Amabilis fir

Category: Softwood
Region: Coast
Title: Amabilis fir (Abies amabilis)

Photo credit: Jonathan Taggart

Amabilis fir is a tall, straight tree that grows in B.C.’s coastal forests. Due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, it is used in structural products throughout residential and commercial construction. Applications include framing, sheathing, sub-flooring, concrete forms, decking, planking, beams, posts and prefabricated buildings.

Amabilis fir is commonly sold and shipped together with western hemlock as hem-fir. It is an attractive species with good working properties, so high-grade amabilis fir is often used for interior applications.


Where it grows

Amabilis fir, also known as Pacific silver fir, is found across B.C.’s coastal area with the exception of Haida Gwaii. It usually grows above 300 metres in elevation except in the north where it can be found at sea level.

Amabilis fir is shade tolerant, so it grows well in mixed-species stands, mainly with western hemlock, mountain hemlock, yellow cedar and western red cedar. It can tolerate summer drought, but its water demands are probably the largest for any evergreen tree in B.C. and it needs adequate moisture during the early growing season.

Did you know?

Amabilis fir is very productive on a wide range of sites as long as it is not too warm and there is enough water. Its productivity results from large leaf biomass, shade tolerance, low crown spatial requirements, low taper and thin bark.

Amabilis fir species distribution map

Identifiable characteristics

Amabilis fir is a medium- to large-sized tree that can reach 50 metres when mature, and can live to be over 500 years-old. It has smooth, pale grey bark with blisters of pitch and that becomes scaly with age. At maturity, it has a low-taper stem and narrow symmetrical crown with lateral branches perpendicular to the stem.

Its needles have blunt ends and are usually notched at the tip. They are dark green with a groove on the upper surface and two silvery bands on the lower surface. The needles are arranged in flattened, spray-like branches, with the longer needles spread horizontally from the bottom and sides of a twig and the shorter ones on the top point forward.

The deep purple seed cones are held upright on branches on the top of the tree. They fall apart while still on the tree, leaving a central spike that is visible into winter. Pollen cones are reddish.

Photo credit: Kirstin Charleton, Sundew Media

Close up daytime image of amabilis fir (Abies amabilis) branch with needles and small green tree frog

Common uses and applications

Amabilis fir is commonly sold and shipped together with western hemlock under the name hem-fir (or hem-bal).

Due to its strength properties, amabilis fir is used for structural products in a wide range of residential and commercial construction, including applications such as framing, sheathing, sub-flooring, concrete forms, decking, planking, beams, posts and prefabricated buildings. Its clean appearance, light weight and colour make it a good choice for doors and windows, furniture parts, mouldings, sauna panelling, and food containers. Low-grade wood is used in both pulp and paper products, as well as for boxes and crates.

Indigenous Peoples use firs medicinally, boiling the bark with stinging nettle for a tonic and for bathing, as well as making a tea from the needles to treat colds. The species was also used for floor coverings and bedding, house planks and firewood.

Did you know?

Amabilis fir is also called Pacific silver fir because of the silvery underside of the needles. Its botanical name amabilis means “lovely”, an apt description for this species.

Donguri Anne Public Library, Japan | Photo credit: Canada Wood Japan

Library with wooden shelves

Commercial properties

Amabilis fir has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is well known for its working properties and combination of strength and beauty. The wood dries moderately quickly with small dimensional movement and little tendency to check. It is relatively easy to work, with good machining qualities. It planes and shapes well and can be sanded to a smooth finish. The wood glues easily, has moderate nail and screw holding ability, and takes a good finish.

Research has shown amabilis fir to be among the most treatable wood species in Canada, offering an opportunity to add value through pressure treating.

Sasaki House, Japan | Photo credit: Seiji Takakuwa, World Spread

Exterior daytime image of Sasaki House, Japan as example of Amabilis fir trim and hem-fir pressure treated decking

Commercial availability

Amabilis fir grows in association with western hemlock and is commonly marketed as structural lumber in the hem-fir species group (also referred to as hem-bal).

Amabilis fir is produced primarily as structural lumber for North America and Japan. In North America, structural grades are in accordance with the National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA) rules for dimension lumber. Select Structural, #2 and better, and stud grades are the most common grades produced for North America, with squares being the most common Japanese product. Specialty in-house grades, lamstock, and export grades such as    E-120 in Japan are also marketed.

Appearance grades are also produced according to NLGA rules. Clears, shop lumber and moulding stock are most common, although there are many potential appearance grades that can be produced.

Amabilis fir lumber is dried according to end-use and customer specifications. Kiln drying inhibits natural staining of the wood, improves its strength and stiffness, enhances its appearance, and increases its resistance to decay and attack by insects.

Photo credit: Michael Bednar

Close up Amabilis fir lumber

Amabilis fir – physical properties

Density (kg/m3)Green360
Air dry389
Specific gravity (12% m.c.)Standard0.36
Hardness (N)Side1970
MOE (Mpa)Green9310
Air dry11400
MOR (Mpa)Green37.8
Air dry68.9
Compression parallel (Mpa)Air dry40.8
Compression perpendicular (Mpa)Air dry3.61
Shear (Mpa)Air dry7.54
Cleavage (N/mm width)Air dry36.8
OD = oven dry
air = air dry 12%
Radial (OD)4.2%
Tangential (OD)8.9%
Volumetric (OD)12.5%
Volumetric (air)7.5%
Tang / rad ratio2.1

Amabilis fir – visual properties

HeartwoodCreamy white to light gold.
SapwoodNearly white, similar to heartwood.
Heartwood / sapwood contrastLittle difference between heartwood and sapwood.
Latewood / earlywood contrastGradual transition, though distinct growth rings with fairly prominent brown latewood bands.
Wood has a medium to fine texture and straight, even grain.
Plainsawn lumber or rotary-cut veneer: conspicuous growth ring.
Quartersawn lumber or quarter-sliced veneer: faint growth ring stripe.
Contains small, sound black knots that are usually tight and dimensionally stable.
Wood is non-resinous. Lustrous.
“Birdpecks” or small bark pockets are often found in the lumber. Dark streaks are often found in the lumber. May contain ring shake.

Amabilis fir – working properties

PlaningFair to good resultsRecommended planer settings 20° hook angle and 20 kmpi (knife marks per inch). Typical defects: Fuzzy grain, raised grain, and torm grain. Sharp tools are needed in order to overcome the tendency for grain tearing.
TurningModerate to poor surface qualityMuch better surface quality when rotary-knife lathe is used.
SawingVariableSlight to moderate blunting effect.
BoringMediumMedium boring quality with brad point bits and poor quality with single twist bits.
MortisingModerate to goodGood mortising quality when using a hollow chisel mortise.
ShapingGood shaping qualityRecommended: The use of a counter piece for end-grain shaping.
SandingGoodSands smoothly.
ScrewingModerateAverage screw rentention: 366 lb.
Nail retention Moderate to good Good holding.
Lateral nail holdingN/A
GluingGlues easilyBonds very easily with adhesives of a wide range of properties and under a wide range of bonding conditions.
StainingAverage to goodWood is soft and produces a grainy appearance. Natural and light stains look the best. Dark stains appear blotchy.
PaintingAverage to good paint holding ability
LacqueringGoodMultiple coats of clear or a clear coat with a high build is recommended.
WaxingGoodGood results. Best results are obtained when using light- to mid-coloured waxes (e.g., mellow pine, chestnut).
Ease of dryingModerately easy to moderately difficultThere is a wide variation in the moisture content of green western hemlock. Best results are obtained when sorting by moisture content is done. Due to the high moisture content of this wood, longer kiln drying times are required. When dried at high temperatures sapwood can turn a brownish colour.
Natural decay resistanceNon-durable to slightly durableNot appropriate for prolonged outdoor exposure.

Data for these property tables has been compiled by FPInnovations from internal and external scientific sources.
FPInnovations is a not-for-profit technical research institute serving the Canadian forest sector.