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uses for wood ash

Marianne McCoy

Joined: Dec 01, 2010
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
I take our wood ash and spread in in the rock drive in front of our house.  Like someone else said, it raises the Ph of the soil.  We have alkaline soil already, but the addition of the ash makes it so alkaline that weeds don't even want to grow there.
The rain and snow helps it work down into the gravel/ rock.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Dusty Trails

Joined: Sep 13, 2010
Posts: 148
Location: South Central Idaho
Of all things .. "old truck driver trick" .. after showering spray off with water with 3% shot of Hydrogen Peroxide .. I have used it for years now .. less BO when I use to drive long hauls .. even in birds nests .. and a tightness and sheen and no infections .. does Hydrogen Peroxide and ash water share something?

I use it on kickers .. horses feet .. put spray bottle on stream and stand back .. stops bleeding, disinfects, painless even for children (I get them in a corner also - one Grand kid now at Marine Boot Camp - PPFH), promotes healing.

If you get too far from the stone age .. things go haywire.
Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1526
Location: zone 7
i use ash for insulation its good stuff, bugs dont like it, doesnt decompose, free with a wood stove to heat your house( and friends because no one wants there ashes).

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Pouletic Hatfield

Joined: Nov 26, 2010
Posts: 16
This is a very basic observation, but i sometimes find it useful to start with a "sanity check":
Remember that the ash will not have any elements in it that were not available to the tree it came from. Carbon can be pulled from the air and "fixed" (as well as nitrogen if the plant has that symbiosis available to it) but everything else ultimately came from the soil. What elements there were in the wood that are not volatized in the flame are concentrated.

This is the basis of "slash and burn" agriculture in the tropical rain forest, where the limiting nutrients for cash or food crops are typically highly rarified due to years of heat and rain leaching the soils. Burning the accumulated biomass frees up a lot of those captured nutrients for a "quick fix", but the process also destroys (either volatilized or rendered unavailable) some and tends to really wear out the soil. There's a lot of tragedy of this kind going on in the Brazilian Amazon due to "quick fix" political measures. /end soap box

Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
Seems like I've heard of ash being used as part of the process for making hominy?


As i understand it, hominy is the result of removing the hard shell of a field corn kernel using a strong base (e.g. lye). You would probably percolate water through the ash to extract the lye and then soak the dried corn in the lye, but i can't give more details.

marina phillips wrote:
Well, of course I'm not going to expose my skin to it.  I was asking him what I could use instead of bleach, because that is the gold standard of dairy cleanliness nowadays. 

What about lye water in a grey water system?  Just as bad as bleach? 

It's a different type of chemistry. Lye is a very strong base (having a very high pH, or the opposite of acid), while bleach is an oxidizer. If you have very acidic soil or very soft water, the lye isn't likely to be a problem in a wetland or garden context if greatly diluted, and may actually be useful in extreme cases. Those with more neutral or alkaline soils should not use it (as previous posts have stated regarding the ash itself) because it will tend to raise the pH too high for productive growth.
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Making hominy or nixtamalized corn with wood ashes:

Idle dreamer

rose macaskie

Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
I use lye water for cleaning and it does not burn me i just chuck a bit of ash in the bowl i am using to wring out the cloth, for cleaning the stove say anor in the mope bucket it makes the water you mope with look dirty but it cleans the floor and it is great for ovens and stoves.
I put about a cup or two of ashes into hte water i am goin gto use to wash, anythign caked on the stove comes off very wel with this recipe, you let it oak in the ash and water for a while and then it comes off easily.
Marina Philips it is a chemical reaction wit hfat in the dirt that makes it into a cleaner that is how amonia cleans too.

  Muzhik  i THink we ought to start a thread on how to make soup so that the soup making is easy to find.
  i learnt at school that soap is disinfectant so if your hands are cut and you wash them with sap you are disinfecting the cut or giving it a first disinfectante and you make it mixing fats and lye or some other bleach.
      I saw the women in a village cooking  down animal fat from the butchers as a first stage of soap making. Who would have thought you could turn fat into a disinfectant and if soap is a mixture between wood ash and fats it must be biodegradable. Of course you can use olive oil too.

    I saw a bit on the news about a man who boils up the soap that hotels throw out because they provide clean soup for each guest which means a lot of bars of soup are thrown out. He boils up the soap and makes it into clean soap for the third world were some peple have nothing to clean their hands with, and as the internet can be used world wide, wht we write can serve people anywhere in the world  if we write about soup making people in countries with no soup can make their own. I am going to do that now.
    It would be great to have an injuries muscles thread too.  Agri rose macaskie.
Delilah Gill

Joined: Dec 03, 2010
Posts: 35
Location: Southern Georgia
I live in South GA in a small town with LOTS of pecan trees. Pecan trees are somewhat brittle. They drop limbs seems like if anyone sneezes hard so, I burn them and then use the ashes to fertilize the pecan trees in my backyard. It improves nut production for nut trees. I'll mention that I have nothing but sand here and acidic soil so the alkaline properties are beneficial.
Emerson White

Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:It is used in food preparation, sometimes as a matter of life or death. It can make lysine more available from hominy (quicklime works, too), which can help corn-fed livestock as much as corn-fed humans.

I think you mean niacin (B3), I am unaware of any lysine deficiency Pellagra being in any way related to corn intake.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
my lawn and my lilac bushes love a sprinkling of wood ashes..we always have a lot of ashes  as we heat with wood and always we have always had to find a way to use them.

very interesting thread


Bloom where you are planted.
Joel Hollingsworth

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Emerson White wrote:
I think you mean niacin (B3), I am unaware of any lysine deficiency Pellagra being in any way related to corn intake.

You're absolutely right! Thanks for catching that. It's fixed.

"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
rose macaskie

Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
  I was reading the story of a native american ways of growing things in a link put into O's hello (desert permaculture) i thought but i can't find it again. She says something that fits in with what joel hollingsworth says here about about eating lye, or ash ash, which he says is important for corn fed animals and humans.
  The native amercan woman said that at the end  of a day taking corn from husks she burn the husks. She had to watch the fire because the boys put a lump of wet mud on the end of sticks and if you weren't whatching dipped the mud in the fires and then threw the ball with burning sparks in it around. Must have been fun. When the husks had burnt down she went to bed but when she got up in the morning she went out to collect the skin of ash that formed on top of the ash heaps if a wind dd not get up in the night and she could collect about five balls of this special ash from a ash heap if i remember right and she put it away in their lodge to flavour the corn meal puddings she made. She said they prefered this flavouring to salt but it all got eaten up during the autumn as it was very good it did not last long. agri rose macaskie.
Emerson White

Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
As I recall it's important to add early on in the process. If it's not in there long enough it will not release the niacin (or rather will not release enough of it).
Pam Hatfield

Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
Wood ash is useful if you have concrete steps or walkways that get covered with frozen snow/ice as ours do in the winter, even if shovelled. It will give a grip that nothing else will and tends to absorb whatever feeble heat the sun sends so as to melt the ice. It can be messy though, if put on very thickly, and tend to follow you back into the house, which is not so swift. Still a small price to pay for not having to worry about slipping and breaking something like a bone, or cracking your head on something unforgiving like a chunk of concrete. I don't know if it will eventually etch the seems to disappear when the next snow comes and gets shovelled or swept away...I assume onto the garden area on the side of the steps or walkway.

I've always assumed that the formation of lye would be tempered by the AMOUNT of water..if it's dilute enough it isn't going to do much if any harm; though never thought about that in terms of compost heaps, might be a very different story there as the context is different.It hasn't so far  had any negative effects on the plants/grass here it's  presumably landing on when it floats off the concrete.
Warren David

Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
I have not tried this (yet).
plants fertilized with urine produced four times more tomatoes than nonfertilized plants and as much as plants given synthetic fertilizer. Urine plus wood ash produced almost as great a yield, with the added benefit of reducing the acidity of acid soils. "The results suggest that urine with or without wood ash can be used as a substitute for mineral fertilizer to increase the yields of tomato without posing any microbial or chemical risks," the report says.
rose macaskie

Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
I have just whatched an indian or pakistani video of banana plants feed with urine which was fruiting much earlier than the neighboring crop. It seems they had used urine from the girls school and the agricultural engineer, who seemed to be English, was fascinated by the idea that maybe the hormones in the urine had made the banana plants fruit earlier.

In another of zenrainmans videos Bangalore- how to use roofs smartly and economically, it is in English,  is about water harvesting from the roof and the use of the water with detergent in it from the from the washing machine, treated by being run through barrels planted with a special sort of grass, and then used for growing crops of rice on the roof.
    He shows a toilet of the sort of toilet that is a ceramic plate you squat on rather than a jar type object you sit on that is normal in the west, though i  have known the shower plate type in France. It is said to be good for those who suffer from constipation. The plate in this video did not have one hole in it, it had three, the front one for urine later used on the rice, and the middle one for heces, later emptied and composted and the back one for wash water. I have heard from travelers to India that you don't use lavatory paper in India you have water to wash yourself with in the lavatory, though not much of it was the complaint.Lavatories are all of an adventure when you travel. It was all spotlessly clean, i have also heard that the people of India are very clean though not always hygenic, that in the old days for instance, you get the babies bottom meticulously dried with the same cloth used to dry dishes. agri rose macaskie.
hervor McCoy

Joined: Jan 04, 2011
Posts: 13
Location: North East Scotland
I read recently that soft wood ash isn't much good for making lye and that hardwood is better. The best ash however, comes from seaweed.......apparently.
Abe Connally

Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1314
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I've used wood ash+urine for trees and other things around the place.  Because it is wet, it is hard to apply in a thin layer.  I don't know if letting it dry looses anything?

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Mark Vander Meer

Joined: Dec 12, 2009
Posts: 74
Every morning I sort out the charcoal from the remnants of the night fire and use this in the blacksmithing forge – works great.

Once a week I harvest the ash and put it into a bin.  Ash in an incredible insulator and I use it to anneal high carbon steel.  Put a red hot chunk of steel in a deep ash bin, and it takes hours to cool down.  The longer the cool-down the softer the steel becomes. 
solomon martin

Joined: Jan 17, 2011
Posts: 102
paul wheaton wrote:
I have heard of a lot of folks using it in compost or in outhouses, and I've heard from even more folks that it isn't good for the compost pile and does nothing in the outhouse. 

A good friend of mine garnered himself the nickname "Smoky John" by putting hot ashes in the out house.  The risk of shit-fire aside, I have found that a handful of ash after a deposit keeps the smell down and discourages flies.
William Adams

Joined: Apr 07, 2012
Posts: 12
Location: West Virginia
Jonathan Byron wrote:

I wouldn't recommend making lye out of this ash, unless you know EXACTLY what kind of trees were burned to make the ash.  According to what I've been told, ash from soft wood is used to make soft soap, while ash from hard wood is used to make hard soap.  The reason is that the softer woods have higher levels of potassium -- potassium hydroxide is used to make soft or liquid soap; while hard wood has higher levels of sodium -- sodium hydroxide is used to make firm or hard soap.  Generally, the colonists used whatever ash was on hand, which produced a yellowish soap that you scooped out with a dipper.

Hardwood contains more potassium hydroxide than softwood in general. Palm leaves are also a good source but... All wood ash is potassium hydroxide and will make soft soap. Sodium hydroxide makes hard soap. In colonial days, most all soap was soft soap because the salt needed to do a chemical conversion of the potassium ions to sodium ions was a resource better utilized for preserving food. If you use inferior wood to produce potassium hydroxide you don't end up with softer soap, you end up with lye that is not strong enough to convert the fat or oil to soap period. This can be remedied by boiling (outside) or evaporating the potassium hydroxide down to strengthen it or using less soft water to begin the process with. You know its ready for soap when it will dissolve a chicken feather or float an egg with about a quarter size portion above the lye. It is better to make it stronger than needed solution and dilute than a weaker than needed solution and have to waste resources like wood to boil it down in a time effecient manner.

When one made soap at home in the old days, or even at most sutler stores, it was a brownish soft soap unless you had the salt to spare after you had made your potassium hydroxide, wood ash lye. That was done by adding some salt to the heated potassium lye before mixing with the oil or fat in order to add larger sodium ions that would make the soap hard(er) but not as hard as if made with full sodium hydroxide. Making sodium hydroxide in quantities needed for commercial sale to individuals who made soap was cost prohibitive in colonial days so adding salt was the less desired alternative for anyone who just had to have a hard soap.

Apple wood makes a nice, light colored soft soap and nice charcoal in general but then again, when one is in a true homestead situation and really needs to make their own soap and other things they won't be cutting down their precious fruit trees will they.

Also, don't equate potassium soft soap to the consistency of modern soft soap, antiquated soft soap is thicker and more dense. This is where the modern hard soap/soft soap confusion comes in when it is related to old ways of making soap.

Misinformation is the #1 route to failure.

"Mankind has far passed the day that the day was met in wonderment and not expectation." - Me
Kirk Mobert

Joined: Jan 07, 2011
Posts: 128
Location: Point Arena, Ca
Cloudpiler Hatfield wrote:Wood ash is the best thing I can think of to insulate the spaces within a rocket stove that you don't want to get really hot.  Makes it possible to build the actual structure out of earthblocks or cob, which would simply melt over time if you used them without insulation from the intense heat of the rocket.

Poured in loose, it has a tendency of compacting over time, reducing it's insulative value. I mix wood ash with clay slip (and grog) to make a homemade refractory and if you MUST use wood ash as an insulator, this technique (minus the grog) will keep it from compacting. I use the stuff as a liner in my little homemade foundry, smear it liberally in the hot-spots of my forge and mix it into high heat cob and mortar for rocket stoves.

Build it yourself, make it small, occupy it.
Michael Mathews

Joined: May 11, 2012
Posts: 3
I believe that ash can be used with urine to make saltpeter. Saltpeter is an ingredient for gunpowder. I've read that you can make your own gunpowder and musket ball ammunition in a sustainable way without having to buy ingredients not available on a homestead. I would think that a good amount of scrap metal for the ball ammunition could be found at a junkyard. If this is possible, I could see it being used for hunting, controlling predators or maybe slaughtering cattle. Has anyone ever heard of someone making their own gunpowder?
Peony Jay

Joined: Mar 24, 2012
Posts: 145
Location: B.C.
I know some potters.
Wood ash can be used as a glaze. How To Video.

In Raku you can use all sorts of things to make cool colours and effects on the pottery. (Wood chips, saw dust, horse hairs, etc, etc.)
Raku is NOT food safe. I don't know if potter wares made with wood ash are food safe.

My dad makes his own lye. He collects birch wood chips/sawdust and burns it to make the ash. He collects rain water in a bucket. He combines the two things. He waits a few days (I think.) Voila. Magic. Homemade lye.

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Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3510
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
A thin layer of ash makes an effective slug barrier. When combined with dried seaweed it keeps slugs at bay and rabbits don't like the prickly, dusty and noisy seaweed on their feet. It creates a bit of a dead zone the way I used it.

QUOTES FROM MEMBERS --- In my veterinary opinion, pets should be fed the diet they are biologically designed to eat. Su Ba...The "redistribution" aspect is an "Urban Myth" as far as I know. I have only heard it uttered by those who do not have a food forest, and are unlikely to create one. John Polk ...Even as we sit here, wondering what to do, soil fungi are degrading the chemicals that were applied. John Elliott ... O.K., I originally came to Permies to talk about Rocket Mass Heaters RMHs, and now I have less and less time in my life, and more and more Good People to Help ! Al Lumley...I think with the right use of permie principles, most of Wyoming could be turned into a paradise. Miles Flansburg... Then you must do the pig's work. Sepp Holzer
Daniel Morse

Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 214
Location: SW Michigan
I use all my ashes in the garden or far lawn. I throw it out there all heating season or out in the corner hedge row. Everythinbg does great and I have the greenest garden. The garden gets all ash and compost righ on it. No problems. However about a month before planting I stop and throw it out by the berries. It does not do the young greens well as small plants as it can burn them. I NEVER put dog or human waste in the garden. But once burnt it is ok. I do not put the ashes on the compost.

WARNING! Do not burn plastic or man made material in ash used for the garden. Bad, very bad. Lots of toxins do not get buned hot enough to break down. Then the toxins from partialy burned plastics can be in your food. Keep your ask wood or other organic matter.

Like the tasty brats next door. They cook up well. Like in Hansel and Grettel. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL, just kiddng.

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andrew curr

Joined: Dec 18, 2012
Posts: 277
Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
Billl suggests using ash in the recepie for corning beef ,im a bit scared,is one kind of ash better than others.
I have 60 kg of beef in brine at the moment i didnt use ash ,is it too late
i didnt use ash last year and my corned beef was fine/better than the pink shopbourght stuff!

we have to forest our farms and farm our forests
Adam Klaus

Joined: Apr 16, 2013
Posts: 795
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
I dust the bases of my stone fruit trees (peach, apricot, plum) on 4th of July every year with hardwood ash, from the ground up to about 6 inches. Old timers told me it would repel crown borers, which are about the only serious pest on stone fruit in my area.
No idea the basis, but so far so good with success!

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kai weeks

Joined: Mar 20, 2013
Posts: 50
Location: Sailing vessel
good info folks. Thanks
John Saltveit

Joined: May 09, 2010
Posts: 378
I put frequent light dustings on the following plants which prefer alkaline to our acidic clay: Asparagus, cherries (I have a lot) , goumi, apple somewhat, vegetable beds somewhat. They seem to grow better that way. In general, plants that like dry areas like alkaline because they tend to be that way. PLants that like wet like acidic, because the rain washes away alkaline particles. And I believe al kaline won a batting title as a Detroit Tiger in the 1950's.
John S
andrew curr

Joined: Dec 18, 2012
Posts: 277
Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
Michael Mathews wrote:I believe that ash can be used with urine to make saltpeter. Saltpeter is an ingredient for gunpowder. I've read that you can make your own gunpowder and musket ball ammunition in a sustainable way without having to buy ingredients not available on a homestead. I would think that a good amount of scrap metal for the ball ammunition could be found at a junkyard. If this is possible, I could see it being used for hunting, controlling predators or maybe slaughtering cattle. Has anyone ever heard of someone making their own gunpowder?

Id like to see that!
james lumley

Joined: Jun 22, 2013
Posts: 4
Wood ash is great for cleaning up oil on drives, garage floors etc. Outside it cuts the oil on the drive or street because of the lye in the wood ash.
I have also used it in cleaning up procedures of oil from water resources, such as a lake or pond. The oil can be picked up with a net with chopped
up oil diaper in a skimming net and then cleaned of in a tub with a mob and wood ashes.
james lumley

Joined: Jun 22, 2013
Posts: 4
Someone who said they never use dog or human excretia for compost should see the Humanure Handbook by Joe Jenkins. He has been growing food
for his family with humanure for 30 years and I have as well. Its all about knowledge and human waste is not waste unless you waste it.
allen lumley

Joined: Mar 16, 2012
Posts: 1982
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
James Lumley : It seems only correct, right, and fitting that I welcome you To Permies, As one Old Fart to another ! With over 17,000 members we have a very wide, group
of people who always bring different points of view to any discussion ! You will always remember your first few posts here at Permies! Look around the various Forums, I'm
Sure you have a lot to share on many topics ! Again, Welcome from Northern New York

When I was growing up the old timers used to 'dust' their potato and tomato plants with wood ashes placed in a burlap bag and gently shook over the tops of the plants !

For the Good of the Craft ! Be safe, keep warm ! As always, your comments and questions are solicited and Welcome ! Pyro- logically Big Al !

Success has a Thousand Fathers , Failure is an Orphan

Alder Burns

Joined: Feb 25, 2012
Posts: 784
Location: northern California
I have found that whatever I use DE for (mostly dusting for insects like earwigs, flea beetles, slugs, etc. and the dog for ticks) that a mixture of one part DE to three parts wood ash works nearly as well as straight DE and so hugely stretches this purchased input.
Ashes are a great way to wash dishes in a camp or outdoor kitchen situation. Make a paste of ash and water and let it sit on the worst pots and pans for a while. Then scour with a handful of grass. The ash both forms soap on contact with grease and acts as a mild abrasive.
Clean ash is also, as mentioned above, used in certain traditional foods. Being alkaline, it can take the place of baking soda in recipes for things like corn bread. I use it on a regular basis in the corn/acorn "grits" and corn/acorn bread (50/50 blend in each case) that have become staples of my diet......
I'm stoked to read about it as a control for driveway weeds! Being wood-heaters in a climate of relatively alkaline soils, it's usefulness in the garden in bulk is limited.

Alder Burns (adiantum)
leila hamaya

Joined: Jun 30, 2012
Posts: 466
Location: northern northern california
a simple trick for camping is to make a thick circle of wood ash around anything you do not want the bugs to get into. so take the camp fire ashes and make a circle around your food, around your sleeping bag, etc.

some thing i have wondered about is a recipe with wood ash mixed into an earthen that would work, if you would use a lot or little and what would it do to your plaster?
andrew curr

Joined: Dec 18, 2012
Posts: 277
Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
When making concrete if you add some ash it makes it better for the environment
ie the ash causes a chemical reaction with the CaC2 and thus prevents carbon being released into the atmosphere
plus it makes the concrete cheaper
subject: uses for wood ash
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