Working elm with hand tools

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Forum topic by bobro posted 11-28-2014 11:58 PM 2158 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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320 posts in 2648 days

11-28-2014 11:58 PM

For some reason I’ve got this hankering to make something of elm, something I’ve never done. I know it’s famous for moving a lot, that doesn’t bother me, looking forward to that challenge actually.

I’m working hand tools only- anyone here worked elm with hand tools?


-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

11 replies so far

View PtboJim's profile


10 posts in 3436 days

#1 posted 11-29-2014 12:32 AM

Well, as you stated your hand tools only so you could use foam ear plugs for your nose. Elm has a rather distinct aroma which some find rather offensive – more so when using machines.
That said, spend some time ensuring that your up cutting tools, plane irons are Paul Sellers sharp and get out the #80 cabinet scraper if you have one. If you run into some nasty tear out you might be wise to take a spare iron and grind it to a “York Pitch”. Elm can be somewhat of a bear to work with but when worked and finished you will be rewarded by it’s wispy, butterfly grain.

-- "Everything should be made as simple as possible...but not simpler." -- Albert Einstein

View bobro's profile


320 posts in 2648 days

#2 posted 11-29-2014 01:05 AM

I have a little Mujingfang traditional Chinese wooden plane with a 60 degree pitch and 62 RC HSS blade, which I got specifically for some pau ferro, and it turns out to love endgrain and gnarly woods in general. And there’s a larger version of the same for about 60 bucks with shipping.

Had to start over from absolute zero a few years ago, due to circumstances- I had that classic black Stanley scraper, and the Kunz green one come to think of it, but they were stolen years ago. It’s something I need in general so I hit the swap meet every week.

I didn’t know that about the smell, thanks. I agree that elm is beautiful. I guess that Duth Elm disease took it out of commercial production, but there are lots of elms where I live, so I need to put out the word in this area. It’s a long process involving driving out to the country and drinking the local versions of moonshine.

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View bobasaurus's profile


3743 posts in 4521 days

#3 posted 11-29-2014 01:19 AM

I’ve had a terrible time trying to hand plane elm on my penguin tool box. The grain is really interlocked and difficult to get a shaving started, even with a very sharp blade. When it does plane instead of skip, it also tends to leave a rough surface regardless of the tool used. Also, the sapwood is very porous and soft compared to the heartwood, I would avoid mixing. I’m not a big fan of elm now.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View EPJartisan's profile


1123 posts in 4462 days

#4 posted 11-29-2014 07:01 PM

Elm, though beautiful… I agree is not the most fun to use hand tools on.
The late growth rings are really tough while the early growth rings are very open and fibrous.
Going at the end grain with a plane is a PITA… the plane cuts easily through the early in then skips over the much harder late rings. Going at the face grain I still got the occasional tear out from the early wood. Scraping and sanding curves is also a pain for the same reasons. Since I use a dozuki saw the fibers of the early wood get stuck between the teeth and I have to be careful to clean it between cuts or it can chips out a tooth from my saw. I have a lot of it right now, but can’t get myself to tackle that wood again unless I have to… and then power tools for me!

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View lurkey's profile


14 posts in 2707 days

#5 posted 11-29-2014 08:02 PM

Wood movement was more of a problem for me than working it with hand tools. The crotchwood took a really nice almost holographic looking surface. Regular grain was pretty easy to work but not particularly satisfying – kinda coarse and the interlocking strips would stay a little fuzzy. Endgrain was, as mentioned above, a bit of a PITA. It turned out really nice though. I’d recommend using all methods possible to keep it from flopping around too much, really sturdy attachments and a rock solid frame/base. Go for it!

View bobro's profile


320 posts in 2648 days

#6 posted 11-29-2014 10:54 PM

Thanks guys. I have some techniques for working very hard woods and actually prefer to work them over softer woods, but the variation in grain sounds like a real challenge of a different kind.

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7192 posts in 4531 days

#7 posted 11-29-2014 11:25 PM

Elm is a hard wood to work with, and very stringy…..I don’t like it at all, so I stay away from it..It’s an ugly tree….

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5230 days

#8 posted 12-31-2014 08:40 PM

I laughed on reading the replies. All brought back memories of working with the stringy, unforgiving, constantly changing grain, the specie is like the ocean, always changing in unpredictable ways and my only advice to dealing with the pigs nose called elm, is too make sure your hand tools are sharp.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View bobro's profile


320 posts in 2648 days

#9 posted 12-31-2014 08:43 PM


Well, I’ve got the word out for elm, apple and plum, as well as any of the more unusual native hardwoods- chequer, hornbeam etc. It’s been cold as heck so now’s when the cutting is being done.

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 4027 days

#10 posted 12-31-2014 08:59 PM

Click for details

But it is sooo pretty! I cut a lot of red elm on my sawmill but it has not been a big seller.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5230 days

#11 posted 01-01-2015 02:30 AM


-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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