Hemlock Timber – The Ultimate Guide
If you’re making your decision on which timber species to use for your project or installation, Hemlock is likely a strong choice – especially for architectural timber features. We’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions about the Hemlock timber species
What is Hemlock wood?
Hemlock timber comes from an evergreen tree, which is native to North America. It grows alongside Western Red Cedar on the mountains and coasts of Canada.
Hemlock is an affordable, premium timber. It is popular to use for interiors because it is an economical softwood, that produces a beautiful pale timber. Interior applications include joinery, cabinetry, flooring and ceilings.
Hemlock wood comes in three main varieties: Mountain, eastern and western.
- Western Hemlock: A softwood native to North America. It produces a lustrous pale timber that can be carved easily, making it widely used commercially. It is a popular choice for many interior applications, as well as creating doors, windows, parts of staircases, ladders, flooring and paneling. It is the most commercially available hemlock variety, being harder, stronger, straighter-grained and resin-free.
- Eastern Hemlock: Eastern hemlock is the state tree of Pennsylvania. It is a light reddish brown and can exhibit interesting grain patterns. Compared to Western Hemlock, it has slightly wider growth rings.
- Mountain Hemlock: Mountain Hemlock is anatomically very similar to Western Hemlock and is also found in the same geographic locations. However, it is more difficult to access and is not harvested as much for commercial use.
What is hemlock wood used for?
Hemlock wood is very popular and is often used for roofing, flooring, paneling and in furniture manufacture.
Hemlock is an affordable premium softwood, which is popular for interior applications. It is used for joinery, internal paneling, doors, window frames, moldings, alfrescos, feature walls and screenings. Hemlock is also being chosen by architects or homeowners for flooring and stairs, because of it’s attractive pale timber, strength and wear-resistance. It is also easy to machine, carve and finish, making it a popular alternative to hardwood for furniture and cabinet makers.
What does hemlock wood look like?
Hemlock is a stylish timber which is light blonde in colour with a natural lustre. It has a smooth texture and a distinct straight, fine lined grain. It is ideal for sanding, coating and varnishing giving it a wide range of beautiful interior applications.
What are the characteristics of hemlock wood?
Hemlock is an affordable, premium softwood with various characteristics that make it attractive for commercial use.
- One of the hardest softwoods
- Easy to work with
- Holds nails and screws well
- Accepts glue
- Even grain
- Resistance to scraping or splitting, making it easy to machine
- Resilient surface that grows harder with age
- Wear resistant
- Requires preservative treatment to prevent natural decay
What does hemlock wood grain look like?
Hemlock has a uniform, attractive grain. It is distinctly straight and fine lined in appearance.
What are hemlock wood properties?
Hemlock is one of the hardest and most economical softwoods. It has a range of properties that make it attractive to work with in interior applications.
- Light in weight
- Straight grain
- Resistant to splitting and scraping
- Holds nails and screws securely
- Saws and machines easily
- Carves well with little dulling of cutting edges
- Pale, cream colour
- Distinctive growth marks
- Even texture
- Produces few knots
- Uniform grain
- Takes varnish well
- Requires preservative treatment to prevent natural decay
Western varieties have the straightest grain and a finer texture, meaning it sands beautifully with a silky, reflective smoothness. It is also resin-free, meaning it accepts any pain, stain or clear finish with satisfying results.
Is hemlock a hardwood or a softwood?
Hemlock is a softwood. However, it does give many hardwoods a run for their money. It is a lower cost, yet strong, easy to work with lumber. Hemlock also grows harder with age.
What are hemlock wood prices?
Hemlock timber is in good supply. Therefore, you can expect economical and affordable prices. As it sits in the softwood category, it is more affordable than hardwood but still offers premium characteristics for construction and interior projects.
Contact us to get an estimate on your next hemlock project.
How can you use hemlock for flooring?
Softwoods can be more prone to dints and chips than hardwood. Therefore, they are less frequently used in flooring or are used in low traffic interior areas.
Hemlock however, is one of the hardest softwoods and is more affordable than hardwoods. Therefore, it is a softwood variety that is commonly used in flooring. Some people also prefer a distressed or antique look to their floors and see dents as valuable contributions to the character of the floor.
There are some measures you should take to prevent damage, create a smooth finish and ensure it is durable.
- Hemlock has little resistance to decay; therefore, you should apply a preservative treatment before use.
- Apply multiple coats of polyurethane to avoid problems with moisture. Lightly sand between each coat.
- Finish the floor with stain, varnish or tung oil to your desired colour.
Is hemlock wood poisonous?
It is a common misconception that hemlock trees are poisonous. The myth has come about, because there are two similarly named plant species that are highly poisonous.
- Poisonous Hemlock (Conium Macaulatum): a flowering plant that causes paralysis. It is this plant that was infamously reported to be used in the execution of Socrates.
- Water Hemlock (from the Parsley family): commonly considered the most poisonous plant in North America that often causes fatal seizures.
Hemlock timber is harvested from the Tsuga tree, a Japanese evergreen variety which just so happens to have a similar odour as poisonous hemlock. It was therefore named after this plant variety, giving rise to the misconception.
How do you identify hemlock trees?
Hemlock trees are an evergreen variety, belonging to the pine family. They have clusters of long needle shaped leaves and grow across North America and Asia, in dense, moist habitats with dry rocky soil.
Some unique identifying features of hemlock trees also include:
- Needle shaped leaves with 2 white “racing stripes” on the underside
- Narrow bark covered with thick scales
- Bark has rounded edges and is cinnamon red to grey in colour
- A conical to egg-shaped crown silhouette
- Fine branches give Hemlock trees a lacier appearance than spruce, fir or pine
How do you identify Western Hemlock trees?
Western Hemlock is the largest of the hemlock varieties, making it a highly valuable and economic source of lumbar. It has slightly narrower growth rings than Eastern Hemlock. Its heartwood is a light reddish brown, and the sapwood is not easily distinguishable. Its conspicuous growth rings can show interesting grain patterns on flatsawn surfaces.
- Short needles
- Small, woody cones
- Distinctive droopy tops and branches
How do you identify Eastern Hemlock trees?
Eastern Hemlock (tsuga canadensis) is a coniferous tree native to the east coast of North America.
Identifying features of the Eastern Hemlock tree include:
- Flat, slender needle shaped leaves (2mm – 5mm)
- Slender stalk
- Dark green leaves on top, light green on the bottom
- Two white parallel lines on the bottom
- Conical shape
- Wide trunk that tapers to a thin top
- Deeply furrowed, slightly reddish bark
- Small oval shaped cones
- Commonly seen growing together in stands or in groups with other Birch, Pine and Beech trees.
What is the difference between Mountain Hemlock vs Western Hemlock?
Mountain hemlock and western hemlock grow in the same geographic distribution. However, Mountain hemlock is lesser known than western hemlock due to its accessibility.
- Has blue-green needles on all surfaces, similar in size and uniformly arranged around the twig
- Their cones are cylindrical
- Has very short needles, with distinctly different sizes on the same twig
- Is yellow-green on top and have two white bands on the undersides and tend to stick out to the sides.
- Has egg shaped cones
What are the different types of hemlock trees?
There are around 10 species of hemlock across America and Asia. The three main commercial varieties from North America include: mountain, eastern and western.
- Western hemlock: A softwood native to North America. It produces a lustrous pale timber that can be carved easily, making it widely used commercially. It is a popular choice for many interior applications, as well as creating doors, windows, parts of staircases, ladders, flooring and paneling. It is the most commercially available hemlock variety, being harder, stronger, straighter-grained and resin-free.
- Eastern hemlock: Eastern hemlock is the state tree of Pennsylvania. It is a light reddish brown and can exhibit interesting grain patterns. Compared to Western Hemlock, it has slightly wider growth rings.
- Mountain hemlock: Mountain hemlock is anatomically very similar to Western Hemlock and is also found in the same geographic locations. However, it is more difficult to access and is not harvested as much for commercial use. It is prevailingly coastal and sits at high-elevations.
Is Hemlock a pine?
Hemlock is an evergreen tree, belonging to the pine family. The pine family consists of evergreen coniferous trees with clusters of long needle shaped leaves. Pine trees are grown for their soft timber, commonly used for furniture and interior applications.
There are approximately 10 species of hemlock across North America and Asia, and it grows in dense, moist habitats with dry rocky soil.
Can you stain Hemlock?
Hemlock is a softwood that accepts wood stain.
Hemlock is harder than pine, but softer than many other varieties. The porosity of softwood can cause grain reversal, where hard grain and knots absorb less stain than other areas. and this can lead to uneven staining. Therefore, you should apply a sanding and conditioning treatment to help hemlock absorb stains easily and achieve your desired colour. Since hemlock is light, it can be stained from a light golden tint to black.
Is Hemlock a hardwood or softwood?
The hemlock tree is softwood. However, it is more dense and harder than other softwoods, which makes it very popular for commercial use in interiors. It is also more affordable than hardwoods.
Another reason to use softwoods is because there are more environmentally friendly than slower growing hardwoods. Since softwoods grow quickly, they are economical and can be sustainably farmed and harvested.
If you’re still unsure if Hemlock is right for your project or you’d like an expert opinion, contact us at Coach House Timbers and we’ll assist you with the best timber selection.