Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, is a fairly rare North Amer- ican softwood tree, found in southern Alaska, British
Columbia, Oregon, Washington, central California, and the western slopes
of the Rockies in Idaho and Montana.
Other names include yew, western
yew and mountain mahogany. It often
grows as only an individual tree or two
amongst other softwood trees. Many
yew trees are 20 to 40 feet high typically and 12 to 15 inches in diameter
at the base. However, heights to 75 feet
and diameters to 30 inches are found.
Overall, growth is very slow, meaning
that the grain is tight or close; that is,
the annual rings are closely spaced.
The tree is probably best known for
the anti-cancer chemical, produced by
the bark and needles, called Taxol. Yew
has been used for archery bows, bend-
ing stock, canoe paddles and musical
instruments, especially lutes. It also has
been used for cabinets and furniture,
The wood is too valuable to cut in
advance of an order in most cases. The
wood is dense, hard and strong. It is
naturally resistant to insect and fungi
Rare and valuable, makes toxic sawdust.
; Want more? For more on this and other species, search the Wood Explorer collection at
by Gene Wengert
firstname.lastname@example.org WOOD EXPLORER
Density. The wood’s density is two-
thirds the density of water; a cubic foot
of yew weighs about 42 pounds. A dry
¾-inch x 6-inch x 6-foot piece of lumber
will weigh about 8 pounds. This is close
to oak and maple, and is much heavier
than most other softwoods.
Drying. The wood must be dried quite
slowly to avoid severe checking. Most
softwood drying operations with equipment for drying pine or spruce may not
be able to dry the wood slowly enough.
Gluing and Machining. Yew is
noted for excellent gluing. Yew machines
very well. Of most concern is that the dust
is highly toxic to some people causing
breathing difficulties, sneezing fits and
dermatitis (especially swelling of hands).
Stability. Overall, yew is fairly stable,
requiring a 5-1/2 percent MC change to
cause a 1 percent size change tangentially and 7-1/2 percent MC change to
cause a 1 percent size change radially.
Strength. Yew is strong. The bending
strength (MOR) of yew is 15,200 psi, the
stiffness is 1. 35 million psi, and the hardness is 1600 pounds.
Color and Grain. The grain is fine,
tight and close. Color is orange/brown.