Working with Yew - Toxicity (Cutting/Turning)

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mark james

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A recent 'chore' I was assigned 🤣 was to cut down several dead and essentially dead bushes alongside of our driveway. My best guess is that they are 'Yew'. The exact species I am not certain of. Just a few red berries with a dark 'pip.' Needles are flat and horizontal, not circling the twigs. I live in Northern Ohio. They were most likely planted by the previous homeowner possibly in the 1970-1980 range.

I cut the largest one first and was delighted by the colors/grain. The stump will be interesting, and several of the limbs will get some pen blanks. During my search for information, I read repeatedly about the toxicity of the needles, berry pips and the bark; as well as extra caution for the dust. I usually do not eat my raw turning materials, so I'm OK in that regard... But, has anyone had adverse reactions? I have seen many turned objects with Yew, so I assume with my typical precautions (Cyclone dust collector, overhead air filter, respirator, tight long sleeve turning smock) I can proceed after things dry.

Just looking for any negative experiences. The pictures show what I have, the ends have been coated with Anchorseal.
 

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carlmorrell

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Mark, I have had nightmarish allergic reactions to many woods. But I do not remember issues with yew. It was easy to work with and made beautiful pens. YMMV!
 

mark james

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Mark, I have had nightmarish allergic reactions to many woods. But I do not remember issues with yew. It was easy to work with and made beautiful pens. YMMV!
Thanks Carl. I also have issues with several species, and am Asthmatic and have lung issues (last 2 years). I am careful, but will not hesitate to gift wood to others.
 

Dalecamino

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Well now that's some pretty wood there. I have turned Yew a couple of times, with no noticeable issues. However, some was from England, and some from The Netherlands. None from USA. I would turn this wood in a heart beat! 😁

Thanks for the piccies!
 

howsitwork

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Mark

I think you would be fine with those precautions. Yew contains many seriously poisonous compounds , taxanes which are used ( derivatives of the original compounds ) to treat cancers. It is possible to get a severe allergic reaction to it if you are sensitive. Once dried it is far safer so if thats fresh wood treat it with GREAT Care

I would NOT use them for anything which might tempt someone to drink out of it ,although once sealed in contact with fruit etc it should be safe, emphasis on SHOULD as if fruit oozes juice, finish gets damaged etc then theoretically there maybe a risk. I made a large bowl for my mother to display fruit in but it was well sealed .

For pens it should be fine BUT for bowls be warned it can , and does fracture without warning often. I wear a face helmet and my first one saved me from a serious head injury when a “ final cut “ was one step to far and the bowl split . Half bounced off my protective face shield, off the wall behind the lathe, cleared the car and left a deep indent in the heavy fire door. The other half, razor edged span rapidly as I hit the off button in shock. I still have the bowl, epoxied back together to remind me !

It does produce some stunning visual effects and is believe it or not, technically a softwood !
 

Fred Bruche

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No adverse reactions to report from me. I have used yew for turned things and pens and I would second Ian's comments. And yes it definitely is a softwood, a different experience than turning hardwoods.
For pen blanks I prefer a (slightly) cross-cut piece, it makes a more visually appealing pen.
 

jrista

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If you do not know if you will have a reaction to Yew, my recommendation is don't take any risks. I've heard some people, and most likely myself (although I've not been exposed to Yew yet) as I have had some severe reactions to other woods so I'm particularly careful when it comes to PPE, do indeed have severe reactions to it and it CAN be potentially deadly. It is toxic, as it produces Taxine alkaloids, which have caused death in humans.

Even if some people have not had reactions, it just isn't wise to disregard the fact that this tree IS toxic, and CAN be deadly. I would protect yourself. At the very lest make sure you wear sound breathing protection. Our skin can absorb toxins as well...on numerous occasions when I've watched people turn Yew, they have completely protected themselves...lightweight long sleeve jacket or shirt, gloves, to make sure they don't get too much dust on their skin.

I just feel it would be a terrible situation to be told "Its fine, you won't have any problems" on an internet forum, and have someone have a severe reaction to the wood in any way, or even more horrifying, die as a result of poisoning. 😨
 

MRDucks2

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Hmmm, good looking wood. I believe you will have a major reaction to it, triggering a significant asthma attack and breaking you out in hives that last at least 2 weeks to a month. For your safety, I would recommend you box it up and send it me. 😁
 

mark james

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Hmmm, good looking wood. I believe you will have a major reaction to it, triggering a significant asthma attack and breaking you out in hives that last at least 2 weeks to a month. For your safety, I would recommend you box it up and send it me. 😁
Unfortunately, you may be entirely correct! :mad: And I may just turn a single pen and gift the rest. I have lots of wonderful blanks/stock. But, I don't want this to simply rot in my woods if others would want it.
 

MRDucks2

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Unfortunately, you may be entirely correct! :mad: And I may just turn a single pen and gift the rest. I have lots of wonderful blanks/stock. But, I don't want this to simply rot in my woods if others would want it.
I believe you will be fine turning it. You shouldn’t have any problems if you chose to gift it. I have been a recipient of your generosity but couldn’t resist the opportunity to poke you just a little. Have a great day.
 

howsitwork

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Mark

to reinforce my points although the dry dust may cause issue it’s ( unless inhaled) pretty inert. My concern and I have had cases reported to me where there have been reactions , is the SAP which could be more readily absorbed.

As Fred said slightly cross cut to include heart and sap wood you get stunning effects and once sealed it’s safe but season it ( dry ) first.

Ive turned UK , YEW for many years and apart from sneezing a lot (cos I sanded without a mask when younger) , had no problems BUT i now wear an air helmet for impact, dust and allergy protection . Its ironic that the first mask , bought by my wife, taught me how wise that is fortunately ( see earlier post) with no injury .
 

jrista

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Unfortunately, you may be entirely correct! :mad: And I may just turn a single pen and gift the rest. I have lots of wonderful blanks/stock. But, I don't want this to simply rot in my woods if others would want it.
I'm not trying to scare you away from using it. Just encouraging you to protect yourself when you DO use it. ;) Just to make sure thats clear.
 

mark james

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I appreciate the concern from folks, truly.

So,,, I have an 'Ace in the hole' - my wife! My wife was an Industrial PhD. Polymer Chemist and had a custom fitted mask ($800) with custom glasses inside, rated for dust, fumes, gases. All filters are new and replacements (expensive...) are in house. She was allowed to travel on airplanes with this, and used it to supervise chemical plant construction... I'm good. The mask is an excellent fit for me, and the glasses were an easy transfer. She says I need to be clean shaven, then a final fit test for air compression. 😘

I thank Lubrizol for the mask!

I still believe I'll turn 1-2 pens then gift the rest away.

Stay safe folks - many beautiful timbers ava!
 

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1080Wayne

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My only negatve yew experience is that it can be very slow to dry . First pen exchange I was involved in many years ago , received a Pacific yew cigar pen and key chain from Vancouver Island . It sat in a dresser drawer , and was admired frequently because of its colour . After about a year I noticed a crack on each side of the clip , one an inch long . The upper barrel was diagonal cut , but so was the key chain , which is fine .

My climate is much drier , but the wood thickness on the clip end of a cigar is not so great that I would expect it to take a year to dry from west coast dry conditions . I`m sure that as an experienced turner , he didn`t use green wood .

It may have weak growth ring to growth ring strength , as howsitwork`s experience suggests .
 
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