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Hardwood vs Softwood – What’s the Difference?

by Jake Park 

If you’re thinking about installing a rustic mantel for your fireplace or adding wooden furniture or maybe (reclaimed!) wood shelves to your home, do you know which type of wood is appropriate?

Could you easily identify hardwood? Identify types of softwood?

While we all know what wood is and what most wood looks like, most of us don’t know the key differences between hardwood and softwood. If you don’t know how to identify hardwood or how to identify softwood, we’ve got some key characteristics, uses, and other facts about hardwood and softwood.

  Hardwood Softwood
Definition Hardwood comes from deciduous trees which loses their leaves annually. Deciduous trees also produce seeds with a nutty or fleshy covering. Softwood comes from coniferous trees which remain evergreen and produce needles and cones. Coniferous trees bare exposed seeds.
Uses Garden furniture, flooring, tools, musical instruments, barrels, and decks. (Think about items that need to last.) Windows, doors, paper, Christmas trees, and home woodworking projects. (Absorbs finishes well, not good for being in exposed to weather elements.)
Density Higher Density – harder, stronger, and more durable Lower Density – easier to cut and work with, lighter weight
Aesthetics Darker brown, reddish-brown Pale yellow, light brown
Examples Teak, Elm, Oak, Alder, Beech, Hickory, Mahogany, Maple and Walnut Cedar, Fir, Pine, Spruce, Redwood and Juniper.
Cost More Expensive Less Expensive
Lifespan 15 + years with little maintenance 10 years if well maintained & treated properly.
Growth Slow growing & takes longer to dry Fast growing, dries quickly, easier to cut
Fire Resistance More fire resistant Less fire resistant
Maintenance Very little maintenance – only needs to be “washed” once a year to rid it from algae. Protector does not need to be applied more than once. More prone to decay – should not be exposed to weather elements over long periods of time. Recommended to use a protector and dry.
Jake Park
I am a timber expert and serial woodworker dedicated to helping you get educated about the finest woods and materials in the world. Join in my journey on the Modern Timber Craft blog.

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