Elm trees have a long-standing reputation in the furniture industry due to their strength and unique grain patterns. However, some may question whether elm is a hardwood or not and if it is a practical option for furniture construction.
Thus, I explored these questions further to assist you in deciding whether Elm wood furniture is the right material for your project.
Differentiating Softwoods and Hardwoods
Deciduous trees are classified as hardwoods. These hardwood or deciduous trees are characterized by their ability to flower and shed their leaves during winter and autumn.
Additionally, deciduous trees belong to the angiosperm group, which has a unique cellular makeup that affects water distribution.
Softwood trees, on the other hand, are evergreen trees that have needles and produce cones instead of flowers, which are usually wind-pollinated. Softwood trees also belong to the gymnosperm group, which affects their cellular makeup and water transport mechanism.
One way to differentiate between hardwood trees and softwood trees is by examining their seeds. Hardwood trees produce seeds that are encased in a shell, while softwood trees produce unenclosed seeds that simply fall to the ground.
Soft Hardwood vs Hard Hardwood
After identifying whether the lumber is hardwood or softwood, you can classify it further based on its nature into either hard hardwoods or soft hardwoods.
Balsa wood is one example of those soft hardwoods derived from a hardwood tree that is easy to carve and is relatively softer compared to hickory, another species of hardwood tree. As a result, balsa wood is considered a soft hardwood tree, whereas hickory is a hard hardwood tree.
About Elm Trees and Wood
The Elm tree is classified as a deciduous hardwood, meaning it sheds its leaves during the winter and fall seasons. However, come springtime, it regenerates with new foliage, showcasing its remarkable ability to undergo annual cycles of leaf loss and renewal.
This kind of hardwood tree grows fast and can reach up to one hundred forty feet tall but usually grow between sixty and one hundred fifteen feet tall with a trunk diameter of three to six feet.
However, these days full-grown elm trees, especially American Elm, are now limited due to the Dutch elm disease, also known as DED.
There are more than 30 types of elm trees, offering a broad range of wood choices. However, among the family of elm trees, the most famous types are the English elm trees, red elm trees, and American elm trees.
In addition, elm wood exhibits a striking contrast in color between its sapwood and heartwood, with the heartwood showcasing shades of light to medium reddish-brown and the sapwood displaying a much lighter or off-white hue.
Moreover, unlike other woods, elm wood grain is distinct and remarkable, characterized by interlocking patterns and a rough, uneven texture with swirling and wavy growth rings that give it an extraordinary appearance.
Is Chinese Elm a Soft Or Hard Wood?
Chinese Elm tree is sometimes difficult to categorize as it is commonly known as a “soft hardwood tree.” This is due to the fact that while it is sturdy and long-lasting enough to be categorized as a hardwood tree, it is still not as hard as most other hardwoods.
Characteristics of Elm Wood
When I work with elm wood, I’m always struck by its color palette, which ranges from light to medium brown, highlighted by an interlocked grain pattern and an uneven, coarse texture.
This makes it highly resistant to splitting, making it a valuable and durable type of soft hardwoods.
However, as a soft hardwood, it’s less dense and softer compared to other hardwood trees. Thus, this characteristic makes it susceptible to environmental factors and insect infestations, which eventually lead to its low durability.
Despite its unique interlocking grain pattern, it is challenging to handle due to its low workability. . From my own experience, power tools are your best bet when working with elm. Hand tools often just won’t cut it—literally—due to the risk of damage or tear-out.
Nonetheless, to help you get to know more about this type of deciduous tree, below is the list of its remarkable characteristics:
Janka Rating of Elm Wood
Elmwood is considered one of those many types of soft hardwood, which sets it apart from the hardness of most hardwoods.
Nevertheless, it is harder than all types of softwood. Thus, Elm trees are more dense than any other softwood because their density is higher.
To get a better comparison between elm wood and other trees, below are various types of softwood and hardwood and their own Janka hardness rating.
|Wood Species||Hardness Value|
|Pine||380 pounds-force (lbf)|
|1690 newtons (N)|
|Redwood||420 pounds-force (lbf)|
|1868 newtons (N)|
|Hemlock||540 pounds-force (lbf)|
|2402 newtons (N)|
|Douglas Fir||660 pounds-force (lbf)|
|2900 newtons (N)|
|Shortleaf and Loblolly Yellow Pine||690 pounds-force (lbf)|
|3100 newtons (N)|
|Elm||830 pounds-force (lbf)|
|3692 newtons (N)|
|Cedar Tree||900 pounds-force (lbf)|
|4003 newtons (N)|
|Soft Maple Hardwood||950 pounds-force (lbf)|
|4226 newtons (N)|
|North American Black Walnut Hardwood||1010 pounds-force (lbf)|
|4500 newtons (N)|
|Teak Hardwood||1155 pounds-force (lbf)|
|5140 newtons (N)|
|Heart Pine||1225 pounds-force (lbf)|
|5450 newtons (N)|
|Baltic (Yellow) Birch Hardwood||1260 pounds-force (lbf)|
|5600 newtons (N)|
|American Beech Hardwood||1300 pounds-force (lbf)|
|5800 newtons (N)|
|White Ash Wood||1320 pounds-force (lbf)|
|5900 newtons (N)|
|Hard Maple Hardwood||1450 pounds-force (lbf)|
|6450 newtons (N)|
|Wenge, Hornbeam, Red Pine||1630 pounds-force (lbf)|
|7300 newtons (N)|
|Rosewood Tree||1780 pounds-force (lbf)|
|7900 newtons (N)|
|Pecan, Hickory, Satinwood||1820 pounds-force (lbf)|
|8100 newtons (N)|
|Golden Teak Tree||2330 pounds-force (lbf)|
|10400 newtons (N)|
|Brazilian Walnut Hardwood||3684 pounds-force (lbf)|
|16390 newtons (N)|
Strength of Elm Wood
Elm wood’s strength lies somewhere between softwood and hardwood. Most woodworkers tend to utilize lumber from elm trees because it is more robust than most softwoods. However, it is less sturdy than most hardwoods.
Moreover, its ability to withstand compression is moderately high, and it has a remarkably high capacity to bear bending stress thanks to its flexibility and resistance to splitting. This makes elm wood good for furniture and other woodworking projects.
Below is elm wood’s strength to get a better picture of how strong this soft hardwood is.
Pros & Cons of Elm Wood
Ideal Uses of Elm Wood
The Hardness of Elm vs Oak
Due to their popularity, lumber produced by Elm trees  and oak trees are commonly used for making flooring and furniture. However, it can be difficult to choose between the two since they both have unique advantages and disadvantages.
One of the distinguishing factors between these two types of trees is their level of hardness. Thus, below are their own Janka hardness rating to get a better comparison between elm and oak wood.
|Elm Wood||White Oak||Red Oak|
|Janka Hardness||830 pounds-force (lbf)||1360 pounds-force (lbf)||1290 pounds-force (lbf)|
The Hardness of Elm Wood vs Pine
Elm wood possesses greater hardness as it belongs to a deciduous tree compared to some varieties of Pine woods despite elm’s classification as soft hardwoods; however, its hardness is quite similar to one specific variety of Pine.
Thus, to get a better comparison between elm and pine, below is their own rating on the Janka hardness scale:
|Elm Wood||Yellow Pine||Sugar Pine||White Pine|
|Janka Hardness||830 pounds-force (lbf)||870 pounds-force (lbf)||380 pounds-force (lbf)||380 pounds-force (lbf)|
Elm vs Maple Wood: Which is Harder?
As soft hardwoods, Elms are notably softer compared to Maples. The hardness, density, and strength of Maple lumber exceed those of Elm lumber. Below are their own ratings on the Janka hardness scale to help you compare the two kinds of wood.
See Also: Maple vs Birch Plywood
|Elm Wood||Hard Maple||Soft Maple|
|Janka Hardness||830 pounds-force (lbf)||1450 pounds-force (lbf)||950 pounds-force (lbf)|
Elm Wood vs Birch: Which is a Hard Wood?
Birch is way harder than Elm wood. Furthermore, Birch’s well-known variety possesses high density, a great amount of strength, and an incomparable hardness to elm wood.
In addition, below are their own rate in the Janka hardness scale to get a better comparison between elm and birch wood.
|Elm Wood||Yellow Birch|
|Janka Hardness||830 pounds-force (lbf)||1260 pounds-force (lbf)|
Elm is a hardwood that’s durable and strong. Despite it being soft hardwood and less hard than other hardwoods, it has been used in furniture making. Moreover, it’s still popular among furniture makers due to its unique wood grain patterns and attractive appearance.
In addition, despite its questionable classification as hardwood or softwood, Elm remains a popular choice for many woodworkers, myself included.