If you're starting a home project or are new to woodworking, you may have questions about the difference between hardwoods and softwoods and what should be used where. We know it can be overwhelming, especially considering the many different types of wood available. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you distinguish the difference between hardwoods and softwoods.
It’s all about the tree
Softwoods, in general, have very few species that are harvested for wood. They also represent a smaller percentage of diversity seen in wood. Softwood is a generic term used for the scientific name gymnosperm. A gymnosperm is a plant whose seeds are unprotected by a nut or fruit and are often evergreen. These plants carry their seed in a cone. Pine, Douglas fir, and Cedar are all considered softwoods.
Hardwood is a generic term for the scientific name angiosperm. These plants are often deciduous trees that have broad leaves and carry their seeds in some variation of a nut or fruit. North American forests grow hundreds of varieties that thrive in temperate climates. Examples of hardwoods are Oak, Walnut, and Peach trees.
Are hardwoods harder than softwoods?
Not necessarily. They both have an enormous variation in actual wood hardness and the range of density. The actual hardness of a wood varies from tree to tree. Oak and Walnut are considered hard hardwoods. However, Balsa wood is classified as a hardwood but is so soft and lightweight that it is used for model airplanes. On the other hand, Douglas Fir is classified as a softwood, despite it being durable enough to be used for flooring, siding and timbers.
Determining the strength and durability of wood
So, if hardwoods aren’t necessarily harder than softwoods, how do I know which woods are the most durable? The Janka Hardness Test is a process that measures the resistance to indentation where a .444-inch steel ball is dropped repeatedly onto the surface of a board. The amount of force it takes to embed the ball halfway into the board gives it the Janka hardness rating.
How to determine if you should use hardwood or softwood
Deciding on what kind of wood to use for your home projects can be tricky. It isn’t necessarily best to choose a hardwood over a softwood just because you think it will be more durable. Softwoods are typically easier to work with and can be used for everything from studs, timbers, flooring, siding and paneling. Hardwoods, on the other hand, are often used for smaller projects such as furniture, cabinetry and flooring. Because softwoods are usually much more affordable than hardwoods, they are often used for projects of a larger scale.
At Marks Lumber, we specialize in all things circle sawn Rocky Mountain Douglas fir, from lumber and timers to siding, flooring and trim. Contact our qualified sales team today to learn more about our circle sawn lumber products.