Is Tree of Heaven wood good for anything? (9 quick facts)

Tree of Heaven wood

The name of “Tree of Heaven” inevitably conjures some celestial feeling, doesn’t it? The Tree of Heaven, botanically christened Ailanthus altissima, is renowned for its ornamental properties. But for a tree like the Tree of Heaven seen as an invasive species, is the wood of this tree good for anything?

The Tree of Heaven wood closely mirrors ash wood, with its color ranging from mild brown to dull yellow. This wood has a hardness of 1,420 lbs on the Janka Scale. It is highly workable – both with machine and hand tools. The Tree of Heaven wood is famously employed in making kitchen tools and paper.

Understanding the usability of the Tree Of Heaven wood would entail us digging deeper into specific details like density, strength, durability, shrinkage, and applications.

But before then, courtesy demands we first examine where this wood comes from in the first place. 

Where is Tree of Heaven wood derived?

Clearly, this wood is obtainable from the Tree of Heaven. The tree of heaven originally hails from Eastern Asia. 

Chinese travelers first introduced this tree into the United States in the mid-1780s. Given its prominent aesthetic charm, the tree was profusely adopted and cultivated in the United States. 

Beauty is not the only thing heavenly about the Tree of Heaven – its height is also. Yes, this tree has a towering height, often growing up to 100 feet. 

To stand that tall, you will inevitably need a robust trunk. The Tree of Heaven answers this need with a trunk whose diameter runs into 3 feet radius. 

This tree’s leaves are pinnately compound. Just one can be as long as 4 feet.

When young, the Tree of Heaven stands out for the smoothness of its bark. The bark presents a distinct green coloring with a feel of brown. 

But as the tree matures, the bark’s coloring transforms, picking up a lighter brown hue. 

How does Tree of Heaven wood look?

It takes a seasoned woodsman to pick the difference between Ash and the Tree of Heaven. Yes, they are that close in appearance. 

Typically, the color of Tree of Heaven wood ranges from light brown to pallid yellow. Often, this coloring is embellished with dark streaks. 

There are also rare instances where this wood comes in radiant yellow interspersed with olive-hue stripes. 

The sapwood retains a distinct creamy color – and is appreciably broad. The grain is radially distributed, just like ash wood. The grain is also ring-porous. Overall, the tree of heaven wood’s grain is coarse.

How dense is Tree of Heaven wood?

The Tree of Heaven can’t be fully classified into the hardwood species. Its specific gravity spreads from 0.44 to 0.60.

When adequately air-dried, this tree’s wood weighs up to 37 lbs per cubic foot. For hardness, the tree of heaven delivers a Janka Scale rating of 1420 lbs. 

Not too bad, we would say.

How stable is the tree of heaven wood?

A wood’s stability is majorly measured by how far it shrinks when dried. Tree of heaven is not the easiest to dry, with drying coming at risk of waning the wood’s unique appearance. 

All said, when the Tree of Heaven is dried, you can expect it to shrink volumetrically by 17.1%, 10.8% tangentially, and 6.1% radially.

The tree of heaven lumber is very prone to cracking when dried. This susceptibility can be traced to the very biological makeup of the tree. 

For its first few years, the tree of heaven experiences aggressive growth. This leads to reduced uniformity between the exterior and interior wood texture. 

Such uneven texture causes cracking when dried. But you can strategically reduce such cracking when dry – especially when using the lumber for fire logs. 

Pile the wood up in adequately spread-out rows for the lumber to be properly seasoned. Anywhere from six to twelve months will do for the drying.

How workable is Tree of Heaven wood? 

It is seamless working on Tree of Heaven wood with hand tools or machine tools. The wood is fundamentally flexible, allowing you a broader range of woodworking options when working with this tree.

This wood turns well and quickly absorbs a finish, stain, or glue.

If you desire, you can further improve the workability of your tree of heaven wood. 

The commonest approaches include laminating, kerfing, or steam bending the wood. 

If you use your tree of heaven wood for commercial applications and want to ramp up its workability, you may consider chemically treating it. 

This commonly involves soaking your tree of heaven wood in anhydrous ammonia. Upon complete saturation, your wood will bend readily with minimal application of pressure. 

But given the acidic nature of anhydrous ammonia (and the risk of lethal fumes being emitted), you may go with chemically treating your wood with urea.

How durable is Tree of Heaven wood? 

While much is not scientifically established about how well tree of heaven wood holds up to atmospheric weather elements, it is at least common knowledge that this wood capably resists insect invasion.

To improve the durability of your tree of heaven wood, you can chemically modify its structure. This enhances its dimensional stability and rot resistance.

Such chemicals will permeate the wood, binding the cell walls’ reactive sections. This technique is better reserved for experienced craftsmen. 

Alternatively, you can resort to less technical processes (to raise your tree of heaven wood’s durability) like staining or painting it. 

Simply painting the wood with varnish, lacquer, and polyurethane can significantly upgrade its longevity.

Is Tree of Heaven wood toxic?

There are extremely few reported cases of the tree of heaven triggering allergies. But pruning the tree itself comes with the risk of vesicular eruptions.

Aside from the wood, the tree’s bark, when ingested, can cause diarrhea, dizziness, and severe migraines.

Can Tree of Heaven be used for firewood?

The tree of heaven wood’s modest density and hardness makes it an excellent option for fire logs. 

The heat output is not incredible – but commendable. When appropriately dried, a pound of this wood can deliver a heat output of up to 8,300 British thermal units.

The charcoal from these logs is also great for culinary deployments.

We must point out here that splitting the tree of heaven lumber takes quite an effort. We advise you to equip yourself with sledgehammers and wedges to make the splitting more doable. 

What can Tree of Heaven be used for? 

Tree of heaven wood has an extensive range of applications. The most typical application is making cabinet materials.

The pale yellow coloring combines with the wood’s flexibility to make it suitable for producing kitchen steamers. 

In Eastern China – specifically in areas like Zhejiang – Tree of Heaven wood is the principal wood used for making steamers used in cooking Chinese cuisine.

Tree of heaven wood is also used for making pulpwood. 


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