If you work with wood or want to know what sort of wood your contractor is installing in your home, you may ask yourself, “What’s the difference between hardwood and softwood?”Fortunately, it’s an easy question to answer. The terms are descriptive, encompassing a wide swath of diverse types of trees. Both types of wood have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s good to get a basic notion of what they each are. Here’s a basic breakdown of the individual qualities of both kinds of wood.
As a rule, hardwoods come from deciduous trees—that is, trees that lose their leaves every year. Hardwood trees include walnut, cherry, beech, ash, chestnut, oak, mahogany, hickory, elm, walnut, and others. Hardwoods are known for their, well, hardness. They are strong, durable, and resilient to damage; they’re mostly used in projects that require long-term use. It takes more time to grow a hardwood tree than a softwood one, which often leads to hardwoods being harder and denser—though this isn’t always the case. Besides toughness, hardwoods are great because they come in many styles, are easy to care for, and are more fire-resistant than softwood. On the other hand, they’re harder to work with and since it takes longer to grow and costs more.
Softwoods come from conifers, or evergreen trees, which retain their leaves and needles all year round. Not as dense as hardwoods, they do provide wood that’s extremely easy to work with and has multiple applications. Trees that produce softwood include cedars, pines, firs, hemlocks, and others. Softwood trees are rapid growers and are thus eco-friendlier and more sustainable than hardwood trees, which take far longer to grow. As a result, softwood is much cheaper—pine is one of the most common kinds of lumber available. On the other hand, and as suggested by the name, softwood isn’t as strong as hardwood, wears away quickly, and is more susceptible to fire if not treated.
So, we’ve answered the main question: what’s the difference between hardwood and softwood? Let’s address what each type of wood is good for. Hardwood floors are the first things that come to mind when someone mentions hardwoods, but the material is also useful for building boats, fine furniture, musical instruments, construction, and more. If you’re building a custom dining room table or a solid body electric guitar, hardwood is your best bet. Softwood timber, on the other hand, because it’s cheap and multifunctional, is useful for constructing homes, as it provides material to make houses, doors, and window frames. Furniture can be made from softwoods, of course, though it’s usually of lower quality and strength. Pine also serves as a good, cheap craft wood. Overall, before you start a project, determine which wood is best for your needs!