American Elm: Back from the Dead

Once loved by urbanites for its shade and woodworkers for strength, elm is preparing for a major comeback.
By Kara Gebhart
Pages: 66-69

From the August 2004 issue #142
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Chairmaker Don Weber vigorously works at a piece of elm with an adze to form the beginnings of a chair. Hewing the seat’s gentle slopes, which merge into the center pommel, is strenuous work, in part because of the nature of the act and in part because of the nature of the wood.

The chairmaker, partial to Welsh stick-style chairs, continues to shape the seat with an inshave, a spokeshave, a  travisher and sandpaper before it is acceptable. Working with elm, a notoriously tenacious wood, is not an easy task.

Most woodworkers have never worked with elm because it’s so tough. It’s also not easy to find. In about 1930, a shipment of French veneer logs infested with a fungus spread by elm bark beetles arrived in the United States, decimating the population of the tree. This disease is now referred to as Dutch elm disease (commonly called DED).

From the August 2004 issue #142
Buy this issue now