What Is Elm Lumber?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Elm lumber is harvested from trees in the genus Ulmus, with several species including American and English elm being popular among woodworkers. This wood is famous for being extremely hard and durable, suitable for making products ranging from axles to cabinets. It can be expensive, and tends to be more common in fine woodworking and traditional crafts than utilitarian wood objects. Lumber yards typically stock it or can order it by request for customers.


Depending on whether it is taken from heartwood or sapwood, elm lumber can vary in color from creamy white to brown. English specimens may range into golden and orange. It has a tight, even grain which may be dotted with some small knots. Some specimens have a delicate pattern known as feathering which can make them aesthetically pleasing, one reason elm is popular as a finish or veneer for woodworking projects. It can also be burled, with a complex pattern of tiny knots, waves, and bubbles.

This wood can be extremely difficult to work without power tools and excellent woodworking equipment, because of its hardness. It isn’t brittle and should not crack or split, but does need to be handled with care. Like other woods, elm lumber should be allowed to cure before being worked, and it is important to allow it to adjust to the environment in the shop where it will be used. Sudden temperature or humidity changes can cause shrinking and swelling that may ruin a project.

One very popular use for elm lumber is as a veneer material for finished wood products, or for use in cars. Elm veneers can be tricky to work with and people may prefer to buy them, rather than trying to cut their own, unless they have experience with producing veneers. Some come with a reinforcing backing to protect the wood as it is handled and put in place so the veneer won’t crack or develop other problems.

Strength and durability are useful traits, but elm lumber can be vulnerable to insect infestation. It should be kept in a clean, dry environment and may need to be treated if it will be exposed to insects or high moisture, as this could invite fungal colonies. At the first sign of infestation, it is advisable to clean and treat the wood to prevent spreading. Wood restoration products and fillers can be used to repair damaged portions, or people may want to consider replacing portions with new pieces of elm lumber or veneer.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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