Lee Roy Jordan Lumber

Hardwood vs Softwood

red stained cedar fenceSo what IS the real difference between hardwood and softwood, when it comes to building materials?

In this article, we’re going to explore the differences between the two, and why it matters.

Despite its name, hardwood is not necessarily any denser or stronger than softwood. The two terms actually reference deciduous trees versus evergreen trees.

Deciduous trees, also known as hardwoods, tend to lose their leaves every year. These include common trees like oaks, redwoods, and cedar. Evergreen trees, or softwoods, remain green year-round. These are the “Christmas tree” variety that produce needle-like foliage, such as spruce and pine.

So where do the names “hardwood” and “softwood” come from?

There is a bit of truth to the terminology, as many evergreens tend to be slightly less dense than their deciduous counterparts. However, this isn’t universally true. For instance, balsa wood is notably light and pliable, but it’s classed as a hardwood because it is deciduous. It is also worth noting that balsam fir is a separate species, and is in fact in the evergreen/softwood category.

Additionally, there is no such thing as a wood that’s too light to be considered a hardwood. In addition to balsa wood, hickory, ash, and many others are known to be less dense, and are often called “soft hardwoods.”

Back when lumberjacks used saws and axes rather than the large machinery we use today, they noticed how quickly some of the sturdier species wore out their equipment (and their muscles). By contrast, chopping conifers like pine trees required far less work. Hence the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” were coined, more from hands-on experience than any truly scientific examination of the wood’s physical properties.

If all of this still seems a bit confusing, you aren’t alone. Even the earlier wood harvesters were sometimes surprised to find that trees labeled as “hardwoods” were sometimes surprisingly pliable (such as cottonwood), while some termed as “softwoods” were notably dense.

All of this goes to show that the labels “hardwood” or “softwood” are not necessarily accurate when it comes to choosing a sturdy wood type for your building project.

Softwood vs. Hardwood

The reason softwoods are easier to cut is simply because they have a more slender cellular structure. However, that does not mean they are any less sturdy when it comes to building construction.

So choosling which wood types from either category, in order to make for the best building materials, can be tricky. It honestly depends on the purpose of the wood in the construction process.

Common hardwoods for construction include maple, walnut, oak, and mahogany. Popular softwoods for construction include ash, hickory, cedar, and pine. If you need more information about which would types would work best for your particular construction project, reach out to us for a free estimate.

2 thoughts on “Hardwood vs Softwood”

  1. I want to have a nice deck installed, but I’m not sure what material to use. I didn’t know that wood can make for a great deck! Hardwood would definitely be the best material to use for this.

    • It may depend on where you are located as some items are not readily available in some parts of the country. If you are looking for a low to no maintenance decking then composites or tropical hardwoods like Ipe or Bamboo left to gray/silver out are great choices. If you want the rich brown look in a natural wood decking product then Ipe, Bamboo, Redwood or Cedar are all great options depending on budget. To keep the rich color in these natural products you will have to apply a stain/oil periodically to maintain that look.


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