Ash and maple are strong, heavy hardwoods and both are used in furniture pieces. Each has qualities that set them apart and make them prized by woodworkers.
Ash color varies from white to a light tan or reddish hue. Maple is a bit more creamy in color but some pieces also have light reddish brown tones.
The grain really sets these two wood species apart. Ash is similar in appearance to oak with a coarse, porous grain. Maple has a finer texture and tight, even grain.
Maple is also known for its burls, which are clusters of rounded grain patterns, and for small, elliptical shaped grain patterns known as birds-eyes. Burls are especially favored by wood turners and birds-eye patterns are striking in furniture pieces.
Because of its long fibers, ash is a flexible wood and it has the best bending characteristics of any hardwood. Maple is durable and particularly resistant to scuffing and denting.
Both woods are used in furniture production, cabinetry and food storage boxes as neither wood imparts a flavor. Since maple has such strong abrasion resistance, it is often used in flooring and for kitchen cutting boards.
Ash has been the primary wood used in making baseball bats, but maple bats have gained favor by some players in the last decade or two. Maple bats last longer but tend to shatter when they do break, which has led to player safety concerns.