Is Hemlock Wood Good for Anything? (5 Facts With Pictures)

Tall hemlock tree trunk in temperate rainforest

When building something indoors or outdoors, you must select quality and sturdy wood. This will ensure that your structure can serve you for several years, if not decades. There are many wood options but is hemlock wood good for anything?

Hemlock is a pretty stable wood, and because of its light and strong features, it can be used as a building material. Builders use for framing, flooring, and sheathing. It can also be used to make the handrails and stairs. And like fine wine, Hemlock grows harder with age.

Hemlock is a softwood that thrives in cool, humid climates. In the early years, it was used for tannic acid extraction. The acid was infused with hides and skins to soften and strengthen them. 

But now, it is used in construction projects for sub-flooring, stairs, and framing. Let’s explore why you should use hemlock in your next project, the challenges people face using this softwood, and where to use it.

What is Hemlock Wood?

Hemlock is a softwood and a member of the pine family. There are about 10 species of hemlock, with the most popular and commercialized Eastern Hemlock and western hemlock. 

The features that make this softwood a favorite of many are the lack of pitch and resin, its lights color, and the ability to hold paint and vanish.

Characteristics of Hemlock Wood

There are plenty of reasons to use hemlock wood in your next project, and discussed below are just a few.


Hemlock is a strong wood that gives hardwoods a run for their money. However, the strength of this softwood depends if the quality of the grain.

For instance, if the wood has knots in it, it will splinter when cut with a machine, thus not the best option in terms of durability.

Hemlock lumber with a smooth grain is quite strong and does not splinter. Thus best for using in the high parts with high traffic as it is reasonably resistant to wear and tear. This makes it the best wood for building projects, especially framing and stairs.

Resists Warping

When it is exposed to extreme weather conditions, hemlock does succumb. It stands strong and does not warp or twist, making it the perfect wood for trims and moldings. 


Most woods change color due to exposure to weather elements and age, some better than others. However, hemlock just gets better with age, irrespective of rain, sun, or wind. 

The wood adopts a pleasant and unique brown-reddish hue, and if you want to enhance its appearance, you paint and apply varnish.


Although hemlock is not cheap, it is not the most expensive of all woods; as such, you can save loads of money you would have used. You may wonder if it’s a worthy investment? 

Hemlock is strong, durable, and resistant to rot and disease, making it the best option for your next build.


Most people don’t like plain wood and love to paint and apply to vanish. But before doing so, you must ensure that it will hold and not peel off. You don’t have to worry that the wood will keep your paint well with hemlock. 

Ensure that it has been dried and well-cured. Otherwise, if you apply paint on a wet hemlock wood, you will be disappointed as it will chip away. 

Hemlock is an excellent choice as it comes out stunning with all finishes from paint, stain, and vanish, especially western hemlock, whose grain is smoother than eastern hemlock.

The Best Alternative to Hardwood

If your budget is not enough for the high cost of hardwood, you can use hemlock as it has almost similar features. 

It is strong, durable, tough, resistant to rot & infestation, and best for framing, shutters, and doors. Besides, compared to oak and cherry, hemlock is more affordable.

What are the Downsides of Using Hemlock Wood?

Like every other type of wood, hemlock also has its downside. So do your research before buying or cutting your hemlock tree. So what complaints do people have on hemlock?


This beautiful and strong wood has the most notorious feature, splinters. The wood produces tiny and quite hard shards, and if one happens to land on your skin, you will be in a lot of pain. 

Therefore, when using hemlock either for your stairs, handrails, or benches, you must ensure that they are sanded; otherwise, you risk some piercing your skin if left raw.

Make sure to cover well when using hemlock in its raw state.


Most people say hemlock smells like cat piss.

Machine Operated

Due to the splintering, it’s best to use the machines on this stunning wood, especially when drilling or carving.


Although it’s a strong wood, it is prone to rot and decay. Therefore you cannot use it for a prolonged period, especially in areas where the weather is damp. This is why it is used for sub-flooring and framing. 

This susceptibility makes it hard to use hemlock for outdoor projects, but you must ensure to apply preventative treatment if you do use it.


When dried and well-cured, hemlock strength is amplified, making it quite hard.

Although this is preferred when you don’t plan on changing it, you will have a challenging time working with the wood either from scratch or modifying by fixing worn-out areas by nailing or sawing. 

Therefore, please make an effort to work with hemlock while it’s young or green.

5 Facts that Show Hemlock Wood is Good

If you are not sure if hemlock wood is good for anything, here are 5 facts to prove that you can use it to make the following items.

1. Lumber

Eastern hemlock is used to manufacture lumber used for lighting framing, sheathing, sub-flooring, and roofing.

Some people use it to make treehouses and birdhouses, while mills make windows, moldings panels, and frame & panel doors. 

Because of the hemlock’s strength and resistance to wear and tear, the wood is ideal for making ladders and stairs. And since it does not have resin or pitch, it’s the perfect wood to use in a sauna.

2. Pulp

The pulp made from hemlock wood is used to make paper for printing newspapers and wrappers.

3. Boxes and Crates

Hemlock is also used to make boxes, crates, and pallets.

4. Tannin Extraction

As we’ve seen, Hemlock was initially grown for its bark. 

It contains tannic acid, which soaks hides and skin to make them soft and strong. 

5. Firewood

This softwood can also be a good source of firewood as long as it is adequately dried. If you are a fan of camping, you will find that most people use hemlock for their campfires. 

This is because it is readily available and provides warmth to the campers. Dry hemlock smells good, cackles and pops, making for an ideal camping experience

Final Thoughts

Hemlock is a solid softwood and an excellent building material with many pros than cons. It can be used as an alternative to hardwood makes a better choice for people with a low budget. And a bonus to boot, it’s good to look at.

Hemlock works best in making sheds, stairs, ladders, sub-floors, molds, frames, and saunas.

It is the perfect wood for painting, staining, or applying vanish as it holds well without peeling or chipping. And don’t let the splintering hinder you from this solid wood because you can protect yourself with proper coverage. 

So when you are shopping for wood for your next project, look into its strengths, weaknesses, and lifespan before making your decision.

Hemlock is an excellent choice because it is strong and beautiful to look at has a wide range of uses.


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