Cedar vs Hemlock vs Pine

One of the most common question we get here at Backcountry Recreation is related to cedar vs hemlock vs white pine and which type of wood is best for your sauna. Each species has its own unique properties and consequently varies in price points. This page is will help you navigate which building material is best for your specific needs.

Clear Wester Red Cedar - Excellent Quality / Highest Price

Clear Red Cedar Sauna

Wester red cedar is one of the most commercially valuable species. Its exceptional working properties like natural resistance to termite, rot and decay make it an ideal choice for outdoor applications. The appealing dark color, light weight and soft texture makes it suitable for various applications . Its flexibility and versatility enables its usage in roof shingles, exterior siding, exterior cladding, decking, greenhouses, and saunas. Although there are many grades of red cedar saunas on the market Backcountry Recreation only uses the highest clear grade cedar available making out saunas one of the highest quality red cedar saunas on the market.

  • Lightweight
  • Excellent working properties
  • Can be sanded to a smooth satin finish
  • Planes and shapes well
  • Glues easily
  • Has moderate screw and nail holding properties
  • Appropriate for outdoor usage
  • Beautiful aroma

Wester Hemlock- Good Quality / Moderate Price

Western hemlock features a fine texture and a straight, uniform grain. This species is seasoned uniformly in dry kilns to improve its strength and stiffness, and to enhance its resistance to decay and insect attack. It offers a wide array of applications. This wood species is primarily known for its even grain, which offers excellent machining properties. It offers a wide array of applications, ranging from moldings, interior woodworking, general construction and traditional saunas.

  • Good strength-to-weight ratio
  • Excellent machining properties
  • Good sanding, staining and painting properties
  • Glues satisfactorily
  • Turns, planes and shapes well
  • Moderate nail- and screw-holding ability
  • Polishes beautifully

Pine (SPF) - Ok Quality / Lowest Price

The spruce-pine-fir (SPF) group is a mix of Engelmann Spruce, Lodgepole Pine and Subalpine Fir. SPF has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is primarily used for framing in North American housing. Due to its dimensional stability and superior gluing properties, SPF is used extensively in the flat-packed furniture industry. It is also a great choice for modular houses, interior finishing, boxes, pallets, packaging cases and concrete formwork but not the best choice for outdoor application when left untreated. 

  • Good planing and shaping quality
  • Excellent nail and screw holding properties with very good resistance to splitting
  • Good staining properties
  • Great strength and dimensional stability
  • Outstanding working properties




Canadian wood species Canadian wood species Canadian wood species
Trade name Western hemlock Western red cedar Spruce-pine-fir (SPF)
Affordability $$$ $$$$ $$
Physical properties
Strength  Very Moderate  Low
Stiffness Very Low Moderate
Stability (Shrinkage) (air dry) 12.4 6.8
T/R Ratio 1.9 2.1 2.2
Radial % (R) 4.2 2.4 3.2
Tangential % (T) 7.8 5 6.9
Working properties

ratings are based on a scale from 10 (excellent) to 1 (very poor) in terms of the species performance

Planing Very good Very good 8
Turning Very good Good 6
Mortising Very good Good 7
Staining Very good Excellent Very Good
Screw holding Good Moderate Good
Nail Holding Very good Moderate Good
Other properties
Drying Fair Good Good
Seasoning Good Good Good
Durability Good Very good Poor
Treatability Good Difficult Easy