What’s The Difference Between A Hardwood And Softwood?

Spotted Gum - A Beautiful Hardwood Floorboards

Spotted Gum – Beautiful Hardwood Floorboards

First things first: ‘hardwood’ does not always suggest that the wood is harder. Take Balsa wood, as an example– it’s one of the weakest woods around, but it’s still classified as a hardwood.

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

Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms.
Okay, stay with us. There are 2 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 most of the plant kingdom.

Meanwhile, the seeds of gymnosperms fall to the ground without any sort of covering. Pine trees are a good example– their seeds are grown in pine cones, which are released into the wind once they reach maturity. This helps to spread out the tree’s seed throughout a bigger location. Gymnosperms are softwood trees.

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

If that’s too confusing, there’s a much easier way to distinguish the two. Angiosperms are flowering plants while Gymnosperms are not. Likewise, Gymnosperm trees normally remain their leaves throughout the year, while Angiosperms normally lose their leaves in winter. Hence, 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, clearly, are often softer and weaker. This is since the vessels in all Hardwoods (which help transport nutrients and water) allow the rest of the timber grain to be denser since these fibers do not need to transfer as much nutrients and water. This implies that Hardwood is often really 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 make use of the term “Hardwood” to explain any strong wood that is used in a structural application and “Softwood” to explain any wood that is simple to form and work.

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

Jarrah Timber Floor - Hardwood

Jarrah Timber Floor – Hardwood

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

Treated Pine - Softwood

Treated Pine – Softwood

Uses for Softwood.
Some of the well-known sorts of softwood are Cedar, Pine and Spruce. Softwood is rather simple to work with, and as such it tends to be utilized in furnishings, doors and windows. It’s likewise used in the manufacturing of paper, along with different kinds of board such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF).

Softwood can likewise be utilized in floorboards– frequently supplying a more environment-friendly alternative 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.