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)
Elastic Modulus: 1,320,000 lbf/in2 (9.10 GPa)
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. 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.
Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the wood sample and turned photo of this wood species.