The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

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The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

Postby Nitty » Tue Mar 06, 2018 12:31 pm

Hello everyone!

After lots of general browsing here I'm finally posting the first of my (probably many) questions.

A quick bit of background - I'm a relative novice to green woodworking, with a few spoons/utensils made and a few beginners' courses done over the last couple of years, including making a shave horse and pole lathe, so I have a little bit of kit to try and gain experience on.

I have had the great fortune of making friends with a local tree surgeon who kindly gave me a chunk of elm to mess about with (although they seem to think I'm going to turn up with a beautifully turned bowl from it - I had to put them straight on that fairly promptly!). The elm is a log approximately 10" diameter and 10" long.

Many of you in the know will probably know what I'm about to say next - trying to split this elm is bloomin' impossible! As my splitting axe literally bounced off the stuff for the third time I realised I needed advice before I did myself a serious mischief.

I am a rather feeble middle-aged woman so I can't rely on brute strength. Are there any sneaky tips or tricks to try? A quick web search throws up suggestions like trying it in very cold weather (just missed that, then) or chopping away from the edges in, though that doesn't look like there'll be decent chunks left to carve from.

Also, is it possible to turn this on the lathe (if I get it chopped) or am I likely to damage my tools if it's so tough?

Any advice will be very gratefully received, as I realise this is just the beginning of a very steep and long learning curve.

Cheers.
N.
Nitty
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Re: The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

Postby Davie Crockett » Wed Mar 07, 2018 12:17 am

Hi Nitty and welcome to the forum...could you put your general location on your profile as there may be members who are close to you who could offer support.
Elm is a tricky one as you say, it is notoriously hard to split. I've not personally turned it but you might try chatting to a wheelwright as they use elm frequently for hubs. could your tree surgeon friend cut it down to size for you?
Best wishes,
Davie
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Re: The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

Postby Steve Martin » Wed Mar 07, 2018 3:03 am

My reading has suggested that Robin Wood found out a lot about pole lathe turning before he started making replicas of items from the Mary Rose. I believe that he studied the "last" pole lathe turner who used elm that had been aged for 5 years to make bowls for dairy farmers to use. You may be able to get some info from Robin. Best of Luck!
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Re: The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

Postby Nitty » Wed Mar 07, 2018 7:07 pm

Thanks for the replies.
I'm in South Yorkshire and go to a local club where they should be able to help. I'll take the elm along with me next time I go.

I had just been hoping to become a bit more self-sufficient with working by myself at home but was feeling rather disillusioned when I couldn't split it, but after my first post I did manage to nicely split some cherry and got on with a spoon so I felt a bit better.

I also hope that any other ladies out there didn't think I was implying that I'm feeble because I'm a woman - it's just that after a few years of not-great health I really can't manage things strength-wise as well as I used to, to my great frustration!
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Re: The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

Postby Ian G » Wed Mar 07, 2018 7:48 pm

Hi Nitty, yes elm can be a bit tough to split especially at 10" diameter, is the chunk still green, is it a bit twisty. As it dries it should start to form wee cracks try putting your axe in them and give it a whack. Once split it will turn beautifully if green. Attached is a wee pic of some elm bowls to give you some inspiration. Funny enough I'm about to put a 12" bit on the pole lathe within the next few weeks once I've finished a whole load of ash.

Ian
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elmtwo.jpg
small 5"- 6" elm bowls
elmtwo.jpg (55.68 KiB) Viewed 1665 times
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Re: The trouble with elm... for a beginner!

Postby Nitty » Thu Mar 08, 2018 11:14 am

Thanks Ian, those bowls look lovely.

The elm is freshly cut and on closer inspection may be rotting in the middle (soft in the middle). I'll see what happens as it dries.
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