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 to medium pores in no specific arrangement, moderately numerous to very numerous; 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; narrow rays not visible without lens, spacing normal to fairly close; parenchyma vasicentric, 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)
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Clive

can you make welsh lovespoons from olive wood

Anne

Is burl olive veneer a good candidate to cerused?

Tony

A local store in UK sells olive wood mortars & pestles. I use the mortars for re-turning as they are always chunky. I have a large supply of pestles waiting to be turned into something, maybe pens.

Raj

I have a large mortar. Can olive wood be used to make a pestle? Is it a strong/sturdy wood to use?

Regards
Raj

Aaron

I turned one a few years ago and it still works fine. There is a bit of wear on the head but it’s been in use for a while now.

Brian

How would an olive branch work as a shovel handle? I have need of a handle for a special tool and the best analogy I can make for the stress it will be exposed to is a shovel handle. Since I have an otherwise perfectly sized and shaped olive branch, I’d just like to know if it will take the stress.

Mihai

Olea capensis density can be 1500 kg per square meter.It the most dense wood in the world and at that density it probably beats all your otther hardest woods.

Ed Davidson

I’ve turned Italian and Holy Land Olivewood. Both feel, look and turn the same…like wooden butter. This yoyo and display is made from Italian Olive.

Rick Kuhnel

Sandra – I would love a branch or two if you are near myself or a relative. (CA, ID, UT). Thanks. Apparently nice for smaller items like utensils, handles, bowls. My intent, anyway. Popular for woodturning and apparently can be a tad pricey. Nice grain. (According to a late uncle.)

chris doncas

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

Jack Wong

What a shame to burn the wood. This wood is prized for spoon carving.

Jack Wong

comment image Here is a photo of spoons I’ve carved using olive wood.

William Cook

Very nice work Jack

Tom Ladwig

Nice spoon. I have just acquired some olive wood from an orchard that is being torn out. I have started cutting out some spoon blanks (green wood) and I am wondering about drying first, or after carving. Also when and how to treat the wood after carving. Is it safe for use in the kitchen? I’d appreciate any comments you could provide.

Alex T

Treat it with food safe oil or paste wax after sanding to a medium or fine grit (800 or 7000).

Alex T

IT does burn very well due to the oils in it but only burn what you can’t use as timber or craft as it is a very nice wood and perfect for bowls and spoons.

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.

Jack Wong

One other thing I would add is to make sure the wood is dry. I have the same problem when carving, if the wood is still wet, it is more difficult to carve.

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.

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.