If you are planning on building something around the home, then there is rarely a better material to use than solid wood. That said, there are many different types of solid wood out there, and two popular types are cedar and hemlock.
Today, we want to compare these two types of wood to figure out what the differences between them are, and which one is best used for your next big woodworking project.
What Is Cedar?
First, we have cedar, which is a large evergreen tree that can be found in Canada and the USA, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. This tree can also be found in some parts of the Mediterranean and the Himalayas. This tree is technically a part of the cypress tree family and is a type of softwood tree. These are some of the biggest trees in the world, as they can measure 13’ in diameter and up to 200’ tall.
Cedar is regarded as featuring very fragrant lumber, which is reddish-brown in color, usually a bit browner than red. It also features a very straight and smooth grain, although it can sometimes have some irregularities and waves. This wood is also known for having many gaps and knots.
This type of wood is not really known for its durability, because it’s not very dense or hard, so it’s not very resistant to physical damage. However, cedar is extremely resistant to decay, moisture, and insect damage.
Cedar is a commonly used type of wood for boxes, tools, canoes, canoe paddles, totem poles, and outdoor furniture. It works well for outdoor applications due to its water resistance.
What Is Hemlock?
We then have the hemlock tree, particularly the eastern hemlock tree. This tree can be found in many parts of eastern North America, primarily in southern Ontario. This tree is a type of softwood, although it can be somewhat hard.
Keep in mind that this is a coniferous tree as well. The eastern hemlock is not the largest of trees, as it typically grows to a diameter of 3’ and 100’ tall.
The hemlock tree features a straight grain, although it may at times be spiraled or interlocked. These trees have a very coarse and uneven texture. The hardwood of the hemlock tree is very light reddish-brown. This wood is also known for containing some small black knots.
Eastern hemlock is known for having moderate hardness and density, therefore making it somewhat durable and resistant to physical damage. However, hemlock is not at all resistant to moisture, decay, and insects.
This is not the type of wood that you would use for outdoor purposes. Hemlock wood is often used for making pallets, crates and boxes, plywood, framing, and for other basic indoor construction purposes.
Cedar vs. Hemlock: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both cedar and hemlock are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.
One primary difference here is that cedar is much softer than hemlock. Cedar comes in at just 350 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, whereas hemlock comes in at 500 lbf. This means that hemlock is much more physically durable and resistant to impacts, denting, and scratching.
What is interesting to note is that although hemlock is harder than cedar, it is actually a bit lighter and less dense. Eastern hemlock comes in at roughly 28 lbs per cubic foot, while cedar is around 31 lbs per cubic foot. Cedar is therefore more structurally sound, although also a bit heavier and harder to work with.
Moisture and Pest Resistance
One of the major differences here is that cedar excels in terms of moisture resistance and pest resistance. This is the kind of wood that you can easily use outdoors without fear of it rotting. Hemlock wood is actually the exact opposite, as it is not at all resistant to pests or moisture, and is therefore not a material you would want to use outdoors.
Overall Strength and Durability
If we are talking about dry conditions, then hemlock is probably the more durable of the two, although if we’re talking about outdoor use, then cedar is definitely the better of the two options.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Cedar features a relatively straight grain with a moderately coarse texture, as well as a bit of a natural luster. This wood also has many natural imperfections, combined with a pinkish-red-brown color.
On the other hand, hemlock may have a straight, interlocked, or spiral grain, combined with a very coarse texture, and a light reddish-brown color. This wood tends to be a bit lighter in color than cedar.
Both of these types of wood can be somewhat hard to work with, as they can both contain a lot of knots and gaps. However, generally speaking, because hemlock is harder, it can be a bit harder to work with, especially as far as sawing is concerned.
Cedar will cost you between $5 and $15 per board foot. On the other hand, hemlock is going to cost you between $3.50 and $8.50 per board foot.
When to Use Cedar Wood?
If you need a type of wood that is going to work well for outdoor conditions, particularly in terms of moisture and pest resistance, then cedar definitely makes for the better option.
When to Use Hemlock Wood?
If you need a durable type of word for indoor use that is fairly hard and attractive to look at, then hemlock is a much better option to consider.
Alternatives to Cedar and Hemlock Wood
While cedar is ideal for outdoor use, it’s not overly durable. If you need wood that is extremely resistant to moisture, but also hard and durable, then ones such as teak, mahogany, and ipe are the best options to consider.
We wrote in detail about cedar alternatives here.
As you can tell, the main difference here is that one of these types of wood is ideal for outdoor use, and the other is best used indoors. Now that you know what the main differences between them are, you can make an informed decision between the two.