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BOX ELDER

Acer negundo


Acer negundo of the family Aceraceae. Note: this wood is a maple species and is related to the elder tree (Sambucus spp. of the family Caprifoliaceae) only in that they are both wood. It is called "box elder" because of the similarity of the white sapwood to boxwood (thus the "box") and the simlarity of the tree's leaves to those of the elder tree (thus the "elder"). A really excellent example (as though one were needed) of the way that common names are often derived in ways that make them totally misleading. When I first started this web site, I thought that box elder WAS a variety of elder.

"Flame" (or "flamed", or sometimes "candy", or sometimes "red") box elder refers to the wood after it has been affected by a process that has been the subject of both some scholarly investigation and some debate. The end result of the process, whatever the true cause, is that the wood turns red, sometimes VERY red, in areas that can be quite extensive throughout the tree, as is illustrated by many of the images on this page.

The process is described variously as one or the other or both of two separate possible causes. The first cause is a fungus, brought into the tree by a bug attack. The second cause is any form of stress, such as a bug attack, wire wrapped around a tree, something (a fence post or another tree) pushing up against the tree, or long-term bending stress caused by wind or heavy snow. I've also seen a discussion on a wood forum stating that sometimes poor soil conditions and long-term pooling of water around the base of a tree can cause stress in the bottom of the tree that results in wide-spread red in the base of the tree.

There is a long scholarly paper that contends, and appears to back up with experimental evidence, that stress definitely causes the red coloration to appear without any trace of the fungus. On the other hand, while the paper contends that stress is the ONLY cause of the red, and that the fungus is irrelevant, the experimental evidence cited in the paper is totally unconvincing because the paper's authors failed entirely to produce the kind of extensive deep red stain that can sometimes be found in nature. Also, my own experience is that the bug tracks are always accompanied by red (but I HAVE seen red where there are no bug tracks).

I had an extended conversation on a wood forum with a man, Kevin Jaynes, who runs a one-man sawmill operation and who has cut more box elder than most anyone else is likely to see in a lifetime and he initially contended that it was impossible for stress to be the cause, but he later relented somewhat from that position but he states categorically that he has seen plenty of stress in box elder that is NOT accompanied by any red. If you look at the first three pics in the "web pics" section below, you'll see examples of why I tend towards the fungus, not the stress explanation (in addition to the fact that the aforementioned sawmill operator has seen stress without flame). Kevin's explanation / discussion is more compelling to me than that in the so-called scholarly paper.

Whatever the cause, flame box elder is a favorite of wood turners, and can often be found on craft-supply sites and eBay. Regular box elder is a much less interesting wood and has no characteristics that would favor it for use in furniture or much of anything and it is fairly rarely seen for sale so in a sense, almost all of the pics on this page are NOT representative of true box elder, but they ARE representative of what you will find in the marketplace because there is very little trade in "normal" box elder.

I want to emphasize that thanks to Kevin, I have pics of better box elder than you are likely to normally find anywhere else and you may be disappointed if you look for stuff this good. You can contact him on the forum "WoodBarter" as Kevin.



my samples:


two views of a batch of rough cut box elder that I got from Kevin Jaynes (more about his box elder below). This is fabuolus stuff and I'll get more pics after I surface some of it.


this set shows the large plank that is in the lower left of the pic above showing the batch I got from Kevin; I have sanded it down to 120 grit for the pics. This plank is the best piece of box elder I have personally ever seen and I've shown both sides both dry and moistened with water to show what it would look like with a finishing agent on it.


a couple of shots of the platter I made from this plank --- I intended for the natural edge to be larger but most of it got turned off


I have cut the large plank directly above into a circle (I'm going to turn a platter from it) and these are the cutoffs that I'll use in other bowls or in my sample box. The pic is just slightly washed out and should have more red in it.


both sides of a couple of small, sanded planks that were taken from one of the long turning blocks in the lot above from Kevin. The block had a huge crack running diagonally through the middle, so I had to cut it up. There are some more pieces from it down below. Like the cutoffs directly above, these pics, and the several more directly below are all a bit washed out and should have a little more red in them.


end grain from the pieces directly above


end grain closeups of the pieces directly above


the rest of the sticks cut from the same long turning block as the two above that have end grain closeupshots.


both sides of a plank


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


both sides of a plank


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


turning stock with a relatively pale flame


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above



both sides and both ends of a box elder sample piece --- the pink spot in the corner shows up better in the enlargement and is a trivial example of the "flame" characteristic.


end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of box elder / Acer negundo --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that this piece is "normal" box elder with no flame at all


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of box elder / Acer negundo --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that this piece is "normal" box elder with no flame at all


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


flame box elder planks --- color is correct; the smaller pieces shown directly below are from the upper left plank in this pic, and their color is somewhat more faded than the wood actually is; that is, the color in this pic is more correct than the color in those directly below


a couple of small planks cut from the set above. The color shown is more orange than it should be; actual color is the red shown in the pic directly above. This was the result of my attempting to make the sapwood have a correct off-white color instead of a much more yellowish color that came out of the camera. I almost got the sapwood right (it's actually STILL to yellowish in these pics) but I lost sight of the fact that I had turned the heartwood from the true red of the wood to an orange that is not correct.


end grain of the pieces directly above --- these look much more vibrant in reality than how they appear in this pic (the shift in color to the false orange REALLY makes a difference)


end grain closeups of the pieces directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from the 2nd pic directly above


both sides of a plank of curly box elder (without any flame, obviously)


end grain of the piece directly above


end grain and side grain closeups of the piece directly above



The Wood Book pics


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
box elder (Acer negundo, also listed as ash leaved maple and just "negundo") from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. Obviously, this is just plain old box elder with no flame.


web pics:


a plaque, a book-matched plaque, and a tree cross section, all of flame box elder and all showing how extensive the red can be and why it is that I find the fungus explanation is more compelling than the stress explanation (see discussion at top of page) --- I just find it hard to believe that stress would have such a widespread and relatively uniformly distributed effect.

These plaque pics and numerous others on this page (in paricular the ones directly below but likely others as well) are the property of Kevin Jaynes who runs one of the best woodworking forums on the Internet, Wood Barter Forum and who has graciously allowed me to use numerous of his pics, for which I thank him. Kevin has what is possibly the best set of box elder wood in the world and which is certainly the best I have ever seen.


a couple of freshly milled slabs


freshly milled cant with one face in direct sunlight --- the two surfaces show how lighting changes the color of this wood (as it does for most woods)


freshly cut log ends


ambrosia box elder


some bookmatched slabs


a particularly spectacular slab pair that Kevin christened "fire angel"


one of Kevin's scrap piles


turning stock (waxed)


bowl blanks (waxed)


a big burl piece --- note that the left side is dry and the rest was moistened for the pic; both enlargements are present


box elder "candywood" (just another name for flame box elder), moistened


a plank that Kevin said had a particularly rare combination of colors and also is heavier than most box elder.


listed as "red heart" box elder which is just another name for flame box elder


plaque

all of the above pics are courtesy of Kevin Jaynes, and just to give you an idea of how it is that he has SO many pics of box elder, here is just ONE of the loads of that wood that he has harvested ... the wood is NOT normally this easly to come but but Kevin tells me he has found his own practically magical place where the stuff grows rampant ... he just has to risk life and limb to cut it and haul it out on his own.


Kevin's trailer



Note: some of the pics from here down are ALSO from Kevin, I just didn't do as good a job on these of keeping his separated out from the rest.





logs showing flame end grain, and a closeup and then a full stump


box elder flat cut, quartersawn, end grain


flat cut, quartersawn, and end grain, all of different pieces of flame box elder


two sides of a freshly milled cant


unseasoned slabs ... unseasoned flame box elder still has moist wood and the color can be wicked beautiful


slabs


fresh cut slabs, showing moisture on the surface


slabs and a closeup --- a lot of blue stain in these; not terribly unusual for box elder


crotch slab


log slabs, probably moistened for the pic


box elder planks with varying degress of flame


intersting plank that has far more brown background than is usual along with the red flame


small pieces with nice color


thins


turning stock with varying degrees of flame --- I think the purple tint in the first 2 pics is likely more due to the camera than the wood, but I could be wrong about that.


fresh cut turning stock moistened for the pic


plaques / cookies specifically listed as clock blanks


box elder burl


box elder slabs with no flame and what appears to be blue stain.


plank with a color that is outside my experience with box elder ... I'm dubious about the ID on this one


box elder crotch --- there is only a tiny amount of red, which you can see in the upper left in the enlargements


box elder bowl blanks


flame bowl blanks (most are waxed)


box elder piece with burl section and figured section


a couple of fresh-cut crotches showing a lot of blue stain


crotch


crotch slabs with some parts moistened --- you have to go to the 2nd enlargement to really appreciate the grain.


box elder tree w/ lots of burls; pic contributed by Matthew Bills, whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site (see his burl box elder platter at the bottom of the page)


burls


burl with a lot of flame and moistened for the pic --- this is a pretty amazing piece even if the color has been somewhat exaggerated (I'm not sayin that I know it has been, I'm just doubtful about it)


a pair of curly scales and some pen blanks all with little to no flame but some blue stain


pen blanks


pen blanks specifically listed as "flamed"


24" long peppermill blanks


scales


box elder "flamed" spalted burl


listed as "flame burl" but I don't see much flame


flame box elder burl bowl --- this one does have a little red in it and otherwise looks just like a normal maple burl


spalted planks


spalted slabs all from the same tree --- the blackline spalting is more clear in the enlargements


spalted bowl blank


clock back


earrings made by Dean Robertson from flamed box elder that I sent him on a trade


bowls with varying amounts of flame


three views of a bowl, nicely turned by David Keller (whom I thank for the pics) out of a particularly nice piece of flame box elder


three views of a bowl, showing nicely how the flame can sometimes be diffuse instead of streaky


a set of nested bowls (all made from the same bowl blank, roughted out with a coring system)


bowls by Bryan Nelson (NelsonWood).


flame bowl by Leo Frilot


vases


vase being turned and pretty much finished


pens


gun grips (NOT raw wood --- there's a hard shiny finish of some sort)


box elder box with walnut splines and bottom


spalted bowl and "spalted" box --- the "spalting" on the box is clearly not spalting at all, it is either blue stain or mineral stain, I'm not sure which.


natural edge bowl


turned box


hollow forms


three views of a vase


vase blank and rough turned


two views of a hollow form that had to have been a real bear to turn


two views of a turned box


box elder burl vase --- no flame, but very nice burl


burl box elder platter by Matthew Bills; it has very little flame but some nice curl/quilt/whatever and extreme enlargements are present


bowl made from an unusual (in my experience) piece of wood that is box elder attacked by the ambrosia beetle, so that it contains both the fungus-induced red of box elder and the tan-colored streaks caused by the boring of the beetle. The separate colors can be seem more clearly in the enlargements. There are far more insect-holes than is normal for attacks by the ambrosia beetle, so I assume that this tree suffered multiple attacks by boring insects and it is interesting to note that nowhere near all of the bug holes have any red near them, which further discredits the conclusions of the scholarly paper discussed at the top of this page.


box elder bowl with some heavy mineral stain in addition to some nice flame. My wife really loved this one, so I gave it to her and refinished and repainted an old beatup stand we had in the attic and got some bright-colored fake flowers to put in it for display. She was very impressed. This was made from the bowl blank in the upper left of the pic at the very top of this page of the batch of box elder sent to me by Kevin Jaynes.




box elder from the BogusColorVendor, so the orange sapwood colors are suspect


burls


both sides of a burl strip and a closeup


box elder planks with varying degrees of flame and a sapwood color that is highly unlikely unless the wood has been treated with something like polyurethane that yellows the sapwood in maple.