Woods are humanity’s greatest resources; they could be used for just about anything, from building a home to building furniture. There are companies that use it to build sports cars. There are two classifications of wood in which it is put into, hardwood and softwood.
All the woods are either hardwood or softwood. In today’s, article I will be covering the difference between hard and softwood, along with where to use them, and clear a few misconceptions, plus some of their advantages which will help you understand them clearly.
Let’s dig into the topic before wasting any more time.
What is softwood?
Softwood is a conifer or an evergreen that has needles and seeds that are contained within cones. So, things like pine are often found at your local big box stores or home building supply stores, or home building supply stores.
What is hardwood?
Hardwoods are deciduous trees that have broad leaves that drop in the fall. They also have seeds that are contained within ovaries, like an acorn or a beech nut.
How to Distinguish between softwood and hardwood?
The main difference between the two is that if a seed falls from the ground and has some coverage on it, such as fruits, then the wood of that tree will be classified as hardwood. On the other hand, if a tree is producing seeds that are without covering, or just left to the elements, such as pines, then the wood of that tree is softwood.
Hardwood is also known as an angiosperm; here’s the reason why:
Angiosperm. In regard to trees that produce covered seeds, the technical term is angiosperm, a word that is taken from ancient Greek and roughly translates to “vessel seed” or, more aptly, “seeds contained in a protective vessel.”
Angiosperm includes any tree that produces fruit as well as any seed protected by some shell, like an acorn.
All types of hardwood fall in this type. They have slow growth and really good density. They are generally grown in those areas where human control is less, where a normal cannot go. The leaves of these trees are very broad and keep on changing colors. Their leaves fall in autumn. The wood from these trees is usually very expensive.
Some examples of the hardwood are hard maple, we got some walnut and some red oak, but obviously, there are tons of hardwood out there like basswood and aspen cherry.
- Physical properties
Hardwood is dark in color. They usually have heavyweight. Hardwood is a bit difficult to use for carpentry. Hardwood has more annual rings – annual rings are the rings that define the age and the maturity of the tree – hardwood doesn’t catch fire that easily, for example, Aldar, Beech, and Teak.
- Is hardwood always harder than softwood?
Hardwood and softwood are in no way related to the relative toughness of a given piece of wood; it’s noted that, for the most part, hardwoods are usually harder than softwoods.
However, one misconception about hardwood is that they are always harder than softwoods. However, it is simply not true in all cases; there are softwoods that are denser or heavier or harder than hardwoods; for example, southern yellow pine is denser than basswood.
- Where is hardwood used?
Hardwoods are used mainly in appearance grade applications like furniture and cabinets baseboard, and they can be used in structural applications, but due to their price, it doesn’t really fit that need. Hardwoods are much more expensive than softwoods.
Softwood is also known as gymnosperm. Here’s the reason why:
The technical term for the tree that produces seeds without any covering is gymnosperm, a term derived from ancient Greek, which literally means “naked seed.”
Softwood mostly in the world belongs to the Cuipo tree, which has a rating of just 22 lbs, making it drastically softer than balsa wood which has a higher but still very low rating.
Usually, the leaves of this tree stay green the whole year. They are pointed and look like a needle. Softwood has fast growth, and this is one reason behind its low density. They can be planted in a controlled environment. That’s the reason; if we compare it with hardwood, they are much cheaper.
Some of the softwood includes pine, cedar, and redwood.
- Physical properties
You will mostly find softwood in light colors, such as pine, yew, juniper, etc.; they are mostly lightweight and really easy to work with. They are good for carpentry and furniture-like stuff. They have fewer rings. Hence it isn’t easy to define their maturity. They can easily catch fire, so one should be very careful while working with them.
- Where is softwood used?
Softwoods tend to be used for structural grade purposes mainly because there’s a lot of it out there; it meets the needs that we need it to. The things we make out of softwood include big projects like houses, and they can even stand for hundreds of years if built properly. Yellow pine can be used for making footstools.
Softwood is workable, cheap, and durable. Southern yellow pine is used for a lot of woodworking because it is harder than poplar and a heck of a lot cheaper. But hardness is not the only thing you should care about; a piece of wood might be a lot harder on the surface but still be very flexible, which could be not good for certain applications.
Difference between hardwood and softwood
Hardwood and softwood have a lot of differences between them. They both have their own usages and purposes. They both can be used for furniture of different types and a lot of multiple things, but the outcome is however different with both the woods. Let’s dig into some of the differences between the two.
- Softwoods are much cheaper than hardwoods just because of the way it’s manufactured.
- The quantity of softwood that is available is much more than hardwood.
- One thing between softwood is that they have more knots, so if you use it for appearance grade purposes, you are going to have a lot more distinct character in your piece. The knot doesn’t actually affect the structural integrity of it, but the thing matters are the placement of where they are at the boards.
- If it’s a structural grade softwood, then it’s dried to 19% moisture content, and this is because, at 19% moisture content, mold will no longer grow.
- In appearance grade softwood, you make sure that it dries to six to eight percent moisture content.
Softwood vs. hardwood pellets
Here I will be discussing softwood and hardwood pellets. You will always find BBQ pellets to be hardwood. It is always important to be cooking with a hardwood pellet, and there’s a number of different ones out there.
Most common of the BBQ pellets out there will be of an oak white or red oak and then of a specific type of wood like apple, cherry, hickory, and there’s a lot of different blends of cooking pellets for barbeque grills, but you will always find barbeque grills to be using hardwood pellet, and it’s for a pretty good reason. It is because of the flavor of that wood. While with pine pellet, you will have fewer desirable results with the taste of the food.
Softwood vs. hardwood workbench
Here I will be comparing the two workbenches, the difference in species, and how they perform to help you chose the right bench for you, the hardwood hickory workbench, and the softwood pine workbench.
- Softwood workbench
Softwood bench is relatively an inexpensive option to get a really solid workbench. Yellow pine is relatively hard softwood available in the United States. Basically, you don’t need heavy hardwood to make a quality workbench. Working with a softwood workbench is more comfortable because it absorbs the impact much more.
- Hardwood workbench
While a hardwood bench doesn’t absorb that much, it just bounces it back right to your hand; it gets the same vibrations as that of when you hit a metal baseball bat and hit a metal pole with it. You cannot conclude hardwood bench as a bad workbench at all; it’s just for a longer period of time, softwood workbench is a lot more comfortable. Hickory is a really, very hard bench, and it’s almost like a metal baseball bat; it’s quite bouncy.
Hardwood vs. softwood firewood
One of the greatest uses of wood is firewood. Another topic which I will be covering is which wood is best to use as fuel for your fire.
It’s easy to differentiate between hardwood and softwood in this regard because almost all hardwoods and most of the softwoods act very similarly regardless of what type of tree they came from. Now both hardwood and softwood have their own characteristics and have their own benefits as well as some drawbacks when you use them as firewood.
- Hardwood firewood
Hardwoods make excellent fuel for the fire, and they are often highly recommended to store up for heat purposes, like if you are trying to heat your home over winter or if you are planning on cooking with the fire. Hardwood often comes highly recommended, and that’s because it is a very dense wood, generally speaking very dense and very low water content.
Why that’s important for you to know? Because a dense wood is going to burn for a long time and it’s going to output a lot of heat given the amount of fuel that you are going to have to put into it. So, you need a lot less fuel when you are working with hardwood to generate a significant amount of heat than you would if you were choosing softwood.
- Drawbacks of hardwood
However, one of the drawbacks of hardwood is that no matter how hard or dense they are, they are difficult to split. So, it’s going to take quite a bit more effort if you are going to be cutting your own firewood, and also, it’s much heavier to move around. Plus, it is very difficult to light, if you have a fire and you have built it only out of hardwood logs; you are going to have a serious struggle lighting it, even if you are using a significant number of starters like dried grass or paper to trying to get it going.
Hardwood is very resistant to initial ignition, but once it is burning, it burns for a long period of time very cleanly. But once it slows down to burning in coals, those coals are flaming hot, making it an ideal choice for cooking.
- Softwood firewood
Softwoods have their own benefits, and one of the biggest is actually how easy it is to work with. Softwood is a lot less dense than hardwood, which means it is a lot easier to split, and if you are looking to cut your own firewood, then it’s going to take a lot less effort and a lot less strength. It’s not as heavy as hardwood, so you will have an easier time moving them around. A huge benefit is how easy it is to light.
Read Also: How to make wood waterproof
Why is softwood cheaper than hardwood?
There are a couple of reasons why softwood is cheaper than hardwood. Let’s get to the reasons.
The first reason is that softwoods are available throughout the year, while hardwood is just a lot less out there.
Softwood grows a lot faster as compared to hardwoods.
Easy to work
Hardwood is quite difficult to break down the log into lumber because, as the name implies, it is usually hard. At the same time, softwood is easy to break into logs, which makes it easy to work with.
Drawbacks with hardwood
Another thing with hardwood is that the carbons are dried down to about six to eight percent moisture content, and this extra time also costs a lot more money and when you are looking to the cost thing that goes manufacturing lumber, it increases as a whole.
To sum up, everything that has been discussed so far, hardwood and softwood have their own benefits and drawbacks which needs to be kept in mind while working with them.
I hope the article was helpful to you.