Hemlock Wood Strength (& Is It a Hardwood or a Softwood?)

Is Hemlock a Hardwood or a Softwood? (& Is It Strong?)

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If you are looking for a good type of wood to use for a variety of woodworking and construction purposes, hemlock is always a good option to consider. With that being said, you probably have some questions about this material.

Today, we want to help you figure out whether this is a hardwood or a softwood, and just how strong it really is. We’ll be taking a closer look at hemlock as a type of wood based on a variety of factors.

Is Hemlock a Hardwood or a Softwood?

The hemlock tree is a gymnosperm, which means that it is a coniferous tree that loses its leaves or needles during the colder seasons. It is therefore not a flowering tree. As you can probably assume based on this, hemlock is a type of softwood. In fact, in terms of softwoods, hemlock is moderately soft.

Hemlock Strength: All You Need to Know

What is important to know here is that to determine exactly how strong or durable a piece of wood is, we have to take a look at five different factors.

These include the compressive strength, bending strength, stiffness, hardness, and density of the piece of wood in question.

Once we determine these five factors, we can then provide you with a clear picture of exactly how strong hemlock is. We will examine all three major types of hemlock, including eastern, western, and mountain hemlock.

Compressive Strength

Let’s now take a closer look at the compressive strength of the three major types of hemlock tree:

  • Western Hemlock – 7,200 lbf/in2 (37.3 MPa)
  • Mountain Hemlock – 6,440 lbf/in2 (44.4 MPa)
  • Eastern Hemlock – 5,410 lbf/in2 (37.3 MPa)

Western hemlock features the highest compressive strength, whereas eastern hemlock features the lowest.

In terms of the various types of softwood out there, this is fairly moderate to high. Of course, it’s much lower than any type of hardwood, as hemlock just does not have very much compressive strength.

The compressive strength of wood may also be referred to as the crushing strength. This refers to how much weight a piece of wood can handle parallel to its grain.

For an example that is easy to picture, imagine yourself standing on top of a table. Here, we are referring strictly to the table legs. How much would you have to weigh personally to cause those table legs to buckle and snap sideways?

Bending Strength

let’s now take a look at the bending strength of the three major types of hemlock tree:

  • Western Hemlock – 11,300 lbf/in2 (77.9 MPa)
  • Mountain Hemlock – 11,500 lbf/in2 (79.3 MPa)
  • Eastern Hemlock – 8,900 lbf/in2 (61.4 MPa)

As you can see, the western hemlock features the highest bending strength, with the eastern hemlock featuring the lowest.

Once again, when compared to other types of softwood, this is fairly moderate, if not on the higher end of the spectrum. However, when compared to all types of hardwood, all three score much lower on this front.

The bending strength of wood may also be referred to as the modulus of rupture, which measures how much weight a piece of wood can take perpendicular to its grain.

This is opposed to compressive strength, which measures parallel to its grain. For example, imagine that same table turned on its side. How much would you have to weigh to cause one of the table legs to snap if you were to hang on to the end of it so that it is supporting you?

Stiffness

let’s now examine how stiff the three major types of hemlock trees are:

  • Western Hemlock – 1,630,000 lbf/in2 (11.24 GPa)
  • Mountain Hemlock – 1,330,000 lbf/in2 (9.17 MPa)
  • Eastern Hemlock – 1,200,000 lbf/in2 (8.28 GPa)

As is also the case with the two previous categories, western hemlock scores the highest in the stiffness category, with eastern hemlock scoring the lowest.

This is not very stiff at all, and when compared to other types of softwood, is moderate, yet extremely low when compared to various types of hardwood. It just does not take very much to make a piece of hemlock bend.

The stiffness of wood, otherwise known as the modulus of elasticity, refers to how much weight a piece of wood can take before it starts to bend or sag in its center.

Once again, imagine that table we have been discussing this whole time, with you standing on top of it. Now, we are talking about the actual surface of the table, or the tabletop itself. How much would you have to weigh to cause that tabletop to start to bend or sag downwards underneath you?

Hardness

Let’s now determine exactly how hard the three different types of hemlock are:

  • Western Hemlock – 540 lbf
  • Mountain Hemlock – 680 lbf
  • Eastern Hemlock – 500 lbf

Surprisingly enough, mountain hemlock is the winner of the hardness category. When compared to various types of softwood out there, mountain hemlock is high in terms of hardness.

The other two are moderate to high when compared to other types of softwood. Of course, if we compare this to various types of hardwood, hemlock is extremely soft.

The hardness of wood refers to exactly how hard or solid a piece of wood is, specifically in reference to how resilient or resistant it is towards scratching, denting, and damage caused by physical impact.

This is especially important to know for things like furniture and flooring. The hardness of wood is usually measured on the Janka hardness scale.

Density

let’s now examine the density of the three major types of hemlock:

  • Western Hemlock – 29 lbs/ft3 or (465 kg/m3)
  • Mountain Hemlock – 33 lbs/ft3 or (530 kg/m3)
  • Eastern Hemlock – 28 lbs/ft3 or (450 kg/m3)

As you can see, mountain hemlock is the heaviest of all types of hemlock. Again, when compared to other types of softwood, that is fairly moderate, if not quite high.

The other two types of hemlock are also quite moderate in weight when compared to other types of softwood. However, when compared to various types of hardwood, this is very lightweight.

The density of wood may also be referred to simply as its weight. This refers to how much a piece of wood weighs in reference to a specific size or area.

This is important to know because it partially determines how strong a piece of wood is, as well as how easy it is to work with. This is usually always measured in pounds per cubic foot or kilograms per cubic meter.

Is Hemlock Strong?

When it comes down to it, the simple answer here is that hemlock is not very strong. It can’t handle much weight perpendicular or parallel to the grain, and it’s not very stiff, hard, or dense.

It’s just not a type of wood that works well for any type of heavy-duty structural or weight-bearing application. It may be strong for softwood, but not very strong when compared to hardwood.

Yes, hemlock may be used for basic construction purposes, but it’s not something most people would choose to build a large home or any other kind of structure that needs to be structurally sound. Hemlock is beautiful, and it does have its advantages, but it’s just not all that strong.

Summary

Hemlock is a truly beautiful type of wood, and it is more than good enough for various utilitarian, woodworking, and construction purposes. Just remember that it has limited structural integrity and weight-bearing capabilities.