Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

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Common Name(s): Pacific Yew, Oregon Yew

Scientific Name: Taxus brevifolia

Distribution: Pacific Northwest North America

Tree Size: 30-50 ft (10-15 m) tall, 1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 44 lbs/ft3 (705 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .60, .71

Janka Hardness: 1,600 lbf (7,120 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 15,200 lbf/in2 (104.8 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,350,000 lbf/in2 (9.31 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 8,100 lbf/in2 (55.9 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 4.0%, Tangential: 5.4%, Volumetric: 9.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.4

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: Pacific Yew is 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, but is reported by the IUCN as being near threatened. Technically it doesn’t meet the Red List criteria of a vulnerable or endangered species, but is close to qualifying and/or may qualify in the near future.

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:

Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

Pacific Yew (sanded)

Pacific Yew (sealed)

Pacific Yew (sealed)

Pacific Yew (endgrain)

Pacific Yew (endgrain)

Pacific Yew (endgrain 10x)

Pacific Yew (endgrain 10x)

  • Dennis Curl

    Hello, I acquired quite a bit of yew during the time it was being cut to extract a compound from the bark used in the manufacture of taxol. There were many large specimens available in British Columbia, but as noted on your site- they didn’t yield much in the way of dimensional lumber due to it’s “butressed” trunk shape and also due to the fact that it often grows in a spiral fashion and can change direction. That spiral tendency can create beautiful figure but challenging to plane.
    It is an incredibly beautiful wood with an oil finish, and oxidizes to a deep reddish brown.
    Thank you for an excellent website.

  • mnbvczxc

    This wood has also been used to make tools such as wooden knives because the wood can be sanded out to a vary sharp edge good enough for a variety of uses. It was also used for making snowshoes by the north american natives.

  • Dennis Curl

    Hello, I acquired quite a bit of yew during the time it was being cut to
    extract a compound from the bark used in the manufacture of taxol.
    There were many large specimens available in British Columbia, but as
    noted on your site- they didn’t yield much in the way of dimensional
    lumber due to it’s “butressed” trunk shape and also due to the fact that
    it often grows in a spiral fashion and can change direction. That
    spiral tendency can create beautiful figure but challenging to plane.
    It is an incredibly beautiful wood with an oil finish, and oxidizes to a deep reddish brown.
    Thank you for an excellent website.

  • Craig Collins

    Thanks for all the info! This site is fantastic and I refer to it often. Thank you!
    Craig http://www.thewandmakerssecret.etsy.com

  • hooly

    steam bends exceptionally well. for example a 1/4 square strip of the heartwood can be steamed and bent into a man’s bracelet without difficulty (took a few tries to get it right). i’ve also worked larger sections with more modest bends. i have no information on steam-bending the sapwood.