Is Hemlock A Hardwood? (How hard is Hemlock?)

is hemlock a hardwood

Hemlock is a great wood that works well with machines and hand tools. Mostly Hemlock is used to make boxes, roofing, crates, light framing, and other sign construction items. It is strong with unique qualities that are so useful in woodworking. When it comes to the hardness factor, I have always wondered, Is Hemlock a hardwood?

I’ve researched and here’s what I’ve found:

Hemlock is not a hardwood. Hemlock is a softwood. Hemlock wood has a hardness rating of 540 lbf (2,402 N) which is higher than most softwoods. It grows harder with the age. Even though Hemlock is a softwood, it is stronger than many hardwoods because of its dense grain.

But that’s just a quick snapshot.

So, in this article, we are taking a detailed look at is Hemlock a hardwood, how hard is Hemlock, Hemlock wood characteristics, its uses of Hemlock and how strong is Hemlock wood as well.

Furthermore, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions about the hardness of Hemlock compared to the other wood types and much more.

Let’s dive in!

How Hard Is Hemlock?

Hemlock is harder than most of the softwoods and some of the hardwoods as well. According to the Janka hardness test values, Hemlock wood has a hardness rating of 540 lbf (2,402 N) which is relatively higher than many other softwoods.

Hemlock is softer than most hardwoods. Therefore, it is considered a softwood. But when we look at the overall qualities of Hemlock, it has superior qualities to both hardwoods and softwoods.

Hemlock is soft, averagely weak in bending strength, and strong in compression. It has low split resistance and the nail holding ability is moderate. Hemlock is mainly used for construction purposes. But because being a softwood, it’s not durable much and requires treatment for external usage.

Hemlock trees are gymnosperms because they don’t have flowers and have cones for the production of seeds. When we look at the cellular structure of Hemlock, 90% -95% of cells are longitudinal tracheids. These longitudinal tracheids are able to support and conduct water. A small number of cells of Hemlock differ from one another to make it different than other softwood types.

There’s no vessel, elements of pores structures can be seen in Hemlock because of being a softwood. Not having vessels and pores is a good indicator to consider Hemlock as a softwood.

When we look at the cross-section of softwoods, resin canals can be seen instead of pores. Resin canals are tubular-shaped passages that exude resin or pitch to seal off wounds that occur because of mechanical or insect damage. But in Hemlock, there’re no resin canals that can be seen in its cross-section. In other words, Hemlock has less resistivity against insect and mechanical damage than softwoods with resin canals such as Spruce, Pine, and Douglas fir.

Even though Hemlock is considered a softwood due to its structural changes, it is varied substantially in density. Therefore, Hemlock is used for many construction applications.

Janka hardness rating is a test that measures the resistance of wood against wear and tear. Woods with high resistivity against dents and wear has a high Janka hardness rating.

According to the Janka hardness rating, Hemlock wood has a hardness rating of 540 lbf (2,402 N). Here is the Janka hardness rating of many other popular wood types that we use in out most of our woodworking activities.

Wood speciesHardness value
Brazilian Walnut3,684 lbf (16,390 N)
Red Mahogany, Turpentine2,697 lbf (12,000 N)
Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba2,350 lbf (10,500 N)
Golden Teak2,330 lbf (10,400 N)
Hickory, Pecan, Satinwood1,820 lbf (8,100 N)
Hard Maple, Sugar Maple1,450 lbf (6,400 N)
White Oak1,360 lbf (6,000 N)
Ash (White)1,320 lbf (5,900 N)
American Beech1,300 lbf (5,800 N)
Red Oak (Northern)1,290 lbf (5,700 N)
Yellow Birch / Baltic birch1,260 lbf (5,600 N)
Teak1,155 lbf (5,140 N)
Black Walnut, North American Walnut1,010 lbf (4,500 N)
Cherry995 lbf (4,430 N)
Black Cherry, Imbuia950 lbf (4,200 N)
Red Maple950 lbf (4,200 N)
Douglas Fir710 lbf (3,158 N)
Silver Maple700 lbf (3,100 N)
Hemlock540 lbf (2,402 N)
Black Spruce520 lbf (2,313 N)
Redwood420 lbf (1,868 N)
Engelmann Spruce390 lbf (1,735 N)
Sugar Pine380 lbf (1,690 N)

As you can see, the hardness of Hemlock is pretty less than many other kinds of wood.

So, let’s find out the characteristic qualities of Hemlock overcome the lower of Hemlock to become one of the most superior wood types in the world.

Hemlock Wood Characteristics

When we look at the characteristic features of Hemlock, there’re main two types of Hemlock that we use in our day-to-day lives.

  • Eastern Hemlock
  • Western Hemlock

Western Hemlock is spread through the northwest coast of North America and eastern Hemlock is spread through eastern North America. The heartwood of both kinds of wood is light reddish-brown and sapwood is lighter in color. Growth rings are conspicuous and placed in a nice grain pattern.

Even though Hemlock is considered a softwood, it has a straight grain with an even texture pattern that makes the wood harder and denser. But because of having no resin canals to seal off wood against insect attacks, Hemlock is prone to insect attacks. The durability of Hemlock is also significantly lower than most hardwoods and softwoods as well.

The workability of Hemlock is pretty good. But because of having qualities of softwoods and some the late hardwoods, sanding tends to create uneven surfaces and dips. Finishing Hemlock with wood glues and stains is so much easy.

Hemlock is more resistant to warping and twisting than most other woods like Pine. It does not decolorate or warp easily against temperature variations like many other kinds of wood.

Most importantly, Hemlock can be used as one of the best alternative woods to hardwoods because of having versatile hardwood features at a cheaper price. For indoor woodworking projects, Hemlock is essential, and it has superior strength as well.

In a summary, here’re the qualities of Hemlock wood,

  • Softwood
  • High workability
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to cut
  • Easy to finish (painting and staining)          
  • Affordable
  • Resistant to warp
  • Strong

As you can see not all softwoods are less strong and have poor qualities than hardwoods. Hemlock is one of the best examples of softwood with excellent qualities.

Here’re the main characteristic features of Hemlock.

ColorPale yellowish-brown
Density500 kg/m3
Hardness540 lbf (2,402 N)
Stiffness1.63 Mpsi
Wood TypeSoftwood
ApplicationsFraming, Roofing, Sheathing, Shutters

So, let’s have a look at the uses of Hemlock wood which are good to know how its hardness is important in those applications.

What Is Hemlock Good For?

Hemlock is one of the best alternative softwoods that can use for hardwood applications on many occasions due to its superior qualities.

Here’re the applications of Hemlock,

  • Boxes
  • Crates
  • Pallets
  • Framing
  • Plywood
  • Construction purposes
  • Roofing

As you can see Hemlock is one of the best affordable wood options for your most indoor woodworking projects. It is easy to finish and works well with woodworking tools.

Make sure to finish Hemlock wood applications with good stain or paint. Hemlock is less resistant to insects and mechanical damages. Therefore, having a good seal is a must for the durability of Hemlock wood applications.

How Strong Is Hemlock?

Hemlock is a moderately strong wood type. Hemlock has a compressive strength of 7,200 psi and bending strength of 11,300 psi which is relatively less than most of the hardwoods but higher than most of the softwoods.

The strength of Hemlock wood is highly dependent on the wood grain. If knots are available, they’ll significantly reduce the strength of Hemlock wood and the wood tend to split and crack so easily.

Hemlock wood with the smooth grain is quite strong. Strong Hemlock wood is extremely resistant to wear and tear. Because of its high compressive and bending strengths, Hemlock wood is an excellent choice for construction purposes like building horizontal components and longer spans.

Is Hemlock Good for Building?

Hemlock is an excellent wood for building materials. It is mostly used for horizontal components, frames, roofing, flooring, and stairs. Hemlock is a light and strong wood with good dimensional stability.

With proper finishing Hemlock any woodworking project is possible with Hemlock. It is strong, resistant to warp, one of the best alternative wood types of hardwoods, no discoloration occurs due to the weather fluctuations, affordable, easy to finish, and great for lamination. Because of those reasons Hemlock is great for building materials.

Here’re the pros and cons of Hemlock to use as a building material,

ProsCons
High strengthPoor durability
AffordableProne to insect attacks
Easy to finish (hold paints well)Split and crack easily
Warp resistantSoftwood
High stability 
Lightweight 
No discoloration happen 

As you can see there are lots of advantages of Hemlock wood for building purposes. Most of the disadvantages can be minimized by applying a good finisher and giving proper maintenance regularly.

So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions about is Hemlock a hardwood by comparing the hardness of Hemlock with some other popular wood types.

Is Hemlock Harder Than Pine?

Hemlock is harder than Pine. Both Pine and Hemlock are softwoods, but due to their structural properties, Hemlock is slightly harder and stronger than Pine.

According to the Janka hardness ratings,

Wood TypeHardness
Hemlock540 lbf
Sugar Pine380 lbf
White Pine380 lbf

Even though aspen wood is slightly harder than Pine, in real-world Hemlock wood is clearly the winner due to its great strengths and superior hardwood qualities.

Is Hemlock Harder Than Poplar?

No, Hemlock is less hard than Poplar. Hemlock is a softwood and Poplar is a hardwood. So, Poplar wood is harder, denser, and stronger than Hemlock on any day.

According to the Janka hardness ratings,

Wood TypeHardness
Poplar540 lbf
Hemlock540 lbf

As you can see Poplar and Hemlock both have the same hardness ratings. But because of the cell fiber structure, density, and stiffness, Poplar is way harder and stronger than Hemlock. But Hemlock is also significantly strong, and this is why it is considered one of the best wood that can be used as a hardwood.

Read: Is Poplar Wood Strong? With Pros & Cons

Is Hemlock Harder Than Cedar?

Hemlock is harder than Cedar. Both red Cedar and white Cedar are softwoods and softer and less dense than Hemlock.

According to the Janka hardness ratings,

Wood TypeHardness
Red Cedar350 lbf
White Cedar320 lbf
Hemlock540 lbf

As you can see in terms of hardness Hemlock is way harder than Cedar. Hemlock has good dimensional stability with excellent compressive and bending strength as well.

Is Hemlock Stronger Than Oak?

Oak is stronger than Hemlock. Oak is considered hardwood while Hemlock is softwood. so, in terms of strength mostly softwoods cannot compete with hardwoods.

According to the Janka hardness ratings, Oak is harder than Hemlock with a hardness of 1,290 lbf while Hemlock is 540 lbf.

In terms of their compressive and bending strengths,

Wood TypeCompressive StrengthBending Strength
Hemlock7,200 psi11,300 psi
Oak6,760 lbf14,300 psi

As you can see Hemlock has better compressive strength than Oakwood. but in terms of flexural strength (bending strength), Oakwood is clearly a winner. Even though theoretical values indicate Oak is slightly stronger than Hemlock, in real-world Hemlock is no way near stronger than Oakwood.

Oakwood is a superior wood with some exceptional qualities that can use for any indoor and outdoor woodworking project.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about: Is Hemlock A Hardwood?

In this article we have deeply discussed is Hemlock a hardwood and how hard Hemlock is by considering its structural properties and day-to-day applications.

Hemlock is a great hardwood with exceptional qualities. Even though it is considered softwood, it is equipped with so many properties of hardwoods. That’s what makes Hemlock wood so special.

Furthermore, I have answered some frequently asked questions regarding is Hemlock a hardwood compared to other popular wood types.

Hope you have gained pretty good knowledge about is Hemlock a hardwood and how can we use it for building purposes. So, let’s begin your next woodworking project with Hemlock wood. have fun woodworking!

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