Olive (Olea europaea)

Olive (Olea europaea)

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Common Name(s): Olive

Scientific Name: Olea spp. (Olea europaea, O. capensis)

Distribution: Europe and eastern Africa

Tree Size: 25-50 ft (8-15 m) tall, 3-5 ft (1.0-1.5 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 62 lbs/ft3 (990 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .72, .99

Janka Hardness: 2,700 lbf (12,010 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 22,530 lbf/in2 (155.4 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 2,577,000 lbf/in2 (17.77 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 11,180 lbf/in2 (77.1 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 5.4%, Tangential: 8.8%, Volumetric: 14.4%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a cream or yellowish brown, with darker brown or black contrasting streaks. Color tends to deepen with age. Olive is somtimes figured with curly or wavy grain, burl, or wild grain.

Grain/Texture: Grain may be straight, interlocked, or wild. Fine uniform texture with moderate natural luster.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; small pores in no specific arrangement; solitary, and commonly in radial multiples of 2-3 or rows of 4 or more pores; yellow heartwood deposits present; growth rings may be distinct or indistinct; rays not visible without lens; parenchyma vasicentric, aliform, and confluent, though not distinct with lens.

Rot Resistance: Conflicting reports range from non-durable/perishable to durable/moderately durable. Olive is susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Somewhat easy to work, though wild or interlocked grain may result in tearout during surfacing operations. Olive has high movement in service and is considered to have poor stability. Turns superbly. Glues and finishes well.

Odor: Has a distinct, fruity scent when being worked.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Olive 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: Because of the fruit’s economic importance, healthy, cultivated Olive trees (O. europaea) aren’t felled for lumber; availability is generally limited to pruned branches, trimmings, and diseased/storm damaged orchard trees. Short lumber, turning squares, and burls are occasionally available from wild trees, as well as the closely related East African Olive (O. capensis). Prices are very high.

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

Common Uses: High-end furniture, veneer, turned objects, and small specialty wood items.

Comments: Olive trees are commercially important throughout the natural regions where they grow. There are several subspecies and hundreds of cultivars of Olea europaea; the olives harvested from the trees are made into olive oil. The mechanical data and density readings shown above are an average between Olea europaea and O. capensis.

Olivewood (Olea spp.) is sometimes confused with Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), though it bears little relation to true Olive and is in an entirely different family of trees. Technically, Olive is a part of the Oleaceæ family and is more closely related to Ash (Fraxinus spp.) and Lilac (Syringa vulgaris).

Related Species:

None available.

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the wood sample and turned photo of this wood species.

Olive (Olea europaea)

Olive (sanded)

Olive (sealed)

Olive (sealed)

Olive (endgrain)

Olive (endgrain)

Olive (endgrain 10x)

Olive (endgrain 10x)

Olive (turned)

Olive (turned)

Olive (foliage)

Olive (foliage)

  • mbrynard

    I have some planks of olive wood (the south African species of Olea capensis, but I find it extremely difficult to plane because the wood tends to chip ( form scallops) along the grain no matter which direction I plane. This is due to the irregular grain. I am using a planer/thickneser with normal steel blades. I would like to hear from someone how I can get by this problem. I attach a photo.

  • Looks like that piece of Olive has a fair amount of curl to it. Here’s some tips to help reduce tearout:
    -Make sure blades are sharp (obvious…)
    -Take very light passes
    -Lightly moisten surface of wood to soften fibers before planing (never tried it before, but it sounds like it’d be worth a shot)
    -Retrofit your planer with a spiral cutter-head, such as a Byrd Shelix type with carbide inserts
    -Use a thickness sander instead (I have the Performax 16-32, and these machines are worth every penny IMO!)

  • mbrynard

    I have some planks of olive wood (the south African species of Olea
    capensis, but I find it extremely difficult to plane because the wood
    tends to chip ( form scallops) along the grain no matter which direction
    I plane. This is due to the irregular grain. I am using a
    planer/thickneser with normal steel blades. I would like to hear from
    someone how I can get by this problem. I attach a photo.

    • ejmeier

      Looks like that piece of Olive has a fair amount of curl to it. Here’s some tips to help reduce tearout:
      -Make sure blades are sharp (obvious…)
      -Take very light passes
      -Lightly moisten surface of wood to soften fibers before planing (never tried it before, but it sounds like it’d be worth a shot)
      -Retrofit your planer with a spiral cutter-head, such as a Byrd Shelix type with carbide inserts
      -Use a thickness sander instead (I have the Performax 16-32, and these machines are worth every penny IMO!)

    • Jake Schultz

      I’d suggest planing with a drum sander in this case. Take multiple small passes (1/32″) It’ll take time, but it’ll be well worth it when your done. You can use a drum sander at a high school wood shop perhaps, or make your own out of some old treadmill parts! YouTube can teach you how to do that.

  • chris doncas

    hi can i use afecan olive tree as firewood?
    i have a dead one that im going to remove