A William and Mary Yew Stool – Part One

Yew (Taxus baccata) is a conifer, thus technically a softwood, however it is anything but a soft wood. Its aroma is akin to that of the majority of the Pinaceae family and its colours can resemble that family’s on occasion too (with the addition of the odd streak of purple), but there the similarities end: Yew is a much denser timber than pine, weighing in the region of 670 kg/m³ (42 lb/ft³) versus 510 kg/m³ (32 lb/ft³) for Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and 390 kg/m³ (24 lb/ft³) for Yellow Pine (Pinus strobus). By comparison, American cherry – a very fine furniture timber – weighs on average, 580 kg/m³ (36 lb/ft³) – all weights at 12% M.C.

Yew is one of the oldest living trees and has been revered since ancient times. It has also been held in the highest regard by joiners and cabinetmakers in more recent centuries, being reserved for high status items of furniture. Yew is an extremely elastic timber (famed for its use by medieval English archers for their longbows) and it also steam-bends exceptionally well. Predominantly for these attributes, yew was favoured by Windsor chairmakers during the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries for both bent and turned chair components.

I relish any opportunity to make a piece of furniture out of yew and coincidently, some time ago I acquired a 150-year-old yew tree from a botanic garden. I have a number of jobs lined up for the timber including a copy of this seventeenth-century yew stuff-over stool.

William and Mary upholstered yew stool, circa 1690. (Jayne Thompson)

The legs are Ionic columnar turnings with squashed bun feet. The stretchers are of plain rectangular form save for a 1/4″ ovolo moulding along the top outside edges. The construction of the stool is unremarkable other than (typical of the period), being assembled dry, drawbored and pegged.

I prepared four yew squares for the legs and turned them on the lathe which was a very pleasant and enjoyable occupation.

The turned Ionic legs.

Ash, beech and oak would all be suitable timbers for the top rails, however, ash and beech hold upholstery tacks more tenaciously than oak does. I have plenty of ash at the moment, so these rails will be of ash.

I completed making the top rails and was half way through cutting the tenons on the stretchers when I realised I had forgotten to scratch the ovolo moulding into them!

In the nick of time – the scratched ovolo moulding.

The legs, rails and stretchers were prepared for drawboring and I pared sixteen tapered pegs from oak. The stool frame was then knocked together and the pegs inserted into their holes in the legs and hammered home.

The yew stool frame in-the-white…

… and polished.

The pegs project slightly in imitation of the wood shrinkage that occurs in period examples.

Upper turnings.

Extent of wear on stretchers and lower leg.

The hunt is on for something suitable to cover the stool with. Images of the upholstered stool will be posted at a later date.

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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8 Responses to A William and Mary Yew Stool – Part One

  1. Tico Vogt says:

    Hi Jack,

    I see that the top rails are about 1/4″ below the top of the leg posts.

    A beautiful finish. Truly looks like an aged piece of furniture.



    • Jack Plane says:

      Yes, with stuff-over seats, it’s not necessary to make the legs flush with the rails, in fact, the protruding legs are often left considerably longer and tapered up to the outer corners to better support the rolled edge of the upholstery.

      It also means the tennons don’t need to be haunched which saves a bit of work – not that I’m concerned about that, it’s just the way it was done.


  2. Philippe says:

    Wow, i’m amazed by the great finish on that piece. Can you give more detail please?


  3. Joshua Klein says:

    My my. Wonderful patination. Hats off to you, sir.

    -Joshua Klein
    Brooklin, ME


  4. Pingback: A William and Mary Yew Stool – Part Two | Pegs and 'Tails

  5. Kevin L. Schroeder says:


    I’ve been slowly going through your posts and came across the Yew Stool. Can you fill me in on Dragons Blood, used to finish the raw yew.

    (you need to think about writing a book)


    • Jack Plane says:

      True dragon’s blood is obtained from the tree Dracaena draco which grows in North Africa and parts of Asia. It has been used as a dye and for medicinal purposes since mediaeval times.
      Be aware that several imitations are concocted from other plants and chemical dyes. I source my stuff from a reputable supplier. Mind you, I’m being pedantic and the same colour could easily be approximated with aniline dyes.



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