Coarse Grained Yew Myths


Del the Cat

Well-known member
I've heard people who should know better say that English Yew isn't suitable for bows, it's too "full of moisture" or "too brittle" or that lowland yew or fast grown Yew is no good.
Last year I cut some Yew from Enfield in the low lying fertile Lea valley in north London. Les, the guy who let us cut it remembered as kid the tree wasn't even there!
It is 3 - 4 rings per inch in places!
coarse grained Yew.jpg
Anyhow, it has produced a fine bow 100# at 31"... now of course it doesn't mean that all fast grown lowland Yew is good, but it certainly shows it isn't "unsuitable"
I'd go as far as to say that even poor Yew is better than most other woods (native to the UK) and the only generalization you can make is that you can't make generalizations.
So don't let self professed "experts" put you off having a go, experiments sometimes yield unexpected results.
This Youtube video shows it's first ever shots.

PS. Why did we import Yew bow staves from abroad in the middle ages?
Lots of potential reasons, maybe we'd used ours or we were more concerned wit Oak for ship building...
But if you can levy a tax on an Italian (or Spanish) wine producer (or importer of goods etc) that says he has to include Yew staves for free why wouldn't you?
Also consider how carefully that wine producer will select the Yew... he'll just send his youngest son to collect the first stuff he can get his hands on... and why was it high altitude Yew? Maybe because Italy is mountainous and the low lying land is all used for farming. Is the son going to trudge up mountains if he can avoid it?
I'm not saying I know... just challenging the received wisdom and the conclusions that some people have jumped to.


New member
I agree absolutely. I've made a good few bows from US yew, but the best yew bow I ever had was from yew cut on a country estate near Plymouth. English yew often feels heavier/denser than Oregon yew, and I do find that a good piece can be tougher.
The problem is finding English yew, I have found, that is at least reasonably untwisted and 'unknotty'.
I don't know if it is true but I did read somewhere once that some suppliers in Mediaeval Italy (and Spain?) grew the stuff specifically for staves, planting it closely together so it would grow upwards rather than sideways. Maybe.
I've also heard it suggested that some mountain grown yew grows straighter and clearer because the lower 6ft or so being under snow for part of the year deters side-branch formation.
Maybe both myths, but it does seem that bow-quality yew is a bit easier to find in US, mountains etc. But if you can find English yew suitable I reckon it can be just as good.