American Elm (Ulmus americana)

American Elm (Ulmus americana)

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Common Name(s): American Elm, Soft Elm, Water Elm

Scientific Name: Ulmus americana

Distribution: Eastern to Midwest United States

Tree Size: 65-100 ft (20-30 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 35 lbs/ft3 (560 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .47, .56

Janka Hardness: 830 lbf (3,690 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 11,800 lbf/in2 (81.4 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,340,000 lbf/in2 (9.24 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 5,520 lbf/in2 (38.1 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 4.2%, Tangential: 9.5%, Volumetric: 14.6%, T/R Ratio: 2.3

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is light to medium reddish brown. Paler sapwood is usually well defined.

Grain/Texture: Grain is interlocked (making it very resistant to splitting). With a somewhat coarse, uneven texture.

Endgrain: Ring-porous; large to very large earlywood pores in a continuous row one or two pores wide, small latewood pores in wavy bands; tyloses occasionally present in earlywood; growth rings distinct; parenchyma vasicentric and confluent; medium rays, spacing normal.

Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable; susceptible to insect attack. Living trees are susceptible to Dutch elm disease.

Workability: Can be a challenge to work because of interlocked grain, especially on quartersawn surfaces. Planing can cause tearout and/or fuzzy surfaces. Poor dimensional stability. Glues, stains, and finishes well. Responds well to steam bending, and holds nails and screws well.

Odor: Elm usually has a strong, unpleasant smell when green; though once dried has very little odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Elm  in the Ulmus genus has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye and skin irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Should be moderately priced, though availability from mature trees has been greatly diminished by Dutch elm disease.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Boxes, baskets, furniture, hockey sticks, veneer, wood pulp, and papermaking.

Comments: Once one of the largest and most prevalent of the North American elm species, preferred as an ideal shade tree for urban roadsides. American Elm is especially susceptible to Dutch elm disease, and was ravaged by the fungal disease in the second half of the twentieth century. Because the tree is fast growing and bears seeds at a young age, it has been able to continue in areas where older trees have died, though the newer elms also succumb to the disease at a relatively young age. Consequently, large and mature American Elms are  uncommon. Many disease-resistant cultivars and hybrids are being used to replace trees killed by Dutch elm disease.

Related Species:

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures: Shown below is a piece of lumber from a small tree that was killed by Dutch elm disease. Being so young, there was very little heartwood formed yet, (the darker brown wood on the right half), with the majority of the wood being sapwood (light area on the left half of the scans).

American Elm (Ulmus americana)

American Elm (sanded)

American Elm (sealed)

American Elm (sealed)

American Elm (endgrain)

American Elm (endgrain)

American Elm (endgrain 10x)

American Elm (endgrain 10x)

  • mark speiser

    very distinctive odor. as does basswood. are you only refering to just putting your nose to the board? of course the smell won’t be as strong as when cutting but you can still get a whiff !!!!!!!! nice website, thanks

  • I agree that this wood is very smelly when wet, but dry boards don’t seem to have much of a smell. Maybe it varies.

  • justin

    I have several good sized (60′) American Elms in my yard ready to cut, been dying and dead past 3 years… Thinking about having them Quartered and cut into wide planks.

  • Allen

    Justin, Wide boards would be great for making tool chests! Elm is an especially good wood for making tools chests because of the low acidity, which will lessen tool corrosion.

    Allen

  • you killin me

    It’s a monster to split this wood for firewood. Interlocking grain is right!!

  • Dickusmagnus

    Finishes beautifully, especially using darker colors. Subject to some warping, even for stickered and dried stock. When joining its best to join oppositely warped boards so that the warping cancels. I get good results this way with Texas grown American elm that has been apparently unaffected by the Dutch elm disease.
    The interlocking grain makes elm not suitable for hand splitting, so use a power splitter. A monster maul that easily splits post oak bounces right off elm.

  • you killin me

    Yes tough to split. But makes good handles, bends but won’t break.

  • Mat

    Is elm any good for framing?

  • Mike Leslie

    We have a few American Elm’s around but I don’t see a listing for what I’ve been told are Chinese or Russian elm. They are smaller, different type of leaf and seem to have a pretty short life span, maybe 35 to 40 years. I’ve made a few bowls out of some that have been cut down locally, can you tell what kind of Elm or if it is even Elm from the pictures?
    Thanks ~Mike

    • ejmeier

      Looks like elm to me, but it’s hard to say which type. With Dutch Elm disease, things have become complicated. Various disease-resistant hybrids are out there, and their identification defies the usual distinguishing features of hard vs soft elms. Someday I hope to add Chinese and Siberian elm to the site, and also update the page on elm identification.

  • Paul C

    I have a mature American Elm that is dying of Dutch Elm. Rather than just cutting it down and having the wood go to waste, how would I find individuals/companies that might be interested in the wood? I’m in central Virginia.