Elm is a vibrant timber. The heart wood can be dark brown of varying shades and is distinct from the much lighter sapwood. Elm often has other colours running through it, such as greens and purples and features such as cat paws and other irregular markings can also be found. The irregular growth rings together with the cross-grained character of the wood give it an attractive appearance.
Burr elm is highly valued due to its decorative characteristics. Wych elm is generally straighter grained than English or Dutch elm.
Elm wood is strong and durable with a twisted grain and is resistant to water. In fact, before metal was widely available, many English towns had elm water mains.
Elm is most commonly used in furniture making (particularly so for burr elm), but can also be used for interior joinery and for cladding. Elm is popularly used for turnery and for small decorative items and it was once used for boat building and in coffins due to its durability when wet. It is still used to make Cornish pilot gigs today.
Dutch elm disease is one of the most serious tree diseases in the world, killing over 60 million British elms in two epidemics. The first arrived in the UK in the 1920’s and was caused by the fungus Ophiostoma ulmi. The second and current epidemic was first recognised in the 1970’s and is caused by Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. The fungus is transported from tree to tree by the elm bark beetle which prefers English elm (ulmus procera) to wych elm. If wych elm is infected it actually succumbs more readily to the pathogen than English elm.
Elm found in Scotland, with its wilder figure and grain, is more widely available than elm in any other part of the country due to the more gradual onset of Dutch elm disease in the far north. Elm weighs around 670 Kg/M3 at 12% moisture content.
mythology and Symbolism
Elm used to be associated with melancholy and death, perhaps because of the trees tendency to drop dead branches without warning.
Elm wood was also the preferred choice for coffins. In Lichfield it was the custom to carry elm twigs in a procession around the Cathedral Close on Ascension Day, then to throw them in the front.
Elm bark is thought to have medicinal properties and in the past was used to treat wounds and stomach aches.
Mature elm trees can grow to a height of 30m and can reportedly live as long as 400 years, although elm trees in Scotland today are much younger than that. Elm bark is smooth and grey when young, turning greyish-brown and fissured after 20 years.
Wych elm is the only elm that is considered as being truly native to Britain. Due to it being hardier than English elm. wych elm tends to grow in more northern parts of the country. Many birds eat elm seeds and the leaves are a food source to many insects.
The decline of elm due to Dutch elm disease has caused dramatic declines in several dependant species of moths and butterflies.
The tallest and finest elm trees grow in sheltered glens and in deep moist soils, favouring the shady, damp hillside woods in the Highlands. Elm trees can provide a cooling effect equivalent to 5 air-conditioning units.
Elm dries rapidly but has a marked tendency to distort. It doesn’t tend to split or check, but collapse may occur, particularly in thicker sizes. Stickers must be properly aligned and stacks should be heavily weighted to avoid distortion.
Wych elm is higher in strength than other elm species, it has a medium bending and crushing strength and shock resistance, with low stiffness.
Elm generally machines well, unless grain is irregular. It has moderate blunting effect and generally saws adequately. Elm can be finished to a smooth surface with care and can produce a good decorative veneer. The wood can be glued, polished, stained or waxed and takes nails without splitting.
Durability : Slightly durable
Treatability : Difficult
Moisture Movement : Medium
Density (mean, Kg/m3) : 560 (Density can vary by 20% or more)
Availability : Readily available
Price : Expensive
Uses : Furniture
Colours : Light brown (sapwood), Medium brown