How can wood ash help your character with ice on the ground? Why would a mechanic keep wood ash in his shop? Who has 61 tattoos? Find out on this episode.
Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode 57, 5 Wood Ash Uses (Part 3). Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.
Burning wood in a fireplace, wood stove, or outdoor furnace that uses wood are among the ways people warm their homes. Historically, wood was the number one way people stayed warm. One thing that is always the same is that burning wood leaves behind ash, and your character will have to do something with it. Today, we will cover five more things they can use wood ash for.
11) Rock Salt Alternative
Rock salt, in this case, is what people use to melt ice on walkways, parking lots, and more. Wood ash is used as a safe, pet-friendly alternative. It will help to melt the ice as there are small amounts of salt in wood ash. However, it is not so much salt that animals will burn their paws if they step on them. Also, unlike rock salt, if a pet eats or licks it, there is little to no risk of toxicity to the system. However, it could cause diarrhea and vomiting. The same is true for children should they put it in their mouth. If you are wondering what kid would do that, a lot. Mostly, those under the age to know better will fall down and find it that way, and for some childhood reason, they will then be compelled to eat it.
The other thing is that it adds traction to the ice. It is naturally abrasive and will not hurt any concrete, pavement, plants, or other types of walkways. I have known people who carried a bucket (with a lid) in their car, and if they slid off the road, they used the ash as traction for their vehicle to get back to the road.
12) Soak up oil and grease spills
Wood ash is an excellent absorbing agent and can be used to clean up oil spills. These are typically spills from a vehicle. This would include auto shops and DIYers. So, if your character is changing their own oil, they can clean it up. Simply sprinkle the wood ash over the whole spill and wait for several minutes, then sweep it up.
This also works for cooking grease. This is also covered and swept up. However, unlike in an auto shop, restaurants will not use this, as it is not considered sanitary enough. However, historically and in an apocalypse, this would be a possibility.
13) Tanning hide
Wood ash is used to remove the fur in the process of tanning animal hides. It has been used virtually everywhere and in every era, with only a few exceptions. After the fleshing removes as much meat from the inside of the hide as possible, the hide is soaked in a wood ash solution. The hide will be weighed down and will stay in the solution until the fur can easily be pulled out with the fingers. These hides were used for clothing, homes, storage, bags, saddles, knife sheaths, and a whole lot more. Warning: if the hide is left in the solution too long, it will be dissolved. Also, remember that wood ash creates a lye solution which is harmful to skin.
Wood ash has been used as the coloring for tattoos since cavemen times. As of the time I am writing this, in 2024, the oldest known tattoos are from Iceman Otzi. Believed to be from 3,250 BC, he was found with 61 tattoos. Unlike modern tattoos, where a needle pushes ink into the skin, it is believed that Otzi’s tattoos were first cuts with ash packed into them. This is a technique that is still used in some tribes and remote villages to this day. There are also some tribes that have kept the traditions of tattooing as their ancestors did. Many of these use broken glass, pottery, or large thorns such as hawthorns to pierce the skin and then rub ash into the wound until they make the pattern or shape they wish. These types of tattoos have been done for many things, including but not limited to the rite of passage into adulthood, beauty, tradition, showing off a person’s ancestry, a badge of honor for births, battles, believed to be a treatment for ailments, and more.
15) Silver polish
Wood ash can also be used to clean tarnished silver. This is done by removing the charcoal chunks until only the powdery ash is left. The ash is then sprinkled on a damp cloth and used to rub the silver until it is clean. Some recommend using lemon juice instead of water, although lemon juice is corrosive to silver. Either way will work, and I’m not sure which is best. I did this once with water as a kid, but I don’t remember much about it. Mostly, I remember not being impressed with what felt like another chore.
Fun fact: Silver has been mined in Ancient Greece since roughly 3,000 BC.
What could possibly go wrong?
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Likely to go wrong: Your character gets a tattoo with wood ash. They soon notice swelling and redness around it that starts to spread and realize that their tattoo is infected.
Likely to go wrong: Your character keeps wood ash around as an ice melt. One day, their young child eats some of the wood ash.
Possible to go wrong: Your character chemically burns their hand in the wood ash water because the wood ash makes lye water.
Possible to go wrong: Your character is getting a tattoo with wood ash for the color. However, they didn’t get it deep enough to take it permanently.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character uses wood ash as an ice melt. They didn’t realize that some of the ash was still hot and walked on it, melting the soles of their shoe.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character uses wood ash to clean up a grease spill in the house while cooking. They end up making a huge mess.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character polishes silver with lemon juice and wood ash. They place the lemon cloth on the silver when they are called away. They forget about it until the next day. When they remember, they find that the lemon juice has damaged the engraving in the silver.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character uses wood ash to soak up an oil spill. After they clean up the ash, an animal gets into it and eats it. This will cause vomiting and diarrhea for at least 24 hours and, in rare cases, could be deadly.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character forgets that they placed a hide in ash water. When they remember it, there is nothing left but a goo.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character uses wood ash fresh from the fireplace to clean up a grease spill in the house while cooking. One of the pieces is not fully cooled and lights the grease on fire.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is using wood ash as a color for a tattoo. The site turned into gangrene because they did not seek treatment when it became infected. This could be deadly.
Thanks for listening! You can find the show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. That’s A-L-L-E-Y-H-A-R-T.com. Subscribe or follow for more episodes. Connect by dropping me a comment on my YouTube videos. A new episode comes out every Monday. Until then. Happy wordsmithing.