English Yew (Taxus baccata)

European Yew (Taxus baccata)

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Common Name(s): European Yew, Common Yew

Scientific Name: Taxus baccata

Distribution: Europe, Southwest Asia

Tree Size: 30-65 ft (10-20 m) tall, 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 42 lbs/ft3 (675 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .55, .67

Janka Hardness: 1,520 lbf (6,760 N)

Modulus of Rupture: No data available

mostly likely very similar to Pacific Yew—15,200 lbf/in2 (104.8 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,320,000 lbf/in2 (9.10 GPa)

Crushing Strength: No data available

mostly likely very similar to Pacific Yew—8,100 lbf/in2 (55.9 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 3.0%, Tangential: 5.2%, Volumetric: 8.2%, T/R Ratio: 1.7

Color/Appearance: Sapwood is usually a thin band of pale yellow or tan color, while the heartwood is an orangish brown, sometimes with a darker brown or purplish hue. Color tends to darken with age.

Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a fine uniform texture. Good natural luster.

Endgrain: Resin canals absent; earlywood to latewood transition gradual, color contrast medium; tracheid diameter very small.

Rot Resistance: European Yew ranges from durable to very durable in regard to decay resistance, and is also resistant  to most insect attack.

Workability: Overall, an easy wood to work, though knots and other grain irregularities can pose a challenge. Yew glues, finishes, and turns well.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Yew has been reported as a irritant. Usually most common reactions simply include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, as well as nausea, headache, and cardiac effects.  Additionally, nearly all parts of the Yew tree are considered toxic and poisonous to humans, and care should be exercised when working with this wood species. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Yew is relatively uncommon, and larger tree trunks are usually hollow. Selection and sizes are somewhat limited, especially since most trunks are also full of knots, resulting in a high waste factor for many projects. Though sections of wood can sometimes be obtained for moderate prices, the overall cost of usable wood tends to be high.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.

Common Uses: Bows (archery), veneer, cabinetry, furniture, carvings, musical instruments (lutes), and turned objects.

Comments: Perhaps among the hardest of all softwood species, Yew is certainly a unique wood species. Its density and working characteristics are more inline with a heavy hardwood than a softwood, yet its tight, fine grain and smooth texture give it a lustrous finish.

Yet perhaps Yew’s greatest claim to fame is that of its mechanical properties: despite its strength and density, Yew has an incredibly low and disproportionate modulus of elasticity at only 1,320,000 lbf/in2 (9,100 MPa). What this means is that the wood is extremely flexible, yet strong, making it ideally suited for use in archery bows. In fact, Yew was the wood of choice for English longbows in medieval warfare.

Related Species:

Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the wood sample and turned photo of this wood species.

English Yew (sanded)

European Yew (sanded)

English Yew (sealed)

European Yew (sealed)

English Yew (endgrain)

European Yew (endgrain)

English Yew (turned)

European Yew (turned)

  • Ivan Hawkes

    The Yew I work with is from Vancouver Island, Canada. It is very workable and easy to control. The tight grain gives nice color variations and patterns. A mountain side was clear cut, with all commercial wood being removed, but the Yew was left to rot, a shame. I love working with it, making canes and staffs, but I am concerned with the toxicity rating. Can anyone tell me if holding a cane made of Yew would be dangerous to the user?

    • kim

      I can tell you from using a yew walking stick for over thirty years that I have had no health problems caused by the stick. ( unlike the 6 skin heads that had a go at me in a subway they found it to be very bad for tooth decay) this has been my companion since my spinal injury in the armed forces and I would recommend a yew walking stick to anyone in need it is strong light and flexible.

  • Madison Link

    The comments neglect an important mechanical property that made yew the wood of choice for longbows: The heartwood is highly resistant to compression, and the sapwood is highly resistant to tension. This meant that a bow carved along the heartwood / sapwood boundary had all the advantages of a composite wood bow (higher draw to weight ratio and livelier release) and none of the disadvantages (such as a tendency to loose strength and fall apart on hot, humid days).

  • Mario Cargol

    I don’t take measures when working with it. Never used gloves or respirator but if green i always wash my hands after working with it. I only found that by the time i was working it i went to the WC A LOT of times!! O_o’ since then i use allways respirator when sanding or everytime there’s yew dust in the air. I’m still alive, fine, and happy with my yew bow and the kayak beams i did with it.

    Here in spain the yew is a very protected tree. Even if it is in your garden you have to ask the autorities even before cutting a branch. There aren’t almost any forests in wich you can find wild yews.

    • ejmeier

      Good info, thanks. What is meant by “I went to the WC a lot”? This “WC” abbreviation is not one that I am familiar with…

      • Mario Cargol

        Hehe i’m talking about the Water Closet or commune. I started using the respirator when sanding because i readed that one of the effects of being poisoned is heavy stomach ache and diarrhea. Mine was not painful at all but i felt it was not normal to go to the W.C. that oftenly…
        Be careful !! This wood is deathly poisonous ;)

    • Alessia Mandanici

      Taxus is a rare tree, it also grows solitary, so they’re difficult to find. In Italy we have some very old trees whose position is not marked in the national park’s maps, and you have to request a guide to see them. They’re large and impressive, with that big, hollow trunks, like those seen in horror movies, but I don’t know if they’re a protected specimen at all, even the young trees.

  • Garry Jones

    Here in the South of England this is a fairly common tree and the timber is available but is rarely kiln dried