You’ve probably heard people talking about hardwoods and softwoods, but you might not understand the differences between them and which type is best for which job. The clue is not necessarily in the name- some softwoods can be very sturdy, and balsa wood, one of the lightest and least dense woods, is in fact a hardwood. The classification is down to each wood’s physical structure, with hardwoods generally being more durable and softwoods being more workable.
The physical differences between hardwoods and softwoods are easy to discern under the microscope, but they can also be noticed at the surface level with the naked eye. Softwoods have no visible pores, which means that they don’t display the prominent grain seen in hardwoods. Hardwoods will also tend to be much darker than softwoods. You can identify most hardwoods due to their broad leaves, while softwoods usually have needles and cones.
Examples of softwood trees include:
Examples of hardwood trees include:
Despite the popularity of hardwood varieties such as oak, softwoods are utilised far more frequently all across the world. In fact, it is estimated that around 80% of all timber used comes from softwood trees.
This is due to the fact that softwoods are much cheaper to farm thanks to their higher growth rate, something you might want to take into account if you’re looking for a more environmentally-friendly timber. Additionally, its lighter weight makes softwood easier to manage and its low density means that it’s easy to work, easy to nail, and easy to glue.
Hardwoods are far more durable, so they tend to be reserved for tasks that require maximum durability and longevity. If you walk into a historical home and see an age-old wooden floor beneath you, it’s almost bound to be made from a hardwood. This does mean that they present more of a challenge to tradesmen, and they also tend to be the most expensive woods, but they are still prized for use as high-quality furniture or decking, or in heavy-duty construction projects.