I recently used some elm harvested out of a tree, which was cut down a
couple of years ago, to turn some feet for a buffet I made for my wife.
The reason for using elm was because I could not find a piece of maple
in the size needed. I was pleasantly surprized how nicely the elm
turned in my lathe and how nicely it stained.
Has anybody else used elm for their project needs?
Also having an abundance of sycamore on my property, I'd be interested
to know if any of you woodworkers could share your experiences using
either sycamore or elm for your projects.
Sycamore, when flatsawn, is prone to warp, and rather boring to look at.
When quartersawn, though, it's stable, and generally exhibits really dramatic
ray flakes. For example:
A higher-resolution photo that shows the grain better is at
but be warned: it's a little over 5MB. If you're on a dialup connection, it
may take a while.
My inspiration for these was a similar table I saw in a photo of the interior
of a Frank Lloyd Wright home somewhere in Arizona IIRC.
I love working with sycamore, though. It's an easy wood to work, the
quartersawn grain is so beautiful, and it has a very pleasant, somewhat spicy,
scent when it's cut. The only real downsides that I see are that it's a bit
soft for any purpose where it could see heavy use, and it soaks up liquids
like a sponge. You have to make sure to use plenty of glue in any joint,
because a lot of it will be absorbed. And it soaks up finish pretty quickly
Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
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Thanks for your quick response. I am encouraged by your comments and
picture. I'm going to try harvesting and drying some sycamore so I can
try working with it. Thanks again.
Doug Miller wrote:
Turning elm is sort of like another activity - once you get past the
Though you can turn it green and almost throw it into the sun to dry without
split, it's not the friendliest wood in the world to work in the flat, due
to the grain reversals that make it almost unsplittable. The grain can be
extremely dramatic - almost _too_ loud for large projects. Makes nice
drawer fronts and door inserts, where it's an accent only.
Sycamore is really noisy, too. For my money, a small project or accent wood
only. Turns well, but can be dicey to dry, because the smallest check on a
ray line can run quickly, like beech.
I like the idea of rough turning elm green and letting it dry after
most of the turning is completed. I have seen Richard Raffan do this
when roughing in small cups, boxes, and the like. Turning green is
easier, as long as you don't mind the moisture. Thanks.
I bought a piece of elm from the close out bin at a supplier. I resawed it
to 3/8 and used it for a couple of boxes and a tray. Looks nice with a
Danish oil finish. If we are talking about the same elm, it needs no stain,
I have some elm, which I rough sawed into pieces small enough for my
Craftsman bandsaw, which can only resaw up to 6" thickness. I haven't
tried resawing elm yet but plan to after reading about your experience.
I've used some Iowa red elm for making a largish telescope tripod. Darned
stuff had some huge stresses in it -- taught me a lesson in the importance
of rough ripping on the bandsaw. Whether that was due to drying or growth
habit, I don't know. It was relatively straight grained, and a bit off
It finished nicely with a tung oil varnish mix.
Another poster mentioned that it was not pleasant smelling to mill, and
that seems familiar to me as well.
I too have learned my lesson about working the wood too close to
finished dimensions before completely curing it. Now I rip my timber to
5/4 so I have some left to remove after any warping or cupping while
If you really want drama in Elm, let the log sections lay out in the
weather for about 6 months-- They spalt readily & when dry they display
really white against black spalt lines-- I cut down an Elm on Elm St
(not kidding), brought the log sections home & they sat & sat-- I was
starting to split them for firewood when I saw the spalting-- I still
have a few sections with painted ends, in the shop-- going to use them
for boxtops, turnings, etc
The problem I had was a more serious one with residual stresses in the wood
... I jointed an edge on the jointer, then continued to rough dimension by
ripping on the table saw. As I ripped it, the residual stresses in the
wood caused it to contract and pinch off the kerf as it was cutting,
burning at the back of the blade and pinching on the splitter. Made me
glad that I always use a blade guard/splitter wherever possible. I think
that without a splitter it might have kicked back pretty good.
Since then, I prefer to rough rip on the bandsaw, let it sit for a day, and
then joint and finish dimension on the tablesaw.
FWIW I've bought a lot of other wood from this same supplier and never had
a similar problem with any other wood. So I don't know if the stress was
due to improper drying, or whether it was due to reaction wood caused by
the tree's growth habit.
p.s. I do agree with your other advice, too.
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