Building Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to Know

Aspen may not be the most commonly used lumber, but it is great for building furniture. It is easy to work with and stains well. Many woodworkers who love working with aspen enjoy its rustic look. 

Aspen is beautiful, easy to work with, and doesn’t split easily. It isn’t very durable, which is why you shouldn’t use it in humid areas or to create support columns, walls, or anything else you rely on for stability. It provides a rustic look when used for decorations, doors, baskets, and more. 

In this article, you will learn all you need to know about using aspen to build furniture. 

What Is Aspen?

Aspen is a name that is used for several related tree species. The different species are generally classified based on the region of the world they grow in. For example, Populus adenopoda, or Chinese aspen, grows in China. In contrast, Populus tremula, or Eurasian aspen, grows in Europe and Asia. 

Building Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to Know

Populus tremuloides, or quaking/trembling aspen, is the type that typically grows in North America. The less common Populus grandidentata — the Bigtooth aspen — can often be found growing alongside quaking aspen. In North America, most aspen grows in the Lake States, such as Michigan and the Rocky Mountains. 

Populus tremuloides is called the quaking aspen because when the wind blows, it causes the tree to make a loud quaking or rustling sound. 

Aspen trees are usually around 50 feet (15 meters) tall, but they can also grow to twice that size. Trunks of aspen trees are usually two to three feet (around 0.6 to 0.9 meters) wide. 

Aspen has traditionally been used in medicines. For example, it can be used to treat joint and nerve pain. Of course, aspen has been used for lumber, but it has not been used as often as other trees. 

One of the reasons for this is that aspens are not very large trees. Therefore, harvesting and aspen trees do not yield as much wood as other trees, causing lumberers to overlook aspen. There are also some downsides to using aspen. Nevertheless, there are many benefits of using aspen as lumber, which you will read about later in this article. 

Aspen is usually white. However, an aspen tree can turn grey after it gets cut. It can even become a little brownish. 

Pros and Cons of Using Aspen

There are both pros and cons of using aspen. While you can make beautiful furniture with aspen, there are also some drawbacks you should know. 


  • It has a rustic look. If you are looking to build furniture for a rustic cabin or want to achieve that rustic look in your living room, aspen is one of the best choices you can make. 
Building Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to KnowBuilding Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to Know
  • It looks amazing. Although aspen is primarily white, it often has shades of browns and grey. These often appear as streaks, which makes aspen look quite beautiful.
  • It is versatile. Aspen stains very well. It is also easy to sand. 
Building Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to KnowBuilding Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to Know
  • It does not split. Aspen does not split easily, which is a plus for woodworking, as you won’t have to worry about it splitting when putting in nails. You can use larger nails than you can with other woods. The reason aspen does not split easily is that it is a softwood. 
  • It is easy to shape. Since aspen is a softwood, it is also easy to shape. You can usually get away with using hand tools to work with aspen instead of needing heavy machinery. If you do use machinery, you can be gentle. 
Building Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to KnowBuilding Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to Know
  • It glues easily. Also, aspen glues quite easily. 
  • It is easy to paint. Aspen accepts paint very well. Although the wood itself is not very durable, as I will explain later, it holds paint for a long time. That’s why it is so great for furniture. Regular paint will last for around four years or so, while iron-oxide paint can last for up to seven years before you will need to repaint the aspen. Aspen is among the best paint-holding woods. 
  • It is not very flammable. Aspen is less flammable than other types of wood. For this reason, people use it to create matchsticks. 


  • It is not long-lasting. According to the Lake States Aspen Report from the University of Minnesota, aspen can not be expected to last for more than three or four years. It can decay considerably after just one year. Aspen is not very durable, which is why it is not often used in building and construction. However, it is okay for furniture, as long as you take as much care as possible to prevent decay. 
  • It does not hold nails well. Although aspen won’t split as readily when using nails, aspen does not have nails very well compared to other woods, according to the report mentioned above. However, you can use larger nails with aspen to compensate for this disadvantage, as larger nails will hold better. 
  • It can be harder to find. Aspen can be harder to find than other types of wood. However, the final look that you can achieve with aspen often makes the search worth the effort. 

Tips for Working With Aspen

You can work with aspen like with any other wood. As mentioned, you can use hand tools or light machinery. I mentioned that you should use larger nails because aspen does not hold nails very well, but make sure not to use nails that are so large that they cause splitting. 

It is best to season aspen before using it. You can use fresh, unseasoned wood, but be aware that aspen shrinks quite a lot compared to many other wood types. Also, it loses a lot of nail-holding power during the first year compared to different wood types if it seasons after being used for furniture.

Here is a quick video on how to season wood: 

To help your aspen furniture last longer, make sure the area is well-ventilated and there is enough air circulation. If humidity persists or there are no windows, install exhaust fans or use a dehumidifier to help reduce humidity. 

What Should You Not Do Using Aspen

Aspen can be used to create a lot of things. However, let me first go over some things that you should NOT do with aspen. This is because aspen decays quickly, and using aspen for these things can be dangerous:

  • Columns that support porches or stairs
  • Stairs to your porch
  • Walls of sheds and farm buildings
  • Subfloors
  • Sills

It is mostly a problem to create these things with aspen in an area that is poorly ventilated or experiences a lot of humidity. The same goes for building a barn or shed in a place that rains a lot. This will cause the aspen to decay even quicker. 

What Can You Use Aspen For?

Now, let me go over some things that aspen is commonly used for: 

  • Beds
  • Cabinets
  • Doors
  • Baskets
  • Matchsticks
  • Wall decorations
  • Toys
Building Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to KnowBuilding Furniture With Aspen: All You Need to Know

Aspen is often used for decorations and toys because it is not very flammable; it is used to create matchsticks. 


While aspen might not be the most durable wood, it is beautiful and fun to work with. You can create a lot with aspen, whether you want to make something for yourself or as a gift for friends or family. Make sure to season the wood before using it. Consider using a wood sealer before staining it, even though it stains pretty well. 


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