View Full Version : Yew

Michael N.
09-25-2016, 09:12 PM
Yew. Anyone used it for a Uke? Perhaps there was a thread on it some time ago but I can't remember. I've just used it on a guitar. It's been in the UV light cabinet and the colour has come out with a lovely aged look to it.
It's properties seem perfectly suited for a soundboard too, somewhere between the spruce - koa/mahogany range. It's also much easier to get clear quartered pieces for the smaller instruments, alternately you can go with the character grade.

09-25-2016, 09:30 PM

Go to post 11 of the thread for someone (ukulian) playing an instrument with a yew soundboard.

If you read on through the thread you'll see a warning from Ken Timms that working with Yew can be dangerous-breathing the dust can be fatal.

09-25-2016, 09:38 PM
Behold! My yewkulele! Wonderful wonderful tonewood indeed.


Michael N.
09-25-2016, 11:12 PM
Errmm. . . . mines a bit more 'character grade' than that. Hard to get such clear pieces for something the size of a guitar, not impossible though.
I'm not sure the wood is all that toxic but then again I tend to use a hand plane, scraper and try to keep sanding to a minimum (I hate sanding!).
I'll try and get a picture of my character grade back/sides. It's a very attractive wood and probably much under used in terms of instruments.

Matt Clara
09-26-2016, 01:51 AM
Yew. Anyone used it for a Uke?

Pete Howlett has, though perhaps not for many years. Pete actually gifted me with a top, back and sides once when I inquired about a source. Still haven't built that thing--maybe I'll do it next.

09-26-2016, 04:16 AM
I've made three ukes from yew, but can't make any more because I'm sensitised to the dust. Not life-threatening, but too annoyingly itchy (for days or weeks!). However, I know others who have no problem with it at all. This was English yew, your Pacific stuff might be a little different.

I really like it, particularly as a soundboard. It bends reasonably easily too.

09-26-2016, 04:45 AM
I've only used it, Pacific Yew, for a neck and absolutely loved the stuff. Finishes out really nice and I wish I could find more of the stuff. I have one more neck blank I've been saving

Michael N.
09-26-2016, 05:03 AM
Mine certainly isn't pacific, although I don't know if it's English or European. I bought it last year from David Dyke for around 50 per set, which isn't too bad considering that it can be difficult to get fairly clear pieces. It was the second grade down, I suspect the top grade would have included sapwood and perhaps slightly less character. Not that it matters, it all sounds the same.
It does indeed bend nicely without the corrugations. In many ways it reminds me of Spanish Cypress, it just lacks the incredible aroma of Cypress though.
Now there's another wood that should make for a good soundboard, Cypress. It was used for some Italian harpsichord soundboards, so it does have some history in that regard. You haven't lived until you've sniffed the aroma of Cypress. I'm pretty sure that people buy guitars made of the stuff just to smell it.

09-26-2016, 05:36 AM
The wood "cypress" has a whole different meaning here in the US, at least the Eastern US where "cypress" means "Bald Cypress" - Taxodium distichum. Out in California they have 'cypress' but it is the Monterey cypress - Cupressus macrocarpa, completely different. The term "cypress" is used for all sorts of wood, so one really needs to be rather specific.

Michael N.
09-26-2016, 05:42 AM
Spanish (or mediteranean) cypress - Cupressus sempervirens. Or the cemetery wood in Spain, just as Yew is the cemetry wood in the UK.

09-26-2016, 08:00 AM
Here's a tenor guitar I made with a yew top.


The yew came from Stuart Longridge, who (then at least) had some lovely yew at remarkably reasonable prices.

09-26-2016, 05:01 PM
Yes, on "cypress" being quite different woods from western north America and Europe. I've cut a ton of cypress with a chain saw (it tends to fall over in a windstorm) and can say it has no particular odor pleasant or otherwise. Blah really. I've never smelled European cypress, but I'm intrigued. By the way, a local luthier uses local Monterey Cypress (Fort Bragg, California) to make fantastic sounding flamenco guitars.

As for Yew: The wood does contain a substance called tamoxifen which is used as a chemotherapeutic agent to treat breast cancer and is certainly toxic. But a lot of woods contain toxic, irritating substances (hello rosewood) and standard precautions with yew would probably suffice to protect the woodworker. Good wood working hygiene. Keep in mind that these allergic toxins in wood are sensitizers and the effect may only show up after multiple exposures. You can get away with it early, but later there may be problems if you are repeatedly exposed to the wood and its allergins. Take home lesson: (which I don't always follow myself), protect yourself before you develop a sensitivity to avoid problems later on.

09-26-2016, 08:01 PM
Alaska Cedar and Port Orford Cedar are both in the Cypress family and both native to the Pacific Northwest. Both terrific instrument woods. Alaska Cedar is very aromatic and I know of one luthier who can't even be in the same room with it, but that is very unusual. Most of us can work with it without problems. I have made many necks with it. Strong, light, stable and finishes to a lovely almost pearl like yellow.
I have used Pacific Yew for fretboards, it is tough stuff. I have a couple of logs of it about 9 inches by 30 if anyone wants them. Not sure I will ever use them, although after this thread, maybe I had better resaw it and try it as a soundboard.

Michael N.
09-26-2016, 09:09 PM
Alaska cedar I have used, if it's the same wood as yellow cedar that is. It's properties are very similar to Spanish cypress, which is probably why it's used as a substitute in flamenco guitars. Some say the wood smells a little like freshly peeled potato. It does, although I think it has a much sweeter smell to it as well.
I still have another set of that cedar. It's extremely fine grained, very straight. You won't find Spanish cypress with that kind of grain, at least not these days. Spanish cypress is king when it comes to aroma, although it might be knocked off it's perch by something like cedar of lebanon, another heady wood.

Michael N.
09-26-2016, 09:51 PM
Here's my yew straight back from it's serious UV light beach holiday. A very enjoyable experience it had too. Colour in reality is half way up the back, ignore the flash part. Lovely warm aged colour.

http://i56.photobucket.com/albums/g193/mignal/867ae6b3-55ad-4084-aff5-788c0ee25a50_zpsii4mdgrh.jpg (http://s56.photobucket.com/user/mignal/media/867ae6b3-55ad-4084-aff5-788c0ee25a50_zpsii4mdgrh.jpg.html)

09-30-2016, 04:14 PM

09-30-2016, 08:52 PM
More English Yew. Nice to work with and, lovely tone .. :)

Autumn uke, very nice indeed.