Here at Arms and Armor we have long sung the praises of ash wood. Ash was the most highly prized material for medieval hafts (see John Waldman's excellent discussion in his 2005 Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: The Evolution of European Staff Weapons between 1200 and 1650.) It is lighter, more resistant to splitting, and faster growing than oak or maple, and is harder and more durable than poplar or birch. Old growth ash, in particular, tends to have a tight and straight grain that is ideal for shaping into hafts that resist warping. For all these reasons, ash has been our preferred material for polearms and spear hafts. However, over the past decade there has been a significant decline in the availability of quality ash here in the United States.
Until recently, when we needed to stock up on ash hafts we went to a specialty lumber provider and hand sorted through dozens of rough cut 5/4" thick boards, selecting the the pieces with the straightest and tightest grain. Over the past couple of years we've often only found one board in a dozen to be of useable quality, and even so, the finest boards have become scarce enough that we've been contemplating a shift to another species of wood or toward creating ash hafts out of multiple glued plys.
It turns out we aren't the only industry to be feeling the pinch when it comes to sourcing quality ash. Most baseball bats are also made of ash (check out these Sluggers!). For more than a decade the American ash supply has been threatened by an invasive insect pest called the Emerald Ash Borer (pictured above), which is spreading across North America, killing millions of trees. Check out an article on the problem here: baseball bats threatened.
Here in Minneapolis, where we have our shop, the city has recently ordered that all 200,000 ash trees planted along city streets be cut down due to this pest. Though we are sad to see these trees go away, this decision has presented us with a solution to our sourcing problem.
A couple of weeks ago we visited the lumberyard of a great organization that we are very happy to have found. Wood from the Hood is a company that reclaims lumber from urban trees, including those cut down by the city in its attempt to mitigate the ash borer threat. One of the most exciting aspects of this for us is that many of the ash trees being harvested right now are quite old (nearly a century in many cases) and have grown in ideal circumstances to produce a tight and straight grain.
We selected enough boards to last us at least a year and it's the highest quality ash we have seen in a very long time. They tell us that they have enough ash to satisfy all of our polearm needs and we are excited to be able to offer our customers the best hafts available.