Heavy Duty Aluminum Base for Living Room Study Lounge (Classic Walnut)

We’ve already established that aspen is a versatile and affordable wood that is well-suited for a variety of projects.  Included in that list of common uses for aspen are:

  • Furniture: Aspen wood is often used for making affordable furniture, such as tables, chairs, and beds. It is a good choice for furniture because it is lightweight, easy to work with, and has a smooth, even grain.
  • Musical instruments: Aspen wood is also used for making musical instruments, such as guitars, violins, and drums. It is a good choice for musical instruments because it is lightweight, resonant, and has a smooth, even grain.
  • Toys: Aspen wood is also used for making toys, such as blocks, cars, and trains. It is a good choice for toys because it is lightweight, easy to work with, and non-toxic.
  • Other uses: Aspen wood is also used for a variety of other purposes, such as making plywood, paper, and matches. It is a versatile wood that can be used for a variety of applications.

Here are some specific examples of how aspen wood is used:

  • Furniture: Aspen wood is often used for making furniture, such as tables, chairs, and beds. It is a good choice for furniture because it is lightweight, easy to work with, and has a smooth, even grain. For example, the iconic Eames Lounge Chair is made from aspen plywood.
  • Musical instruments: Aspen wood is also used for making musical instruments, such as guitars, violins, and drums. It is a good choice for musical instruments because it is lightweight, resonant, and has a smooth, even grain. For example, the body of a guitar is often made from aspen wood.
  • Toys: Aspen wood is also used for making toys, such as blocks, cars, and trains. It is a good choice for toys because it is lightweight, easy to work with, and non-toxic. For example, Lincoln Logs are made from aspen wood.
  • Other uses: Aspen wood is also used for a variety of other purposes, such as making plywood, paper, and matches. It is a versatile wood that can be used for a variety of applications. For example, aspen wood is a common ingredient in plywood, which is used for a variety of purposes, such as building construction and furniture making.

Overall, aspen wood is a versatile and affordable wood that is well-suited for a variety of projects. If you are looking for a light, easy-to-work-with wood that is also dimensionally stable and inexpensive, aspen wood is a good option to consider.

Is Aspen A Good Choice For Carvers?

Aspen Tree Cut

We’re not carvers here at Obsessed Woodworking, but we have friends who are.  They whittle away making carvings for grandchildren, and one of them is a sign maker who makes beautiful hand-carved signage.  We asked about aspen and got the answer, along with some tips to follow.

Turns out, the wood is a good choice for carving. Even though it’s a hardwood (angiosperm, deciduous), it is a soft hardwood that is easy to work with and has a smooth, even, and straight grain. It is also relatively inexpensive, making it a good option for beginners and experienced woodcarvers alike.

Here are some of the benefits of using aspen wood for carving:

  • Easy to work with: Aspen wood is a softwood, which means that it is easy to cut, carve, and sand. This makes it a good choice for beginners, as it is less likely to chip or tear than harder woods.
  • Smooth, even grain: Aspen wood has a smooth, even grain, which makes it easy to carve intricate details.
  • Inexpensive: Aspen wood is relatively inexpensive, making it a good option for budget-minded woodcarvers.

Here are some tips for carving aspen wood:

  • Use sharp carving tools. Sharp tools will make it easier to cut and carve the wood.
  • Use a light touch. Aspen wood is a softwood, so it is easy to damage with too much pressure.
  • Use a variety of carving techniques. There are many different carving techniques that can be used with aspen wood. Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.
  • Finish the carving with a sealant. A sealant will help to protect the wood from moisture and wear.

While aspen might not be the most elegant type of wood or the most excellent choice for some of your woodworking projects, it does have its place in the shop.  It’s a type of wood that will fit the bill for inexpensive projects and serve you well.

We bet you didn’t know that aspen is used to make Lincoln Logs, too.  We learned that today.

Please leave a comment to join the discussion