Western Hemlock


West Coast Guitar Series

All guitars in the West Coast Series only use locally harvested woods from the west coast of BC. From Vancouver Island to the Skeena River, BC has the largest biomass per square meter in the world. The BC Raincoast is responsible for some of the most important tone woods used today in musical instruments. I would personally LOVE to get more experience playing instruments restricted to local Raincoast and Boreal forest woods. The few I have played have been SPECTACULAR!! I look forward to showcasing the power of the Raincoast and its incredible history here at Symphontree Music: in word, wood, and song.

Western Hemlock: Tsuga heterophylla

  • Specific Gravity: .42
  • Avg. Weight Per Board Foot: 3.00 lb/bf
  • Color Range: pale brown to purplish heartwood
  • Typical Width: 3″ to 9″
  • Typical Length: 6′ to 12′ feet feet




The western hemlock tree dominates the coastline from Sooke in the south to the far north. It has been used by many first peoples groups for a large variety of purposes.


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Just like some of the other coniferous trees, western hemlock’s inner bark was used as a food. The inner cambium was ready for harvest in May – June. The cambium was scraped off the inner bark, pounded then pit steamed. It could then be moulded into cakes ad dried on wooden forms above the fire. After the cakes have finished slow roasting they were wrapped in skunk cabbage leaves and placed in baskets or boxes for later consumption. These cakes were reheated before serving.


P1100907 Poplus balsamifera cambium

It has also been noted that some first peoples ate the cambium fresh. They also formed the fresh cambium into loaves and made “bread” out of it. Hemlock food is still eaten today and played a significant role in the diet of Canada’s first coastal peoples.

Western Hemlock trees live in moist mostly shady areas. It is usually found amongst thick forest humus as well as decaying wood but also grows well in mineral rich soil. Western hemlock dominates the coast line and can grow up to 60 meters high.



The narrow crown at the top of the tree droops and it’s branches sweep downward, having a feather like appearance. The needles are short and flat with a blunt tip and are irregularly spaced on the sides of the branches. The bark is rough and reddish brown in colour. The pollen cones are small and size about 1.5 – 2 cm long. Young cones will turn from green to purple to brown when they fully mature.


Western Hemlock boughs are used to collect herring spawn. In some cases the herring roe is roasted and served directly off the branch.

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Hemlock boughs were also used to make temporary shelters.The boughs were also rubbed on the skin to prevent body door. Hemlock roots were used to make snares and were sometimes spliced into fishing line to make it stronger. The knots found in the stump were used to make halibut hooks, and the wood was used to make small items like boxes, bows, octopus spears, grouse snares and spoons.



Western Hemlock as a Tonewood

Tsuga heterophylla is not a widely used tone-wood. It has been used on mandolins, and harp and traditional guitars. The Hemlock tone is sharp and distinct with a vibrant bell-like ring. Western hemlock makes for an incredible soundboard with a lot to offer any player.

Inquire today on how to get a Western Hemlock top on your next custom guitar.