#7: Cedar elm

Bird number: 21
Date: December 13, 2011
Wood: Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)
Source: Backyard

The wind took a very large branch off one of our elm trees about three years ago. I had started carving a few months before, and decided I’d keep the branch for carving after I had more experience. I ended up giving away the largest piece, which was about 8 feet long and 12 inches in diameter. I carved two of the smaller pieces, but the rest has been sitting outside behind the garage for three years, curing.

I have to say, I was very surprised at the beauty of this wood. Some wood turners I know have said that they really like working with it, but I’ve never talked to anybody else who’s carved it. Not only is it beautiful to look at, it carves very nicely with the power carver. I don’t know yet how it is to carve with a knife. Carving the foot, above, was mostly sapwood, and those little dog figures don’t give a real good indication.

I really like the twisty grain patterns of the lighter wood here, and the dark streaks in some areas really set it off. This particular figure doesn’t show as much of those dark streaks as some others that I’ve carved since, but I think you get the idea. The two holes on the side in the first picture are worm holes. Although “imperfections,” I think they add a kind of rustic authenticity to the piece.

Cedar elm, Ulmus crassifolia, is native to south central North America. Here in central Texas, it’s almost a weed. It grows everywhere. Little trees shoot up all over the yard. If I didn’t mow regularly, the yard would be full of little elmlets. I regularly have to cut down little trees that come up in flower beds and other places that I don’t mow. The tree is highly susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease, a fungal infection spread by the elm bark beetle. According to Wikipedia, the tree isn’t cultivated very often. Perhaps not, but it spreads like crazy if you don’t take steps to keep it in check.

There’s very little information available about carving cedar elm. There is some information about turning it on a lathe, and a little bit about building boxes or furniture, but it seems that very few people carve it. Those who do work the wood say that it’s beautiful, and the few turned bowls I’ve seen are works of art. Some comments say that the wood is “hard as iron” when dry, but I’ve learned to mistrust those characterizations. So far, I’ve found the wood to be quite nice to work with.

When I completed this bird, I sat back and admired the wood for a while. I’m still partial to mesquite, but I’ll definitely be carving lots more of this cedar elm. One nice thing is that it’s almost as abundant around here as mesquite. I’ll have an essentially unlimited supply.