Main menu


Hardwood vs Softwood: 10 differences

Hardwood vs Softwood


Throughout history, the unique characteristics and abundance of wood have made it a natural material for homes and other structures, furniture, tools, vehicles, and decorative objects. Today, for the same reasons, wood is prized for a multitude of uses.


All wood is composed of cellulose, lignin, hemicelluloses, and minor amounts (usually less than 10%) of extraneous materials contained in a cellular structure. Variations in the characteristics and proportions of these components and differences in cellular structure make woods heavy or light, stiff or flexible, and hard or soft.


The properties of a single species are relatively constant within limits; therefore, selection of wood by species alone may sometimes be adequate. However, to use wood to its best advantage and most effectively in engineering applications, specific characteristics or physical properties must be considered.



10 differences between Hardwoods and Softwoods

Trees are divided into two broad classes, usually referred to as hardwoods and softwoods.


1.      Names


These names can be confusing because some softwoods are actually harder than some hardwoods, and conversely some hardwoods are softer than some softwoods. For example, softwoods such as longleaf pine and Douglasfir are typically harder than the hard- woods basswood and aspen.



2.     Botanically


Botanically, hardwoods are angiosperms; their seeds are enclosed in the ovary of the flower.


Botanically, softwoods are gymnosperms or conifers; their seeds are not enclosed in the ovary of the flower.



3.     Anatomically


Anatomically, hardwoods are porous; that is, they contain vessel elements. A vessel element is a wood cell with open ends; when vessel elements are set one above an- other, they form a continuous tube (vessel), which serves as a conduit for transporting water or sap in the tree.


Anatomically, softwoods are nonporous (they do not contain vessels).



4.    Shape


Typically, hardwoods are plants with broad leaves that, with few exceptions in the temperate region, lose their leaves in autumn or winter.


Softwoods are usually conebearing plants with needle- or scale-like evergreen leaves. Some softwoods, such as larches and baldcypress, lose their needles during autumn or winter.



5.     Places


Most imported tropical woods are hardwoods.


Major resources of softwood species are spread across the United States, except for the Great Plains, where only small areas are forested. The hardwood resource is concentrated in the eastern United States, with only a few commercial species found in Washington, Oregon, and California.



6.     Examples


Hardwood: trees include alder, balsa, beech, hickory, mahogany, maple, oak, teak, and walnut.


Softwood: trees are cedar, Douglas fir, juniper, pine, redwood, spruce, and yew.



7.     Density


Hardwoods have a higher density.


Softwoods have a lower density.



8.     Cost


Hardwood is more expensive.


Softwood is less expensive.



9.     Growth


Hardwood has a slower growth rate.


Softwood has a faster rate of growth.



10.  Fire Resistance


Hardwood is more


Softwood poorer



Timber Resources and Uses

In the United States, more than 100 wood species are available to the prospective user; about 60% of these are of major commercial importance. Another 30 species are commonly imported in the form of logs, cants, lumber, and veneer for industrial uses, the building trade, and crafts.


A continuing program of timber inventory is in effect in the United States through the cooperation of Federal and State agencies, and new information on wood resources is published in State and Federal reports. Two of the most valuable sourcebooks are An Analysis of the Timber Situation in the United States: 1952 to 2050 and The 2005 RPA Timber Assessment Update. Current information on wood consumption, production, imports, and supply and demand is published periodically by the Forest Products Laboratory.



Commercial Sources of Wood Products

Softwoods are available directly from sawmills, wholesale and retail yards, or lumber brokers. Softwood lumber and plywood are used in construction for forms, scaffolding, framing, sheathing, flooring, moulding, paneling, cabinets, poles and piles, and many other building components.


Softwoods may also appear in the form of shingles, sashes, doors, and other millwork, in addition to some rough products such as timber and round posts.


Hardwoods are used in construction for flooring, architectural woodwork, interior woodwork, and paneling. These items are usually available from lumberyards and building supply dealers. Most hardwood lumber and dimension stock are remanufactured into furniture, flooring, pallets, containers, dunnage, and blocking.


Hardwood lumber and dimension stock are available directly from manufacturers, through wholesalers and brokers, and from some retail yards. Both softwood and hardwood products are distributed throughout the United States. Local preferences and the availability of certain species may influence choice, but a wide selection of woods is generally available for building construction, industrial uses, remanufacturing, and home use.



Use Classes and Trends

Major wood-based industries include those that convert wood to thin slices (veneer), particles (chips, flakes), or fiber pulps and reassemble the elements to produce various types of engineered panels such as plywood, particleboard, oriented strandboard, laminated veneer lumber, paper, paperboard, and fiberboard products. Another newer wood industry is the production of laminated wood products. The lumber industry has also produced smaller amounts of railroad crossties, cooperage, shingles, and shakes.