What’s the Difference Between A Hardwood And Softwood Timber?


Spotted Gum Hardwood Floorboards

First things first: ‘hardwood’ does not always suggest that the wood is harder. Take Balsa wood, for instance– it is among the weakest woods around, however it’s still classified as a hardwood.

To effectively address the question, we’re going to require a fast biology lesson:

Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms.
Okay, stay with us. There are two divisions of seed-bearing plants; Angiosperms and Gymnosperms.

The seeds of Angiosperms have a covering– either soft (i.e. fruit– such as apples, peaches, etc) or hard (i.e. nuts– such as walnuts, macadamias, etc). Angiosperms are hardwoods and make up the majority of the plant kingdom.

On the other hand, the seeds of gymnosperms fall to the ground without any sort of covering. Pine trees are an example– their seeds are grown in pine cones, which are launched into the wind once they reach maturity. This assists to spread out the tree’s seed across a bigger location. Gymnosperms are softwood trees.

The significant structural difference is that hardwoods (Angiosperms) have Vessels or pours in the wood grain whereas softwoods (Gymnosperms) do not.

If that’s too complicated, there’s a much easier way to separate the two. Angiosperms are flowering plants while Gymnosperms are not. Likewise, Gymnosperm trees usually keep their leaves throughout the year, while Angiosperms generally lose their leaves in winter. Therefore, deciduous trees are hardwoods, while evergreen trees are softwoods.

So why the confusion?
Generally speaking, Hardwoods are hard and strong when compared with Softwoods which, undoubtedly, are frequently softer and weaker. This is due to the fact that the vessels in all Hardwoods (which help carry nutrients and water) enable the rest of the timber grain to be denser because these fibers do not have to deliver as much nutrients and water. This implies that Hardwood is often extremely dense which usually makes it hard and strong.

But this is not always the case, the strongest Softwoods are harder and stronger than the weakest Hardwoods regardless of vessels. This is where the mix-up takes place. It is common for carpenters and tradesmen to use the term “Hardwood” to explain any strong wood that is made use of in a structural application and “Softwood” to describe any wood that is easy to form and work.

Jarrah Hardwood Floorboards

Jarrah Hardwood Floorboards

So “Hardwood Floors” may technically be a Softwood (such as Cypress Pine) and on the flip side Bamboo floorboards and many Engineered floors are technically Hardwood but not described as such!

Uses for Hardwood.
Examples of hardwood trees consist of Oak, Maple, Birch, Eucalyptus and Mahogany. Hardwood finds its way into all manner of things– from tools, watercrafts and structures, through to furnishings and musical instruments. Most relevantly, because of its density, hardwood is frequently made use of in flooring.

Treated Pine - Softwood

Treated Pine – Softwood

Uses for Softwood.
A few of the well-known types of softwood are Cedar, Pine and Spruce. Softwood is rather simple to work with, and as such it has the tendency to be used in furnishings, doors and windows. It’s also used in the manufacturing of paper, as well as different kinds of board such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF).

Softwood can likewise be used in floorboards– commonly providing a more eco-friendly choice when compared with hardwood (as softwood trees grow faster).

For more information on Hardwood and Softwood contact your local timber yard for advice. They will explain which wood is best suited for your Timber Flooring, Decking and Building projects.