The hemlock tree is a coniferous evergreen that has cascading branches and small, soft needles. It is an excellent option for landscaping but how does it perform in the fireplace? In this guide, we’ll look at whether hemlock makes good firewood and how it compares to other common types of wood.

Is hemlock good for firewood?

Hemlock makes useful firewood that produces moderate levels of heat and is easy to split most of the time. This wood won’t compete with popular options like oak for heat output, but it’s handy for kindling, the shoulder season, or burned with other types of wood.

Hemlock gives off plenty of sparks and tends to smoke a bit too. Most people won’t find this a deal-breaker, but you’ll want to keep this in mind if you’re camping or have an open fire at home.

  • Sparks and pops while burning
  • Gives off moderate heat as it burns
  • Generally easy to split by hand
  • The wood provides a pleasant fragrance

Hemlock firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

The level of heat that wood gives off is worth considering when deciding to use a certain type of firewood. It should provide adequate warmth, whether in the comfort of your lounge or sitting around a campfire toasting marshmallows.

Hemlock provides 19.3 million BTUs of heat per cord which means the wood is ranked middle of the pack. It will heat homes better than cottonwood or pine but pales in comparison to popular hardwood options like beech.

In really cold climates, hemlock firewood is best combined with other common types of wood that have higher BTU ratings. However, if your home has excellent insulation, then hemlock should be enough to keep you warm.

Burning hemlock in the shoulder seasons or using it as kindling are also good ways to use the wood.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of hemlock to various other common types of firewood.

Wood VarietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
White ash24.2
Osage orange32.9

2. Smoke

A fire that gives off excessive smoke isn’t ideal. It’ll result in sore eyes, especially if you’re indoors. People find that seasoned hemlock gives off some smoke as it burns. It’s best used in fireplaces that have a door to keep the smoke out.

Remember to always season hemlock before tossing it in the fire or it will give off lots of smoke as it burns. Unseasoned hemlock is also inefficient, using most of its energy to evaporate water rather than giving out heat.

3. Ease of splitting

Hemlock is usually easy to split, especially when it’s green and full of moisture. As the wood dries out, it becomes tougher to chop through.

Purpose-built splitting axes or maul will make splitting an easier job. You may want to try splitting logs on a frosty morning as this makes the job easier.

Hemlock has crotches that are always tough to split as the limbs join to create wood that’s packed with wrist-jarring knots. Hydraulic splitters are the best option in this situation.

4. Sparks

Hemlock pops and sparks quite a lot once it starts to burn. Some people relaxing on their favorite recliner may find this fireworks display unsettling. If you prefer a gentle fire, then hemlock may not be right for your home.

Anyone with an open fire should take care to keep the guard in place. You don’t want carpet burns or an unplanned fire. In the outdoors, pay a watchful eye on the fire and never leave it unattended.

5. Aroma

The fragrance given off by hemlock is very mild and most find it pleasant. For a stronger smelling fire, try apple or hickory wood which are both great options.

Hemlock isn’t recommended for grilling and meat smoking. It burns quickly and won’t add a lot of flavor to food. It’s also too smokey.

6. Coaling

An important feature to look for in firewood is its coaling ability. Hardwood varieties like oak produce excellent coals that keep the fire burning for a lot longer.

Hemlock produces poor coals that are similar to wood from a pine. There are much better options available, so you’re best to use hemlock with other firewood. That means you won’t have to frequently add wood to the fire.

7. Creosote build-up

Smoke deposits a tar-like substance called creosote inside the chimney. Without regular cleaning, the chimney will become blocked.

Although hemlock produces creosote, the levels are low so long as the firewood has been well seasoned.

How long does it take to season hemlock firewood?

Hemlock takes around 6 months to season in a hot, dry climate. Those living in cooler areas that get plenty of rain are best to allow 12 months for the firewood to dry sufficiently.

When is the best time to fell hemlock for firewood?

If timing allows, try to chop down hemlock trees and split them between winter and early spring. When the weather is cold there is reduced moisture and sap contained in the wood, so the firewood seasons quicker.

How do I identify a hemlock tree?

The best way to identify a hemlock tree is to look for pine needles that are arranged along the stem on their own, rather than in clusters. The needles have two white stripes on their underside and are also flat, so they won’t roll easily in your fingers.

A hemlock’s bark is gray or cinnamon-red and has ridges that are narrow and rounded. These ridges are also covered in thick scales.

A Tsuga mertensiana on a white background
The mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana)

Tips for seasoning hemlock

To speed up hemlock firewood seasoning, follow these simple tips.

  • Make space between rows: promote airflow by building a series of stacks with a 3-5” space between each one.
  • Cover the wood: use a waterproof cover like a tarp to protect the stacks from the elements but allow one side to remain exposed to the wind.
  • Stack the splits in the right place: avoid shady areas but face the stack so that it gets exposed to wind flow.
  • Split the firewood: chop the logs before drying to increase the surface area exposed to sunshine and wind.
  • Elevate the wood: stack the wood on blocks to create airflow beneath the wood.

Pros of hemlock

  • Useful kindling and shoulder season wood
  • Gives off a pleasant fragrance
  • Easy to split

Cons of hemlock

  • Poor coaling properties
  • Average heat output
  • Sparks as it burns
Closeup of the needles from an eastern hemlock tree
The needles from an eastern hemlock.

Fast facts

  • The botanical name for the hemlock tree is Tsuga from the family Pinaceae.
  • Common varieties include the western, eastern, mountain, and Carolina hemlocks.
  • The western hemlock grows to a height of 100-150 feet once mature while the eastern species usually only reaches around 60-70 feet.

Summing up

Hemlock isn’t as good as the best firewood varieties for heat output. Hotter burning wood like hickory, Osage orange, or black locust are better choices.

A lower BTU heat rating doesn’t mean hemlock isn’t worth splitting. It’s ideal for the shoulder season and people in milder climates will find it warms the room well.   

Keep in mind that hemlock will spark and smoke a fair bit. Seasoning the split logs will help reduce this problem.

Similar Posts