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What Is Elm Wood?

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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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Elm wood comes from the elm tree, and it is highly prized for its aesthetic beauty and durability. Many different items are made from elm wood, including chairs, coffins, and cabinets. Throughout history, elm has been a popular wood chosen by homeowners and cabinet makers alike. During the 19th and 20th century, elm trees were planted throughout many neighborhoods, since these trees create an immense amount of shade.

There are numerous types of elm trees ranging from the American Elm to the English Elm. Due to the fact that elm trees are relatively resistant to pollution and other environmental changes, these trees can be found throughout the world. While still popular, many elm trees around the world are dying due to Dutch Elm Disease (DED).

Dutch Elm Disease originated in Asia, though the disease was brought to North America when North Americans began to plant elms. This disease is caused by the elm bark beetle, and an elm infected with this disease usually dies. Elms can become infected if an elm bark beetle is able to reach a tree, if a tree has been cut with shears that have been used to trim an infected tree, or if a tree comes in contact with a tree that is infected.

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While some fungicides may be able to prevent DED from spreading, in most instances, this type of treatment does not work. Thus, many elms that have been plagued by DED must be cut down. In some parts of the world, keeping an elm tree that has been infected with DED is illegal. Elms that have not been exposed to DED tend to live for a very long time.

Elm wood is extremely valuable, since this type of wood is largely water-resistant. Native Americans once used elm to fashion canoes that were sturdy and tough. Today, elm is mostly used to make furniture. Cabinets and furniture made from elm wood tend to be more expensive than items made from other woods, and these items last for many years.

Before purchasing any type of elm wood, it is important to find out about the history of the wood. Since elm wood can be disease-filled, it is wise to purchase this type of wood only from a reputable retailer. Elm scrap wood should not be purchased unless the wood is completely disease-free. Elm is an ideal wood for a number of different applications when it is not infected with DED.

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Discuss this Article

Izzy78
Post 4

@TreeMan - I remember when I was an undergrad in college, the quad at my school was lined with elm trees. They were great, because they had sort of a vase shape that hung over the sidewalk and made a corridor effect. By the time I graduated, some of the trees were starting to get the disease. This all happened in the late 1970s.

I know in the town where I live now, there are still a couple of elm trees on the main road that survived the disease, somehow. I assume they are resistant in whatever way. I wonder if they are making resistant varieties of elms. It would be really neat if they were more common like they used to be.

As far as the wood itself goes, how is it as a turning wood? My father and uncles do a lot of wood turning, and I am wondering how suitable it is for that.

TreeMan
Post 3

@cardsfan27 - I will second what you said about the look of elm wood. It is beautiful. We recently got elm hardwood floors installed in our house, and they are great. Oak and maple are nice, but something about the grain of elm was a little bit different, and my wife and I really liked it. As far as the color goes, the place we bought our flooring had several different stains, and they all looked good.

Now that I know this exists, I will be on the lookout for some elm wood furniture. I am guessing any that I would be able to find would be antiques, since it sounds like Dutch elm disease stopped a lot of elm from getting used. Out of curiosity, how long ago was it that Dutch elm disease was introduced and wiped out the elms?

cardsfan27
Post 2

@jcraig - As far as the look of elm goes, I really like it. It looks a lot different than any other wood that you can find. Whereas maple wood just has normal growth rings, elm has wavy rings. Since elm is slow growing, they are usually close together, too, so it makes an interesting effect. Elm doesn't have the checkered boxes on its faces like maple does either. Elm is a lighter color, similar to ash or white oak.

Luckily, where I live there are a lot of red elms, which aren't as susceptible to the disease. The problem is that they aren't extremely common and don't grow very large. It still gets logged, though, so if you have a saw mill close to you, I would ask around there and have them save some elm wood lumber for you. This is assuming you live in the eastern US. I doubt the west has elms.

I really enjoy using it for lots of projects. It is especially good when you can use those long faces with the interesting wavy lines.

jcraig
Post 1

I was not aware that elm was a handsome wood that could be used for decorative uses like cabinets and furniture. I have certainly never heard of it being used in anything. Maybe that is just because it isn't that common.

What does elm look like compared to something like maple wood? Since I have never seen it anywhere, I am assuming it is relatively difficult to find it used in things, but is there anything special that typically uses elm wood exclusively in production?

Besides the American elm, are there any other elm trees in the United States that can produce the wood? I would be very interested in trying to find it, since I like to make things with rare woods.

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