Elder

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Elder

Postby Simon Hartley » Sun Feb 15, 2015 9:47 pm

I have managed to get hold of some unusually large pieces of elder (about 8" dia x 12" long). It seems to behave quite well as regards cleaving and turning, being fairly soft but fine-grained, with a yellow-gray colour.

Does anyone have any first-hand experience of working with elder, particularly with regard to seasoning? All I can find are refrences to it's apparent uselessness as firewood.
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Re: Elder

Postby Steve Martin » Mon Feb 16, 2015 5:14 am

Being from the other side of the pond, what we call box elder is a cousin of maple or Acer. If it is the same in England, i.e., box elder is elder, box elder is slightly softer than maple, so it carves easily but doesn't hold an edge very well, even after it dries out. In America, box elder is known for bright red "flames" through the wood which fades to brown as it is exposed to light (so UV resistant finishes will help but in the end, brown happens). Some believe the red is a result of a particular fungi, but I've not seen any study which proves or disproves this. Although I know of no scientific link, I believe that box elder might be similar to the plane tree as to grain, color, hardness (for working comparison). Box elder turns nicely and, when treated carefully after it dries, holds a nice finish if you use sharp tools and take your time when creating the cut or scraped finish, burnishing also helps with the finish.

I would suggest that you try it and let it show you what it needs in order to become what it can be.
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Re: Elder

Postby ToneWood » Mon Feb 16, 2015 1:34 pm

Although the flowers & berries are useful, I had always assumed that elder was a poor quality wood - probably because:
- it grows so fast & easily here (like a weed),
- its relatively small stature (it usually doesn't grow very long, straight or wide here)
- the relatively large soft central pith,
- the ease with which living branches can be snapped off (almost brittle) and
- the poor reputation for firewood (does it spit?).
However, I recently read somewhere (Edlin perhaps?) that it is considered a hardwood and can be quite useful. Also, the hole left by that central pith could be useful for some special applications (whistle, pipe, etc.). It seems to go quite hard when dry (& to go soft and rot when wet).

Image Image

It looks like the Box Elder described by Steve above is a different tree entirely, an acer (maple): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_negundo
For comparison, this is the English tree/shrub I described, Elder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elder_%28tree%29 and this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambucus_nigra, which apparently does grow in the eastern USA.
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Re: Elder

Postby Steve Martin » Mon Feb 16, 2015 8:16 pm

Tonewood, Thanks for your reply. My memory was jostled and I dragged up a recollection of elderberry wine and elderberry bushes from which the berries became elderberry wine. Seems like there may even be a reference to elderberry wine in some rock song from my younger days but I can't remember who or when. Getting old can be a real drag. I did have a neighbor, when I was about 10 y/o who raised beef cattle. The pasture was behind our house and there was a stream running through the pasture with honey locust trees growing along the creek. The owner would collect the beans from the locust every fall and make honey locust beer, which he didn't like to share. The fall of my 11th year he had a health problem of some kind and spent several weeks confined to bed so he couldn't gather the beans. The beans do ferment on the ground and the cows discovered that they were tasty. The neighborhood kids had several delightful afternoons watching drunk cows stumbling around the pasture, looking for more fermented beans. I know this has nothing to do with woodworking but it is a pleasant memory. Hope you enjoyed it. Have a great week!
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Re: Elder

Postby Simon Hartley » Mon Feb 23, 2015 12:20 am

Thanks for the contributions, I particularly wanted first-hand accounts, as elder is just about the soggiest wood I have come across and wondered if anyone knew how long it would take to season. Once I have found out, I'll post on here.

I have found a passing reference by Edlin to it being used by watchmakers to apply lubricant, but nothing more. Mind you, if I want to know about the unrelated box elder or locust, I'll know whom to ask!
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Re: Elder

Postby Bob_Fleet » Mon Feb 23, 2015 12:28 pm

I've tried drying elder a few times and it's a bit like cherry and seems to split fairly easy.
Probably needed done more slowly.
It will have the hole through the centre where the pith was as well which limits it for some applications but then if you can work with that it's a bonus.
It'll be interesting to see what you make.
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Re: Elder

Postby AlexanderTheLate » Thu Feb 26, 2015 9:26 pm

I've made pegs from Elder, for snares and for 'set lines'. It dries hard as a bloody rock, but as said, is soggy when green and carves easy. We use Elder because it is so hard, it doesn't bend or snap so easy as other small woods and you can drive them in with the poll of your axe. It does take a week or so to dry out good, but I always buried them for a spell while green so they stain dark, which slows the drying a bit (and makes them rot slightly). I never had them split on me, but then, I never cut them longer then eight inches or so, and they were pointed off and notched.
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Re: Elder

Postby Wandrika » Mon Mar 02, 2015 2:49 pm

In my country, elder is often used for folklore woodwind instruments from small whistles to 2m long fujara.
The musical instrument makers recommend to cut elder in the winter, seal both ends and make small cuts in the bark to dry it properly. They start working with it after 1 year of drying. When it dries, it is maybe as hard as maple, but this depends on the location where the elder grew up. The best pieces of elder grow in harsh conditions, far from water sources.
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Re: Elder

Postby Simon Hartley » Sat Mar 21, 2015 12:36 pm

Quick update: elder does seem to be quite prone to radial shakes while drying. The colour changes to a dull grey/beige as the surace dries out, the difference between sapwood and heartwood almost disappears.
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Re: Elder

Postby Frudd » Wed Feb 10, 2016 12:31 pm

I have carved with Elder, as mentioned above it does dry very hard. It burnished to be almost bone-like. I believe the wood is toxic (all of the plant actually) which is why it isnt used for firewood. Historically elder has been used by boxmakers for detailed carved panels. It has also been used for the tuyere in forges as it resists the heat better than most woods.
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