8 Disadvantages of Hemlock Wood

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Hemlock holds a prominent place in construction, crown molding, and furniture making, yet it’s important not to overlook its shortcomings. Overlooking these aspects could jeopardize both the durability and safety of your project.

In this guide, let me go into detail about the primary disadvantages associated with hemlock wood, providing you with a comprehensive understanding.

Advantages of Hemlock Wood

Hemlock wood, also known as Tsuga heterophylla, is a popular building material that offers several advantages. This species of wood is known for its durability, strength, and affordability, making it an ideal choice for many construction projects.

Moreover, Hemlock wood is easy to work with, making it a popular option for builders and carpenters. To give you an overview, here are the key advantages of using Hemlock wood for your next project.

Top 8 Drawbacks of Hemlock Wood

hemlock wood

#1: Easily damaged by impacts

One of the top drawbacks of Hemlock wood is that it is easily damaged by impacts. Hemlock wood is a softwood specie and is not as dense or hard as other hardwood. This means that it can be more prone to dents, scratches, and other damage from impacts.

Hemlock wood is often used for applications such as framing, flooring, and paneling. In these applications, the wood must be able to withstand the stresses and strains that it will be subjected to during its use.

However, Hemlock wood may not be the best choice for areas where it is likely to be subjected to high levels of impact or wear and tear. Hemlock has a Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf (2,402 N) only. As a result, it is not suitable for flooring and hard-using applications.

To mitigate the impact of this drawback, it may be possible to select a different type of wood that is more durable and better suited to the intended use. Alternatively, it may be possible to apply a protective finish or coating to help reduce the risk of damage from impacts.

Properly sealing and finishing Hemlock furniture and woodwork can make it more durable and also enhance its appearance. If Hemlock wood is scratched or dented, rubbing the affected area with fine-grade steel wool can fix the issue.

#2: Requires frequent upkeep

crack hemlock wood

Another top drawback is that it requires frequent upkeep to keep it looking its best. Proper maintenance includes reapplying the finisher at least once a year and keeping the surfaces clean to prevent dust and debris from damaging the wood’s appearance.

If not properly maintained, Hemlock wood can become discolored, warped, or otherwise damaged over time. Even with a good finisher or sealant, the shield will eventually fade away, exposing the wood to fungi, UV light, insect attacks, moisture, and other threats.

Due to its sensitivity, Hemlock cannot also withstand environmental changes, high forces, and extreme temperatures, making regular maintenance necessary.

However, regular maintenance can be time-consuming and may require specialized tools or equipment. In addition, refinishing the wood can be expensive, as it may require the use of high-quality products and professional services.

This can make Hemlock wood a less attractive option for those who are looking for low-maintenance materials.

#3: Low resistance to wear and tear

Hemlock wood is not as resistant to wear and tear as some other wood species, such as oak or teak. It can lose its strength and dimensional stability quickly, especially in high-traffic areas or in outdoor applications where it is exposed to the elements.

Hemlock wood expands and shrinks under temperature changes, affecting its durability. Unlike other softwoods such as Pine and Douglas Fir, Hemlock does not have resin canals in its internal cross-section structure, making it more susceptible to mechanical damage.

hemlock wood lumber

Furthermore, Hemlock is prone to decay and rot, which can make it unsuitable for outdoor use. While applying sealants or finish to Hemlock can provide some protection, it may not be sufficient, especially in areas with harsh weather conditions.

For outdoor projects, it is advisable to choose alternative woods such as mahogany, oak, and cedar, which are more durable and resistant to environmental impacts.

#4: Challenging to recognize

Identifying Hemlock wood can be challenging since there are multiple species, and they may appear similar despite having distinct characteristics. This can be frustrating when trying to find high-quality Hemlock wood for a project.

Hemlock wood is a general term that can refer to several different species of trees in the Pinaceae family. Some of the most common types of Hemlock wood species include:

One of the challenges with Hemlock wood is that it can be difficult to distinguish between different species. For example, Eastern Hemlock and Carolina Hemlock can look very similar, but they have different growth patterns.

hemlock wood log

To identify Eastern Hemlock specifically, here are a few tips:

Just be careful because there are existing poisonous Hemlock species. So it’s best to avoid using or smelling these species. These species resemble carrots or parsley. Instead, it’s recommended to ask local stores for Eastern Hemlock wood for such projects.

#5: Vulnerable to bugs

Hemlock wood is known to be vulnerable to insect infestations due to its softwood structure and lack of resin canals in the cross-section. Without the insect-repellent properties of woods like Cedar, untreated Hemlock is prone to insect damage and decay over time.

Hemlock wood provides a perfect habitat for insects, as it offers a watershed and a conducive microenvironment. Once insects infest Hemlock wood, they can be difficult to eliminate, as they tend to multiply quickly.

One of the most notorious insects that attack Hemlock wood Is the Hemlock woolly adelgid, others are termites, beetles, and carpenter ants. To protect Hemlock wood from insect attacks, chemical treatment is necessary.

cutting hemlock wood

Applying finishes such as Danish oil, as well as teak or tung oil [1] can build a protective coating over Hemlock. These will repel and prevent the insects from laying eggs. 

This is particularly important for outdoor woods such as garden beds, which are prime areas for insect infestation.

#6: Easily splinters

Another drawback associated with Hemlock wood is its susceptibility to splintering, a concern that becomes particularly pronounced when the wood comes into contact with moisture, such as in outdoor settings or regions characterized by elevated humidity levels.

When Hemlock wood splinters, it can create sharp, jagged edges that can be hazardous to touch or walk on. Splintering can also weaken the structure of the wood and make it more prone to further damage.

To avoid splintering, it is important to properly maintain Hemlock wood and ensure that it is dry and free of moisture. Applying a protective finish or sealant can also help to reduce the risk of splintering and improve the overall durability of the wood.

Also, sand Hemlock wood lightly in the direction of the grain and use pilot holes when drilling. Sanding is essential before handling Hemlock wood to prevent splintering, especially when working with raw wood.

cutting hemlock using wood mizer

Additionally, it is recommended to use appropriate safety gear, such as gloves or shoes, when handling Hemlock wood to reduce the risk of injury from splinters.

If Hemlock wood is used in applications such as decking or outdoor furniture, it is important to regularly inspect the wood for signs of splintering and replace any damaged sections as needed.

While splintering is not a significant issue with Hemlock wood, it can be easily remedied with light sanding.

#7: Difficult to work with when dry

When the wood dries, it can become harder and denser, which can make it more challenging to cut, shape, or carve.

This can be especially problematic for woodworkers or builders who need to work with Hemlock wood in dry conditions. Without the proper tools or techniques, it can be difficult to achieve the desired results and may result in a finished product that is uneven or flawed.

To work with dry Hemlock wood, it is recommended to use sharp tools and take frequent breaks to prevent overheating. Pre-drilling holes before screwing or nailing can also help to reduce the risk of splitting or cracking the wood.

Fresh cut hemlock wood

It is also important to note that Hemlock wood can contain resin pockets that can become sticky or gummy when exposed to heat, making it even more challenging to work with. Clean the tools frequently and use a saw with larger teeth to avoid clogging.

In general, it is best to work with Hemlock wood when it is still slightly damp, as this can make it easier to cut, shape, or carve.

#8: Tends to darken over time

This is a natural process that occurs as the wood is exposed to light and air and can result in a loss of the wood’s original color and vibrancy.

The degree of darkening can vary depending on factors such as the type of Hemlock wood, the amount of exposure to light, and the conditions of the environment. However, in general, Hemlock wood tends to darken to a warm brown or reddish-brown color over time.

If left untreated, Hemlock wood will eventually turn almost black due to the darkening process, which is accelerated by exposure to sunlight. While applying a proper sealant can slow down the darkening process of Hemlock wood, it is impossible to prevent it entirely.

hemlock lumber wood

To slow down the darkening process of Hemlock wood, there are several techniques that you can employ:

Is Hemlock Suitable for Outdoor Use?

While it is an attractive and affordable wood option, it may not be the best choice for outdoor use due to its low resistance to moisture, decay, and insects.

Hemlock is not naturally resistant to rot or pests, and its durability can be compromised when exposed to harsh outdoor elements.

If you do decide to use Hemlock for outdoor applications, it is essential to properly treat and seal the wood with a high-quality finish, stain, or paint to increase its resistance to the elements such as insect attacks, moisture, and UV light.

It’s also important to perform regular maintenance, such as cleaning to eliminate dust and debris and reapplication of the sealant or finisher at least once a year before the previous coating wears off completely.

Also, there are better options for outdoor use, such as pressure-treated lumber, cedar, redwood, or composite materials, which offer greater durability and resistance to the elements.

lumber hemlock wood

Does Hemlock Wood Resist Water?

Hemlock wood is known to have a moderate level of resistance to water. However, it is not naturally resistant to water due to its softness and lack of resin canals inside the wood fibers. Water can easily penetrate the wood and cause it to rot and decay.

When using Hemlock wood in areas exposed to moisture, it is important to take appropriate precautions. This typically involves treating the wood with a water-resistant sealant or finish to help protect it from moisture and prevent water from seeping into the wood fibers.

If left untreated or poorly maintained, Hemlock wood can be susceptible to damage from exposure to moisture. Therefore, it is important to use a suitable sealer or finisher to protect Hemlock wood from water and prevent it from rotting and decaying.

Is Hemlock Wood Poisonous?

Hemlock wood is not poisonous. However, there is a specific type of Hemlock known as poison Hemlock which can be extremely dangerous and toxic to both humans and animals.

This type of Hemlock contains several toxic alkaloids, which can cause severe health problems, including respiratory failure, paralysis, and even death if ingested or inhaled.

Consequently, I strongly advise against the use of poison Hemlock. It’s imperative to refrain from touching or inhaling poison Hemlock, given its potentially lethal effects. 

In cases where you believe you might have been exposed to poison Hemlock, it is crucial to seek medical assistance promptly.

hemlock woods

While Hemlock wood is not poisonous, it can also cause skin irritation in some individuals. So take appropriate precautions when handling Hemlock wood, including wearing gloves and protective clothing, as well as ensuring adequate ventilation in work areas.

Ideal Finish For Hemlock

To address the various disadvantages of Hemlock wood, applying a proper finish is crucial. It can protect against environmental elements like moisture, insect attacks, and rotting.

However, the ideal finish for Hemlock depends on the application and desired aesthetic. There are different types of finishes available for Hemlock wood, such as oil finishes (Linseed oil, Tung oil, Danish oil, Teak oil), wood stain, varnish, paint, and lacquer.

Each type of finish offers a different level of protection and can enhance the appearance of the wood.

watering hemlock wood

Regardless of the type of finish, it is essential to apply it correctly to ensure maximum protection and aesthetic appeal for Hemlock wood. You can also consult with a professional or do thorough research before choosing a finish to ensure it will go smoothly.

Is Hemlock Wood Good For Saunas?

Hemlock wood is a popular choice for saunas because it is a softwood that is known for its low levels of resin and natural oils. This makes it less likely to produce odors or irritants when exposed to heat and moisture, which are common in sauna environments.

Additionally, Hemlock wood has a pale and uniform appearance that is well-suited for creating a light and airy feel in saunas. It is also relatively affordable compared to some other types of wood that are used for saunas.

However, it’s important to note that not all Hemlock wood is suitable for sauna use. Only use kiln-dried Hemlock that has been specifically treated for saunas.

Otherwise, using untreated or improperly treated Hemlock can release harmful chemicals and fumes into the sauna, which can be hazardous to your health.

So, if you’re considering using Hemlock wood for your sauna, make sure you purchase only kiln-dried Hemlock that is specifically labeled for sauna use.

Additionally, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional sauna builder or supplier to ensure that you’re choosing the best materials for your sauna.

measuring wood hemlock

Is Hemlock Wood Good For External Doors?

Hemlock wood can be a good option for external doors, but it may not be the best choice for all situations. Hemlock wood is a softwood, which means it is not as durable or resistant to weathering as hardwoods like oak or teak.

However, it is more affordable than many hardwood options and can still provide adequate strength and durability for external doors.

To make Hemlock wood suitable for external doors, it must be properly treated with coatings or sealants to protect it from moisture, insect damage, and other outdoor elements. This will help prevent rotting, warping, or other forms of degradation over time.

Hemlock vs. Pine: Which is Better?

Hemlock and Pine are both softwoods that have their own unique characteristics and uses.

Hemlock wood is known for being straight-grained, uniform, and having a consistent texture. It is also generally harder and more durable than Pine and is typically used for framing, flooring, and paneling, and is often used as a paint-grade wood.

However, it is susceptible to damage from impacts, insects, and rotting, and requires regular maintenance to protect it from environmental elements.

Pine, on the other hand, has a more pronounced grain pattern. It is often used for furniture, flooring, and cabinetry, as well as in construction.

piling different woods

Pine has natural resin canals that make it more resistant to water, insects, and decay. It is a popular choice for outdoor projects due to its durability and weather resistance.

These softwoods are suitable for various woodworking projects, especially when sealed and finished properly.

FAQ

Does Hemlock rot easily?

Hemlock can rot easily when exposed to moisture and other environmental factors that promote fungal growth.

It is classified as a non-durable wood, meaning that it has a short lifespan when used in outdoor applications and can be prone to decay, insect damage, and other types of degradation.

How long does Hemlock last?

Hemlock can last 5 to 7 years with proper maintenance and care. The lifespan of Hemlock can vary depending on environmental conditions, how well it is maintained, and the specific application.

Hemlock indoors can last even longer if well-maintained and protected from excessive moisture and wear.

Is Hemlock moisture resistant?

Hemlock wood is moderately moisture-resistant but not completely waterproof. It has a natural resistance to decay, and its heartwood is more resistant to moisture than its sapwood.

However, if left untreated and exposed to prolonged moisture, it can become susceptible to rot and decay.

You’ll also like

Conclusion

Hemlock wood presents several challenges that may render it suboptimal for specific uses. It tends to be easily damaged by impacts, is prone to infestations by insects, and generally lacks durability.

Nevertheless, with diligent maintenance and the application of protective finishes and coatings, many of these issues can be effectively managed. As long as you remain cognizant of Hemlock’s limitations and proactively take measures to counteract them, it can still serve as a valuable material.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!