Thursday, September 17, 2015

Contemplating the End of Summer and Elm

Late Summer Storm

Well summer went out with a bang. Two months of scorching heat and water shortage, followed by one of the biggest storms in recent history (maybe the 2006 flattening of Stanley Park was bigger) which resulted in power lost to 525,000 customers of BC Hydro. Since the population of Metro Vancouver is around 2.5 million, and the number of households and businesses (ie customers) is less than that, it seems that power was out to a substantial percentage of town!

From a tree perspective, near where I live there was a huge oak tree down completely blocking a four lane street.

My woodturning buddy scored a bunch of ash (one of the few common trees in Vancouver that I have never milled), plus there was a walnut tree down nearby as well. In the news there were trees down all over town.

We will see how much of this 'windfall' shows up at the log dump over the next while. It could be a good season for milling!

I plan to get back to the shop in the next few weeks, so this will likely be the last wood contemplation.


When I first started woodworking I never expected to be able to work with elm. Similar to chestnut, I figured it had gone the way of the dodo, in this case thanks to Dutch elm disease.

It turns out however that elm is a rather common street tree around town. There are American elms, along with other varieties such as Chinese, Dutch, Siberian, etc. Several get quite impressively large. It is the American elm that is vulnerable to Dutch elm disease, but the virus does not seem to exist out here, permitting elms to grow unabated here.

Unfortunately by the time an elm log shows up at the log dump, the leaves and branches are long gone and I have no way to identify which variety of elm it is. Some of them sure smell bad though!

I have two favourite stories of elm milling. The first is a large elm log with a crotch at one end that was down at the log dump several years ago. It was too big for my usual 36" bar so I had to use my 60" bar on it. A friend and I peeled a few slabs off of it, but it was a ton of work and the slabs were super heavy, so we left it half-milled. A few days later another friend called and asked if I could take off another slab for a friend of his to use in her garden as a bench. So I trundled down to the beach one chilly winter's day with a dusting of snow, by myself this time, with the 60" mill I can barely lift on my own, never mind push on my own. Milling one more thick slab off that log almost killed me, so I call the wood that came from it 'death elm'. I didn't even bother trying to move it, I just called my friend and told him to come get it!

Another funny elm slab story concerns a really nice slab I had drying in my wood pile some years ago. My wood pile which is frequently home to rats. Apparently one of the rat traps I set out in the woodpile caught a rat, and it sat there for a while before I discovered it. The rat had decomposed and left quite a stain on one of the nice slabs of elm. Eventually another friend took that slab and made it into a wedding gift table for his friends. Apparently the stain is on the underside of the table, and the groom was told the story of where it came from, but not the bride!

Some of the nicest, straight grained clear hardwood slabs I have ever milled were elm. This was a big one on private property that a friend and I milled some years ago. It was too wide for my 36" bar, we had to trim it down to fit it through the mill.

This slab may have come from the above log. 8 feet long, beautiful straight grain, probably 2 1/2" thick. A gorgeous piece.

Here are some shorter boards, but impressively wide. This particular one I had to flatten with a router jig as it was too wide for my 24" planer. Nice clear grain on it.

Elm can also be spalted, although that is rarer. It definitely seems to take a lot of the darker tones out.

Close up of some spalted elm. Very lovely.

This was a piece of an elm crotch that I flattened with a router jig. An interesting piece but I struggled to find something to use it in. Still awaiting the perfect use to come along for it!

A couple of good sized slabs, just home from being milled up.