For centuries, the yew tree has symbolized life and death. Early Egyptians honored it as the tree of life, while the Greeks associated it with Hecate, queen of the underworld. In England, yews guard cemeteries as symbols of everlasting life, and researchers are finding that the bark of yew contains a substance that may prove effective in the fight against cancer.
For woodworkers, yew is one of the most desirable softwoods. Its orange-brown coloring with reddish- brown bands makes a striking appearance. It is one of the hardest and densest softwoods, exceeding many hardwoods. The close grain stains fairly well and polishes to a highly lustrous sheen. Yews are cone-bearing evergreens, with deeply fluted trunks that contain many knots, reducing the amount of usable timber.
Working with yew can be a little tricky, for irregularly grained pieces are difficult to plane and frequently tear. Because yew is so hard, preboring nail and screw holes is a must. In addition, yew's slightly oily character can cause occasional gluing difficulties.
Yew steam-bends well, making it a favorite choice for the hoop backs of Windsor chairs. Figured yew, with wavy grain that is dotted by little black knots, is highly prized by carvers and turners. It makes good outdoor furniture, exterior trim, and fences. Historically, yew was preferred for archery bows, because it is so elastic.
Wood grain images provided by HobbitHouseInc.com