The ash tree

The ash is a tall tree that can reach 300 years and climb to 30 metres. Its characteristic foliage is made up of narrow leaves facing each other, with 11, 13, 15 or 17 leaves at random. It is one of the most beautiful adornments of our countryside, found at all temperate latitudes.

Traditional use and qualities

Ash is the wood traditionally used to make certain carpentry components and tools: cart spokes, stretchers, tool handles, etc., and even certain weapons such as bows. And, of course, in many types of old-fashioned packsaddles. The reason is simple: the flexibility of the wood, which resists twisting thanks to its long fibres. Another quality of ash is its extreme resistance to the shockwave caused by rough contact. Where a piece of beech will explode into matches, ash will hardly vibrate at all.

Brancards en frêne

Characteristics of wood

Ash is a hard wood, especially in the heart of the tree. To screw in a Ø 4 mm screw, it is essential to pre-drill with a 3.5 mm drill bit, otherwise the screw will break cleanly… The wood is very homogeneous, with no filaments to pollute the surface. If there is sometimes some grain when planing, it is not very deep and can easily be removed by sanding. After the final finishing pass, with 240 grain, the surface is extremely smooth and stable over time. Ash is very pleasant to work with, a solid hardwood that is easy to guide with a tool. It doesn’t dirty the blades, even though it wears them out quickly… It sometimes has magnificent undulations, known as ash-olive, which are highlighted by fine sanding.

Ash stresses

Ash is a tree with multiple tensions running through its wood due to its long fibres, rather like a muscle. Woodcutters are wary of it like the plague when felling, because the whole trunk can behave like a bow, splitting along its entire length. Even when working on small pieces, tensions are sometimes revealed that can cause splits and cracks very quickly, or even several weeks later, when the piece was thought to have stabilised. Almost 10% of the parts we work on end up in a fire… On the other hand, once the piece has lasted three months, we can be sure that it will never move again, with the exception of a slight ‘shrinkage’, like all wood.



At Randoline, we’ve only had one accidental breakage of a single piece of pack-saddle since 2009, when we started producing our packsaddles: the crossbeam of a Bâlissandre, which didn’t survive the donkey’s fall into a ravine in the Catalan Pyrenees. Fortunately, the donkey escaped with scratches but no injuries. We sent the hiker the new part by urgent parcel post and 48 hours later he was back on the trail. This one and only breakage, out of 1,300 packs sold between 2009 and 2023, i.e. 15,600 pieces (since a pack is made up of 12 pieces on average), shows the soundness of our choice of ash as the basic material for our production.

Ash burl

Another treat for the cabinetmaker: the ash burl. Some ash trees are “pollarded”, i.e. all the branches are cut off in the same place every year, resulting in a series of scars, to the point of forming a large ball after a few decades. When the tree is felled, this ball is cut into thin strips to create a magnificent mosaic of shapes and colours, used in marquetry.

Loupe de frene

Ash disease

Unfortunately, ash trees are under threat from a disease known as chalarosis. This is a fungus that originated in Asia, appeared in Poland in the 1990s and is attacking ash populations a little further west every year, mercilessly necrotising and killing our trees, just as graphiosis destroyed elms in the 1970s. Only 5% of trees survive, for mysterious genetic reasons. Certain varieties of ash seem to be immune to the predator, which will undoubtedly allow the species to survive. At Randoline, we have anticipated this phenomenon by storing ten years’ production.

Wood for heating

The only drawback of ash is that it is useless as firewood, as it burns very quickly and does not produce embers. But it can be useful for small fires in mid-season, as it can be burnt the same year it is cut.



Great for animals: ash is a species that all animals love: cattle, goats, donkeys. It undoubtedly contains a sampling of vitamins and a flavour that they appreciate. That’s why in mid-mountain regions like Margeride, all the fields are surrounded by ash trees. In August or September, when the drought has turned the grass yellow, all the branches of the ash tree (which are small in diameter, as this is done every year) are cut off and thrown into the pasture. The animals eat almost everything: leaves, bark and wood… Some farmers also bundle up the branches and feed them to the animals during the winter.