When compared with other timbers, European Elm can be difficult to work with, but has an attractive grain that sees it frequently used in furniture and general wood ware. Although not naturally durable, with the right protection is used extensively in boat-building and construction.
European Elm’s irregular growth rings give it an attractive appearance with an overall dull brown colour.
Introduction and Latin Names
Various species of the genus Ulmus occur in Europe, western Asia, North America and Japan. The following are those whose timber is found in Europe.
Ulmus procera salisb. produces the English elm found mainly in England and Wales.
Ulmus hollandica Mill. Var hollandica Rehd. Produces Dutch elm found throughout the British Isles, and introduced from the Netherlands.
U.laevis Pall. Produces European white elm found from Central Europe to western Asia.
U. carpinifolia Gleditsch. (U. Nitens Moench U. Foliacea Gilib.) produces smooth leaved elm found in Europe including Britain.
U. stricta Lindl. Produces the Cornish elm found not only in the west of England but also in Brittany.
U. glabra Huds. Produces the wych elm of northern Europe including Britain.
English and Dutch elm are similar in their general characteristics. These trees grow to a height of 36m to 45m and a diameter as great as 2.5m but since large-diameter trees are frequently unsound in the centre, a diameter of 1m or slightly more is better commercially.
The heartwood is a dull brown colour, clearly defined when green from the lighter coloured sapwood. The irregular growth rings together with the cross-grained character of the wood gives it an attractive appearance, but the large early-wood pores produce a rather course texture. The timber of these species when grown on the Continent is generally of more even and uniform growth with a straighter grain. English elm weighs about 560kg/m3 and Dutch elm about 580kg/m3 when dried.
Although releasing its moisture fairly rapidly, there is a very marked tendency for the wood to distort, and there is some liability for collapse to occur in thick sizes. Care is therefore needed; sticks should be properly aligned, and tops of piles weighed down.
Both English and Dutch elm have similar strength properties, and in general are some 30 percent below the strength of oak, although Dutch elm is appreciably tougher than English elm, and it is also a much better wood for bending.
Elm is basically a fairly difficult timber to work, tending to pick up during planning and moulding, and to bind on the saw. Its working properties are however governed to an extent by the care with which it was dried, distorted wood being wasteful in planning and moulding. Dutch elm is not quite as refractory, but both species can be finished to a clean surface with care. The wood can be glued satisfactorily, and can be stained, polished or waxed. It takes nails without splitting and can produce a good decorative veneer.
The attractive grain in elm renders it ideal for furniture, turnery and woodware such as salad bowls. It is used for chair seats, bent=wood backs, coffins ad for domestic flooring. It is a good timber for use in boats for transoms and rudders, hatch covers, bottom planks etc. and is used in dock and harbour work for fenders, rubbers, keel-blocks, capping, wedges and for construction.