Do you want to start a home project or are you needing to do a home repair? Unless you're a carpenter, or a modern-day lumberjack, it may be difficult to know what type of wood to use for which project. Here, we will give you a starting look into how to tell the difference between hardwood and softwood and what each one will be beneficial for.
One common misconception is that hardwood is always a denser material than softwood. The difference between the two is determined botanically in terms of the reproduction. All trees reproducing producing seeds, but the way they are structured is what makes them stand out. There are two ways that trees are classified for the way they produce their seeds and how they are encased.
Gymnosperms – Any vascular plant that reproduces by means of an exposed seed, or ovule. The “naked seeds” are borne in cones and are not visible until maturity.
Angiosperms – Any flowering vascular plant that reproduces when the ovule is fertilized and develops into a seed. Seeds can be either in a flower or in a fruit.
If you are unsure what the species of the tree is and you have timber already, another good way of telling is by using a fingernail. When you press your thumbnail against soft wood and pull along the surface, it leaves a scratch mark. The deeper the mark, the softer the wood. Hardwood will not leave any marks.
Hardwood- Deciduous Trees, typically a darker wood
Most common types -
oaks, maple, hickory, birch, beech and cherry
fuel, tools, construction, boat building, furniture making, musical instruments, flooring, cooking, barrels, etc.
- Longevity: Hardwood produces a very high-quality product that offers great durability over time.
- Easy maintenance: Hardwood is easy to clean, and scratches and dents can be fixed.
- Strength: The trees’ dense cellular structure gives the timber incredible strength.
- Appearance: Hardwood timber is available in a range of colors and finishes, and will suit almost any contemporary style setting.
- Fire resistance: Hardwood timber offers a higher fire resistance than softwood.
- Slow growth rate: Hardwood forests take longer to replenish due to the tree’s slower growth rate.
- Workability: Due to its density, hardwood tends to be a lot harder to work with during construction.
- Cost: Hardwoods are generally more expensive, however in saying this, you get what you pay for.
- Refinishing: Hardwood floors in high traffic areas will require refinishing down the track, which can also be quite costly.
Softwood – Conifer Trees, typically a lighter wood
Most common types –
pines, hemlock, spruce and cedar
cladding, decking, flooring, paneling, structural framing, beams, poles, benchtops, furniture, cabinets, etc.
- Workability: Softwood is easier to work with and can be used across a broad range of applications.
- Sustainability: Softwood trees grow much faster than hardwood, and are considered a very renewable source.
- Cost: These timbers tend to be cheaper, as they’re easier to source.
- Density: The lower density of softwood timber means it’s weaker and less durable, however there are some ‘hard’ softwood options with a higher density like Juniper and Yew.
- Longevity: Softwood is less suitable for high traffic areas as it does not wear as well as hardwood over time.
- Fire resistance: Softwoods tend to have poor fire resistance unless treated.
Finding out what timber would work best for your project is going to determine the longevity of your product and the quality.