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Working with English Yew

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MikeG.

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Riot, it's great that someone new is coming to woodworking. We all love that, and we're all here to help. Just please understand that you're in amongst quite a few people who are somewhere on the continuum between talented amateur and expert, and we're all cringing at the mistakes you are about to make. If you approach people with a bit of a gentler manner seeking advice then I'm sure people will give it freely. Woodworking is not just a process and a series of skills. There is underlying knowledge necessary to be successful, which is why Youtube is not the best way of learning.

You have revealed a lack of understanding of the basic construction of stuff made of wood. Wood moves more or less constantly within set and predictable patterns, and allowing for this is an absolute fundamental of the craft. Many decades ago I planned to cash in on the boom in waxed "farmhouse" pine Welsh dressers by making one out of construction grade pine from my local builders merchant. I was really proud of the result when I brought it in to the house from the workshop. Within a week it had almost fallen to pieces, with gaps appearing everywhere, doors becoming un-openable, the worktop had split open and cupped, and white strips of unfinished timber appeared alongside many of the junctions. I took it back out, re-glued everything, trimmed the newly appeared overhangs, screwed cross-battens on underneath the worktop, and re-finished it. When I brought it back in the same thing happened again, and the timbers of the top split wide open. I ended up taking it completely to bits and storing the wood for later use.......two weeks work completely wasted.

What people here are trying to do is save you going through that same disaster. You can take heed, or you can chuck away many hours work and quite a lot of money.

Let's start with flattening your boards. Conveniently, Youtube never shows people having twisted ("in wind") boards, or cupped boards, or bowed boards. They just show someone feeding their timber through a thicknesser and it popping out ready for construction. You cannot flatten a board in a thicknesser.* There are only two ways of flattening such boards, and they are either hand planing, or the use of a long-bed surface planer.......and by "long bed" I mean the in feed table must be as long as the board you are attempting to flatten. Pouring resin onto anything which isn't flat would produce something of a disaster, so you must start your learning experience with flattening.

Fixing your yew table top directly to a steel or wood frame will produce the same sort of results that I got with my first pine Welsh dresser. It will split the top. Whether that is along the junction between the resin and the timber, or along the length of the timber, isn't easy to predict, but what is certain is that your table will be ruined. Allowance has to be made for movement, with elongated holes, or better, with the use of "buttons". Have you ever looked underneath on old table? Do yourself a favour and go to an auction showroom or antique shop, and have a good look at how tables, dressers, drawers, chests etc were put together. Note the buttons. Note the dovetails (they're not for show, you know). Note the overhang at the back of the drawer bases.

I hope you are beginning to see the issue. You've arrived here and said "I've watched Youtube and am going to make a table, just help me with the toxicity of the wood I'm planning on using"....and we've all thought, "sod the toxicity of the wood, that's the very least of your problems". A table is a complex project, and you know so little that you don't even realise it's complex. You don't know what you don't know. Have a look through the "Projects" section of the forum and read through some of the builds, and you may begin to realise there is more to this woodworking malarkey than you first thought. Ask for help and advice, and do that knowing that we know that you don't know much. There are plenty of beginners on here, and a number of them have been guided by other members through to completing quite nice projects years sooner than they would otherwise have managed. Approach us an an asset, a resource to be tapped. Don't snap at the first person who shows some incredulity at your proposals, and hopefully you'll get a helping hand towards a long and successful adventure through the world of woodworking.


*You can't, but those prepared to construct a sled might be able to. You don't have the skills for that at the moment.
 

Lons

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What Mike said =D> =D>

Welcome to the Forum Riot and best wishes to you and your venture into woodworking, it's a great pastime.
All I'd suggest is keep an open mind, soak everything up and weed out the bad bits, do some reading if you can as there are many generations of hard earned knowledge in books. Be careful of youtube, there is some very good content there but also a lot of bad and some downright dangerous stuff so it's not always your best friend.

I tend to sit in a quiet corner with one of those books while my family are watching cr*p on the telly and am always surprised to read content I knew but had forgotten. #-o Maybe that's down to poor memory though. :roll:

This forum is a great place and very friendly with the exception of a couple of heated topics, the advice you get will almost always be well intentioned but having made the effort to respond to a question I'd suggest a sarcastic reply wouldn't be well received.

Have a great Christmas btw.

cheers
Bob
 

Trevanion

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I've been thinking about this but I haven't really looked into it, surely it's quite difficult to allow for expansion and contraction when you've got a completely benign material in the middle? I imagine if you do it the traditional way and both pieces of timber shrink surely it would blow the join between the epoxy and the wood, so possibly you'd need to fix the epoxy down solidly to the subframe and perhaps treat it as a part of the frame rather than the top, and then loosely fix the surrounding timber with buttons so it expands and contracts outwards from the epoxy join rather than around the edge of the table.

I should really get around to reading that book I bought which goes into great detail about wood movement.
 

johnnyb

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reading through these posts makes it sound like nobody wants riot to have a go even. I'm not getting it. if you've got nothing POSITIVE to say then say NOWT.
 

Racers

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johnnyb":1egiqkf1 said:
reading through these posts makes it sound like nobody wants riot to have a go even. I'm not getting it. if you've got nothing POSITIVE to say then say NOWT.
We are trying to warn riot of the potential problems and help him avoid expensive mistakes.
It would be wrong if us not to say something if he is planning to do something that won't work.

There is years of experience on this forum it's a valuable tool to help people, but you would have us not answer the question.


Pete
 

Trevanion

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johnnyb":3la9wkqh said:
reading through these posts makes it sound like nobody wants riot to have a go even. I'm not getting it. if you've got nothing POSITIVE to say then say NOWT.
You don't go from never having picked up a hand file in your life to planning to build the International Space Station.

It's the same in woodworking.
 

jeremyduncombe

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johnnyb":2gh4xin9 said:
reading through these posts makes it sound like nobody wants riot to have a go even. I'm not getting it. if you've got nothing POSITIVE to say then say NOWT.
Well there were one or two acerbic comments, but I thought the general tone has been encouraging, while pointing out some possible pitfalls. Some new forum members ( not accusing you Riot ! ) will ask for advice on a project even though they have already decided how to do it, then argue vigorously with all the expert advice they are given. It is in the nature of this forum that a simple question will often lead to a lot of ifs, buts and maybes, so the OP will receive advice that they perhaps didn’t know they needed. For me, ( on the way from complete beginner to just about competent ), that is one of its biggest benefits.
 

Andy Kev.

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johnnyb":229k3hr1 said:
reading through these posts makes it sound like nobody wants riot to have a go even. I'm not getting it. if you've got nothing POSITIVE to say then say NOWT.
Look at MikeG's post which is four above yours. He's offering firm, clear advice and is justifying it.

If you believe that somebody is set on a course which you believe will lead them to disappointment, what else can you do? It would be doing the OP a gross disservice to be positive about his ideas if their implementation leads to the production of nothing more than a heap of scrap.
 

isaac3d

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I saw this thread recently and as I have just acquired some newly felled Yew from a local tree surgeon, I thought I would fish around for any useful tips and pointers.
I got two logs around a meter long from a single stem. I cut each piece in to two so I could handle them more easily. I'm going to make small decorative boxes from it, so I don't need long lengths. The widest piece is about 10 or 11 inches (sorry for swapping between units of measurement :) ) in diameter and still has to be sliced up. The rest I have sliced in to boards between 1.5 and 2.5 inches thick.
I have never worked with Yew before but I think I have fallen in love! The colour and figure is amazing. Doubtless I'll be cursing when it comes to trying to plane the stuff but it looks great. I love the contrast between the heartwood and the sapwood and the colour variation in the heartwood. Cocobolo, Brazilian Rosewood; pff!
OK, I wouldn't decline a log or two of these either ;) But Yew is beautiful and a lot cheaper and not endangered!
Attached is a composite image of the freshly sliced boards and the piece I still have to slice up.
The boards have been end sealed and stacked (with stickers) and are now stored in a shed with my other timber. I run a dehumidifier for an hour a day to keep the place reasonably dry. I aim for 40% relative humidity but it doesn't stay there long as there is other timber in there drying. If the relative humidity gets high (70%) then I run the dehumidifier a bit longer.
I have read both that Yew splits easily when drying and also that it is easy and quick to dry; hmmm.
I know that Yew is toxic; I use dust extraction when sawing, planing (machine), sanding etc. I use a P3 dust mask.
[As an aside on the subject of wood toxicity; new texts on timber properties list most hardwood (Yes, I know Yew is a classified as a softwood as it is not an angiosperm) as being toxic or irritant to some degree. However, the reality is that the level of toxicity or irritation of most things depends a great deal on the individual. Some people develop lung cancer without ever having smoked, others smoke all their adult lives and hardly suffer from lung problems. That's just biology. Some people can die from a single bee sting, others might die from eating a single peanut. A few unfortunates are even allergic to water! (Aquagenic urticaria) However it is better to be safe than sorry, so I take appropriate precautions when dealing with the timber bad boys!]
Given that I plan to use my Yew (OMG, how can I wait 1 or 2 years to use it??) for joinery rather than turnery, are there any tips or bits of advice out there?
Thanks.
Yew1s.jpg


PS: I've read that the purple colouration may be as a result of contact with iron. Does anyone know if that is always the case or if Yew can gave this colour naturally? Is the red staining I have seen related to this. (Any Chemists out there that know?)
 
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Mike.R

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Hello RV, I hope you enjoy your adventure with Yew, it's a rather magical timber.

Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
that name the under-lying dead,
Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

 

isaac3d

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It's not surprising that Yew holds a special place in mythology. It is has some interesting properties. It's toxicity, it's slow growth, it's regenerative abilities, it's very high elasticity (great for long bows), it's gnarly shape, it's fruit are almost like angiosperms, but not quite, it's beautiful timber....
 

jonn

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I'm quite new to woodworking but I'm wanting to make coffee tables, cabinets and coasters with the goal to sell at Boot sales and craft fairs etc.

Some of the wood available locally is Yew I'm concerned having read this is toxic. I plan to seal all my projects with gloss epoxy resin but should I still avoid this type of wood? I don't plan to make any cups, bowels or food related stuff just tables, shelves and coasters

In addition what precautions should I take whilst cutting and sanding wood in general? Are basic disposable dust masks OK? I never realised before that wood dust could be dangerous. :shock: my uncles been a pro joiner for decades an I've never seen him use a mask

If I used a vacuum to collect all the wood dust from my garage how would I dispose of it? Should it be sent to specific waste centers similar to asbestos Or am overreacting?
If you are planning on a 'minor industry', then to be on the safe side, for precaution, use one of the really safe masks with air filtering, like the JSP Powercap or the Trend Airshield Pro. I have the former, and when I bought it from UK it was subsidised, so I got it for a very good price compared to what they charged locally. Expensive, yes, but not when considering the hazards from wood dust, fungi and other particles. Also, mine has an impact resistant shield. Once again, somewhat paraphrased, the sting of high cost is soon forgotten when the joy of quality lingers.
Oh, and I am very envious of your supply of yew, as it is a delight to work with, giving a glorious finish.
 

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Cabinetman

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Can’t explain why, but I’m a bit superstitious - but only about Yew.
Just seems that it has been growing around sacred places since the time of the Druids and should be left alone.
I know, totally irrational.
 

isaac3d

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I attended a family Christening yesterday at a lovely old church. There were four Yew trees that I could see. Without wanting to be too controversial; it is always interesting to see how early Christianity assimilated pagan beliefs (no relation to the Borg, I'm sure!). The tradition of planting Yew trees around churches is one such example. I have to admit to joking with a family member that I would be along with my chainsaw later... only joking, honest guv'.
 
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