The wood commonly known as Red Elm is known to botanists and other scientists as Ulmus rubra. U. rubra grows in the eastern and Midwest United States. U. rubra extends from southwestern Maine west to New York, extreme southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan, central Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota; south to eastern South Dakota, central Nebraska, southwestern Oklahoma, and central Texas; then east to northwestern Florida and Georgia. U. rubra is uncommon in that part of its range lying south to Kentucky and is most abundant in the southern part of the Lake States and in the cornbelt of the Midwest.
For the sake of simplicity and common understanding, I will refer to U. rubra as Red Elm from here forward. U. rubra is also commonly called “slippery elm.”
The heartwood of Red Elm is a light to medium reddish brown. The paler sapwood of Red Elm is usually well defined. The grain of Red Elm is typically interlocked which makes it very resistant to splitting. Red Elm features a somewhat coarse, uneven texture.
Red Elm is rated as non-durable and is susceptible to insect attack. Living Red Elm trees are susceptible to Dutch elm disease.
Red Elm can be a challenge to work because of interlocked grain, especially on quartersawn surfaces. Planing Red Elm can cause tearout and/or fuzzy surfaces. Red Elm has poor dimensional stability which will make final turning of green turned items difficult. However, Red Elm glues, stains, and finishes well. Red Elm responds well to steam bending, and holds nails and screws well.
Red Elm usually has a strong, unpleasant smell when green however once dried it has very little odor.
Pricing and Availability:
Red Elm should be moderately priced, though availability from mature trees has been greatly diminished by Dutch elm disease.
In this blog, I almost always recommend several vendors with whom I have done considerable business and in whom I have great confidence. These vendors are: West Penn Hardwoods, Bell Forest Products, NC Wood, WoodTurningz, Amazon Exotic Hardwoods, Griffin Exotic Wood, Exotic Woods USA, Got Wood?, and Wood Turning Blanks 4U.
Got Wood is offering Red Elm platter blanks in 7″ x 2″ and 9″ x 2″ for $7.25 and $12.00 respectively.
Woodfinder is an excellent website that is dedicated to advertising wood dealers. In your search for Red Elm this can be an invaluable resource provided you use multiple search terms to capture all the possible listings. I can’t speak to the quality of any of the listed dealers, but Woodfinder does have the advantage of allowing searches to be performed based on location which might allow an interested buyer to visit a listed wood dealer in person to hand pick pieces at a comfortable price.
A significant problem with using Woodfinder is that many vendors are listed for woods that, upon further investigation, they do not offer. I don’t know if perhaps once they did and they didn’t update their listings or if some vendors use a standardized list of woods that include most everything conceivable with the idea that once you land on their page you will find something you want to buy even if you didn’t know it beforehand. It happens to me all the time!
Red Elm is most commonly used for boxes, baskets, furniture, hockey sticks, veneer, wood pulp, and papermaking.
Red Elm is NOT listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices nor is it listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
To the best of my knowledge, the United States government does not place any restrictions on Red Elm.