Is Hemlock a Hardwood? How Hard is this Wood?

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Were you ever curious whether hemlock is a hardwood or softwood? Or ever wondered about the strength and durability it possesses? 

To end the query, I dug deep into the strength and durability of Hemlock and investigated whether it meets the standards of a hardwood. I even took it a step further and examined its hardness level and assessed its appropriateness for various uses. 

How Hard Is Hemlock Wood?

Hemlock is considered a softwood, but it is more resistant than several other softwoods and even certain hardwoods, based on its Janka hardness test scores. 

Even though it falls under the category of softwoods, Hemlock stands out due to its exceptional features that surpass those of both softwoods and hardwoods.

In addition, hemlock exhibits a broad range of densities despite being categorized as a softwood based on its anatomical properties. This quality makes it appropriate for a wide variety of construction purposes.

Hemlock slabs

For a better comparison between hemlock and other types of woods, below is their Janka hardness ratings.

Wood SpeciesHardness Value
Sugar Pine380 pounds-force (lbf)
1690 newtons (N)
Engelmann Spruce390 pounds-force (lbf)
1735 newtons (N)
Redwood420 pounds-force (lbf)
1868 newtons (N)
Black Spruce520 pounds-force (lbf)
2313 newtons (N)
Hemlock540 pounds-force (lbf)
2402 newtons (N)
Silver Maple700 pounds-force (lbf)
3100 newtons (N)
Douglas Fir710 pounds-force (lbf)
3158 newtons (N)
Red Maple950 pounds-force (lbf)
4200 newtons (N)
Imbuia Black Cherry950 pounds-force (lbf)
4200 newtons (N)
Cherry995 pounds-force (lbf)
4430 newtons (N)
North American Black Walnut1010 pounds-force (lbf)
4500 newtons (N)
Teak1155 pounds-force (lbf)
5140 newtons (N)
Baltic (Yellow) Birch1260 pounds-force (lbf)
5600 newtons (N)
Northern Red Oak1290 pounds-force (lbf)
5700 newtons (N)
American Beech1300 pounds-force (lbf)
5800 newtons (N)
White Ash Wood1320 pounds-force (lbf)
5900 newtons (N)
White Oak1360 pounds-force (lbf)
6000 newtons (N)
Sugar (Hard) Maple1450 pounds-force (lbf)
6400 newtons (N)
Hickory, Pecan, Satinwoood1820 pounds-force (lbf)
8100 newtons (N)
Golden Teak2330 pounds-force (lbf)
10400 newtons (N)
Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba)2350 pounds-force (lbf)
10500 newtons (N)
Red Mahogany (Turpentine)2697 pounds-force (lbf)
12000 newtons (N)
Brazilian Walnut3684 pounds-force (lbf)
16390 newtons (N)

How is Hemlock As A Softwood?

Having worked with various types of wood, I have a particular fondness for Hemlock, especially when I aim to achieve a rustic, homey vibe in interior projects.

Compared to other hardwoods such as walnut, maple, and oak, which are frequently employed in furniture, flooring, and other applications, hemlock is a wood that possesses moderate stiffness and hardness and lacks the same level of strength.

Hemlock lumber

However, it would be a mistake to underestimate the value of hemlock as a wood choice. Despite any preconceived notions, hemlock can be remarkably advantageous for interior projects, thanks to its ability to impart a charming and visually appealing aesthetic.

Despite the risk of tear-out during cross-cutting, the hemlock’s strength allows for secure fastening with screws and glue. Thus, it is a suitable material for creating furniture and other applications, provided that one takes precautions when cross-cutting it.

How are Hemlock Logs When Cut Down?

One of the first things I notice when cutting down Hemlock logs is their straightness, which makes them easier to mill and work with. Hemlock trees typically produce straight logs and have a uniform color throughout, resulting in a high yield. Moreover, they are generally user-friendly and can be utilized for indoor projects, as they take well to staining and finishing.

Characteristics of Hemlock Wood

Hemlock wood has a light reddish-brown heartwood and lighter-colored sapwood, with prominent growth rings that form an attractive grain pattern. Moreover, despite being a softwood, its straight grain and consistent texture enhances its hardness and density.

In addition, the lack of resin canals in Hemlock leaves it susceptible to insect attacks, and its durability is relatively low compared to numerous other hardwoods and softwoods. 

Hemlock slabs

Nonetheless, despite its downside, below are the remarkable characteristics of hemlock for further acknowledgment of this wood.

The primary features of hemlock wood are listed below:

What Is Hemlock Used For?

Hemlock wood is a common option for numerous projects, particularly as a substitute for hardwoods in indoor applications such as furniture or cabinet making. 

Hemlock table

Also, it is highly workable, allowing for easy handling with both handheld and power tools. However, when it comes to cross-cutting, there may be a slight tendency for the wood to tear. 

What I particularly appreciate about Hemlock is its good screw-holding and adhesive capabilities. You can pretty much count on it to bond well, whether you’re gluing or fastening it. I’ve also found that it takes to treatments rather well.

Thus, this makes it suitable for use in outdoor and indoor projects with proper preparation; it will yield satisfactory results. To acknowledge the use of hemlock, refer to the list of uses below:

Strength of Hemlock Wood

Although Hemlock is only moderately strong, it does have a 7,200 pounds per square inch (psi) compressive strength [1] and an 11,300 pounds per square inch (psi) bending strength, surpassing many softwood varieties but falling short of most hardwoods. 

milling Hemlock

Furthermore, hemlock wood’s strength depends on its grain pattern. Thus, it’s a good choice for construction projects involving longer spans and horizontal elements due to its high bending and compressive strengths.

Related Readings:  

Is This Wood Good for Building?

When it comes to building, Hemlock presents an interesting alternative to hardwoods. In my experience, it maintains its shape well and resists warping, making it a dependable option. Additionally, it remains unaffected by weather changes, so there is no risk of discoloration. 

Moreover, it is reasonably priced, an excellent choice for lamination, and it is effortless to finish. Below are the pros and cons of hemlock wood as a building material: 

Pros

Cons

Hemlock’s Hardness vs Pine

Pine and Hemlock are frequently utilized in construction. Hemlock, being durable and resistant to moisture, is a preferred choice for cabinetry or high-quality furniture. 

Yellow Pine

Pine, on the other hand, is less expensive and simpler to handle, making it the most commonly used wood for construction.

However, hemlock is much harder than Pine. Thus, to get a better comparison between the two kinds of wood, below is their Janka hardness rating:

 HemlockWhite PineSugar Pine
Janka
Hardness 
Rating
540 pounds-force (lbf)380 pounds-force (lbf)380 pounds-force (lbf)

Hemlock’s Hardness vs Poplar

Hemlock and poplar wood has the same Janka hardness rating. However, poplar is significantly tougher and sturdier than Hemlock due to its stiffness, density, and cellular fiber structure. 

To get a better comparison between hemlock and poplar wood, below is their Janka hardness rating.

clean the Poplar wood
 HemlockPoplar
Janka
Hardness
Rating
540 pounds-force (lbf)540 pounds-force (lbf)

Hardness of Hemlock vs Cedar

Cedar is softer than hemlock. Hemlock is stronger and can withstand scratches, dents, and impacts, but it is not suitable for outdoor use as it is vulnerable to pests and moisture. On the other hand, cedar is better for outdoor use as it is resistant to pests and moisture.

In conclusion, hemlock is far harder than cedar. Refer to the list of their Janka hardness rating below: 

Cedar wood durability
 HemlockWhite CedarRed Cedar
Janka Hardness
Rating
540 pounds-force (lbf)320 pounds-force (lbf)350 pounds-force (lbf)

Strength of Hemlock vs Oak

Oak has a 6760 pounds per square inch (psi) compressive strength and 14300 pounds per square inch (psi) bending strength, surpassing Hemlock’s 7,200 pounds per square inch (psi) compressive strength and 11,300 pounds per square inch (psi) bending strength. 

Thus, oak is much stronger than hemlock. Nonetheless, in order to have a better picture of their difference, here’s their Janka hardness rating: 

 HemlockOak
Janka
Hardness
Rating
540 pounds-force (lbf)1290 pounds-force (lbf)

Conclusion

So, is hemlock a hardwood or softwood? Based on the characteristics of this wood type, it’s clear that hemlock is a softwood. But hemlock is durable and can withstand impacts, dents, and scratches due to its cellular fiber structure, density, and stiffness. 

While it is commonly used for high-quality furniture or cabinetry, hemlock is not suitable for outdoor use as it is vulnerable to damage from pests and moisture.

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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.

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