Hardwood and softwood have different features and characteristic, and also very different applications. The difference between them has been known for a long time, but it’s actually not so easy to understand their differences.
The main thing is that hardwood comes from angiosperm trees, while softwood comes from gymnosperm trees. Angiosperms include temperate deciduous trees, which loses its leaves in autumn, often called broadleaf trees. Gymnosperms are coniferous trees, which keeps its pine needles all year round.
Origins of Hardwood Timber
Hardwood timber originates from an angiosperm tree, a tree type with seeds that are usually enclosed, like pods or shells, while softwood comes from a gymnosperm tree, which have cones or seeds not enclosed in shells.
The hardwood species commonly used are oak, maple, ash, birch, beech, mahogany and the like. Softwood species are spruce, fir, pine and other soft coniferous trees.
Origins of Softwood Timber
Softwood timber originates from a gymnosperm tree, which is a tree type with seeds that do not have any covering and usually just fall to the ground.
Common examples include cedar, pine, larch, fir and redwood.
Generally, hardwood is more resistant to decay than softwood. The reason is that softwood come from trees that have less complex structure, so the lignin, which serve as a binding agent for wood fibers, are more susceptible to decay. This can be easily seen in some construction applications where many softwoods tend to rot and warp more than hardwoods.
This classification is not always based on the wood type’s density or weight. A wood type’s feature or durability can also be measured by how it is reproduced or grown.
Balsa wood, a type of wood that is usually softer and lighter compared to other woods, is actually considered as a hardwood and not softwood.
Hardwood, takes a longer time to grow. Accordingly, this is one of the main reasons why this wood type is denser and heavier compared to other woods. Of course, this is also the reason why it is usually more expensive compared to softwood.
When used in construction, hardwood either absorbs moisture or dries out until it is in equilibrium with the surroundings. When this happens unevenly or too rapidly, it can cause shrinkage or splits in the wood. To avoid this, controlled drying of the hardwood is done in wood kilns.
Kiln dried hardwood is lighter, stronger and easier to handle than green hardwoods. It is also easier to machine, glue and paint.
Due to the cost of kiln-drying, especially for larger sizes, unseasoned or green hardwoods are generally used for structural framing. The green timber dries over time, and although there may be some bending and splitting, its structural integrity will be retained.
Softwood, is relatively less expensive that hardwood and, as such, is the more popular source for timber worldwide.
In fact, around 80% of timber in the world comes from softwood. This may be attributed to the fact that softwood is easier to reproduce, it grows faster and is thus considered a more eco-friendly” renewable resource.
So, which among these two should you use for your home improvement project? The answer is up to you.