Top Disadvantages of Yew Wood

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Yew wood, known for its unique properties, has both advantages and disadvantages that can significantly impact your woodworking projects. So, today, let me explain the drawbacks of yew wood and how they might affect your work.

Positive Aspects of Yew Wood

Yew wood (Taxus) is a softwood used to design and produce various products, objects, and items. It originated from the Yew tree, a unique species with a specific type of beauty, red and chestnut color. 

This is a valuable wood type due to its unique appearance and distinctive features. It is also a suitable and practical element for creating and making luxurious items and wood pieces.

With how slowly yew trees grow and develop, there is only a limited source of yew wood. Due to that, more efforts are being taken to protect and preserve this valuable and unique natural species.

cutting yew wood log

Yew is a known evergreen tree with medicinal uses and health benefits. Its branch tips, bark, and needles, in particular, can be used as medicine for various health conditions.

Aside from the medicinal aspect of yew, there are plenty more advantages to yew wood that make it attractive and appealing to wood makers. Some of them are:

Yew wood is undoubtedly a wood type that is perfect for almost every wood project! With its many benefits, it’s easy to assume you can utilize it on almost every wood piece. That is, unfortunately, not the case. Like any other wood type, yew wood also has its flaws.

Drawbacks of Yew Wood

Yew wood is a relatively versatile wood type with many uses and applications. You can thank its wide array of advantages for making that possible.

yew wood log

Despite having a long list of benefits under its name, yew wood still has several drawbacks and flaws that you need to know before using it:

#1: Yew Wood Can Cause Irritation.

Yew is a well-known poisonous tree, so don’t be too surprised if it’s highly irritant to the skin. Eating even a tiny quantity and amount of its leaves can be fatal and deadly to humans and livestock! [1]

While various parts of the tree are poisonous, certain parts are more lethal than the rest. Namely, the berries, bark, and seeds must be avoided at all costs.

This dangerous trait of yew created vast confusion among woodworkers, making them wonder if yew wood is truly safe to work with. Fortunately, while dangerous, you can still safely work with yew wood if you know how to handle it properly.

The sawdust of this wood type is highly toxic to many people. If you plan to work with it, I highly suggest exercising safety warnings and extra precautions for your health. Exposure to sawdust for long bouts of time can cause asthma, breathing issues, fits, and sneezing dermatitis.

drilling yew wood

Aside from breathing difficulties, the sawdust can cause skin and eye irritation and allergies. Other common side effects of working with yew wood are nausea, headache, and cardiac problems. 

While the sawdust of other wood types can also cause breathing problems, you must be extra careful with yew wood since it contains toxic compounds and elements that can do more severe damage than regular wood types. 

Here are a few reminders that can help you keep safe while working with yew wood:

  1. Wearing a mask, goggles, apron, and gloves can be an excellent shield to protect yourself from sawdust. 
  2. Be sure to open all the windows or work in an area with good air circulation.
  3. Utilize a dust collection pipe system to properly and quickly remove the yew wood sawdust while working.

#2: Yew Wood Can Be Difficult to Finish.

Yew wood contains a significant amount of natural oils, which contributes to its hardness but also presents a challenge when applying an oil finish.

Most wood finishers in the market will undoubtedly find it difficult to penetrate and pierce through the insides of the yew wood. Spreading it evenly is just as challenging.

finish yew wood

So, there is almost a guarantee that you will make wood stain mistakes while finishing, leaving behind some tacky and blotchy surfaces on top. 

The high oil content of yew wood will make it challenging to finish and stain. That makes it harder to make a protective layer and coating over the yew wood surface overall. 

It is why yew wood pieces and furniture are among the easiest to get damaged under the pressure of environmental elements like UV rays, moisture, and insect infestations. 

Opt for staining to change the yew wood into another color without completely losing its grain texture. Just keep in mind that the staining process will undoubtedly be a hard one. Also, don’t expect you to achieve your preferred color since yew wood is tricky to work with.

You would be better off using paint, lacquer, shellac, wax, and varnish. These products would work better on yew wood than most oil finishes like Danish oil and Tung oil.

yew wood piece

#3: Yew Wood Is a Costly Material.

Yew wood is known to be both expensive and rare. It has a price tag generally higher than other wood types with similar benefits and properties in the market.

Aside from being slow to grow, yew wood also has a high waste aspect because its trunk has plenty of knots and bad spots. Most yew trees also tend to be hollow inside.

#4: Yew Wood Often Contains Knots.

Yew wood is a softwood that is considered knotty. It contains plenty of visible knots, making it a wrong choice for woodwork. Knots are hard to screw, nail, and cut. These knotty areas also often act differently than other wood parts, making them harder to work with.

Yew wood knots occur due to the deviations in the grain to accommodate the wood within the branches of the tree. Even after the branches are cut off, the knots will remain.

yew wood blocks

Though, some people would prefer the knottiness of yew wood. A knotty yew wood can make for a good and durable bow and flooring. They can also be used on certain decorative pieces and items. 

Use a yew wood with fewer knots if you prefer to focus on strength, workability, and durability. They have excellent properties due to their uniform texture and quality!

#5: Yew Wood Is Not Suitable for Use in Food-Related Items.

Since yew wood contains toxic compounds, it is not food safe. It is not recommended to be used on furniture or items that directly interact with food, like kitchen utensils, cutting boards, bowls, tables, and countertops.

Every part and area of a yew wood is toxic to humans and animals. If you plan to do woodwork projects touching food, you better opt for food-safe wood types like Birch, Maple, Walnut, and Beech. 

Also, yew wood is not advisable for children’s toys due to the toxins that could leech out of it.

preparing yew wood

#6: Yew Wood Tends to Darken as It Ages.

Among the disadvantages, darkening with age is one of the most notable. Various factors can cause yew wood to darken with age. The most common reason includes environmental elements, sunlight, and natural aging properties. 

The warm natural orange hue of the wood can eventually transform into a darker shade of orange over time. It is undoubtedly bad if your primary consideration in choosing the wood type is color, not its mechanical properties. 

The yew wood can darken at a much faster rate if the wood is exposed to direct sunlight. Aside from the initial darkening, other possible side effects include cracks and scratches. 

It is why yew wood is only sometimes an ideal choice for outdoor furniture since it tends to darken quickly. If you choose it, you better apply a proper finisher or sealer for extra protection. 

If you want to protect your outside yew wood furniture better, place it in an area hidden from direct sunlight. That reduces the chances of it darkening faster than it usually would.

yew wood finish

If that is impossible, simply find a thick enough cloth or cover to throw over the furniture. That method can also help protect it from other harsh environmental elements like moisture and rain.

Does Yew Wood Have Poisonous Properties?

Yes, yew wood is toxic since it has taxine, a toxic alkaloid that makes the wood poisonous. It is why breathing in yew wood sawdust and using the wood on food-related items is dangerous and potentially lethal. 

Be sure to be dressed appropriately when working with yew wood. Wear protective gear and clothes like goggles, a mask, and gloves when handling yew wood. 

The wood can cause skin and eye irritation, so be careful. Also, it can cause severe damage to the respiratory system if you were to inhale the sawdust.

What Are the Uses of Yew Wood?

Yew wood has multiple applications — from woodworking and wood carving to construction! You can certainly take advantage of many uses for yew wood.

yew wood used

Given its spectacular durability, strength, tenacity, and rot resistance, yew wood is undoubtedly a wood type that can last against extreme temperature changes and levels. That is if it’s properly maintained and sealed. 

Done right, yew wood can be used on both indoor and outdoor wood projects. It is also a rather famous choice for bow-making since it has good compression and tensile strength. Aside from that, here are a few other common uses of yew wood:

Is it Possible to Paint Yew Wood?

While yew wood does not take to oil finishers well, it does accept paint. You can apply a primer over the yew wood before painting it to attain an even application. 

With paint, you have the unique opportunity to choose any color you want! If you plan to keep the yew wood project for a long time, dark colors are advisable since the wood darkens over time.

selecting yew wood

What Are the Ways to Identify Yew Wood?

Yew wood is relatively easy to identify, especially with its distinctive features and qualities that allow it to stand out from other wood types.

For starters, you can identify yew trees with their needle-like leaves that tend to grow and sprout in two rows. It also has red berry-like arils. Also, the sapwood of yew has a thin band of light and pale yellow. 

As for the wood, it has a straight grain and a fine texture. It has a light and dark brown streak.

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How toxic is Yew sawdust?

Yew wood sawdust poses a significant health risk due to its toxic compounds. Inhaling this dust can lead to severe respiratory problems, including breathing issues, asthma, headaches, dizziness, and even cardiac effects. 

Prolonged exposure to yew sawdust without proper protection can also result in skin and eye allergies. Therefore, it is crucial to exercise extreme caution and use appropriate safety measures when working with yew wood to minimize these health hazards.


Yew wood is indeed a valuable and versatile wood type with numerous advantages. However, it’s essential to be well-informed about its potential disadvantages, particularly its hazardous properties, which can have severe health consequences if not handled properly. 

So, make sure to take notes of these drawbacks to ensure safe and responsible woodworking practices when working with yew wood.

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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