Softwood and hardwood are the two most common types of timber available in the market. Besides the obvious difference in hardness (softwoods are generally softer compared to hardwoods), there are many other differences between softwood and hardwood, which we will discuss in detail here.
When looking to buy timber for your next wood project, it is important that you understand the difference between hardwood and softwood (hardwood vs softwood) so that you can choose the best type of wood for your particular needs.
If you’re one of those who think that the simple difference between hardwood and softwood is that hardwood is “hard” and softwood is “soft”, let me tell you that it is not that simple. Contrary to popular belief, not all hardwoods are hard and not all softwoods are soft. Confused? Let us talk in detail about it here.
What is Hardwood?
Hardwood is a type of wood that is usually hard and strong and used for a large variety of applications ranging from construction and furniture to veneering, plywood, flooring, boatbuilding, and musical instruments. Most hardwoods are durable and have good resistance to moisture and insect attacks, but that’s not true for all hardwoods.
Besides their strength and durability, hardwoods are also prized for their unmatching beauty and attractiveness. There are so many hardwood species with numerous combinations of colours, shades and specifications available that you’ll never run out of a suitable option for your project.
Some top examples of hardwood species include Oak, Teak, Iroko, Sapele, Walnut, and Cherry.
Because hardwood trees grow slower and have a longer manufacturing/processing time, hardwoods usually cost more than alternatives. Different kinds of hardwoods have different properties, which make them suitable for particular projects. Walnut, for instance, is both strong and attractive, which makes it perfect for a range of projects, including modern furniture and flooring.
At White Knight Consulting, we have many years of experience working with an extensive variety of hardwoods and as many as 40 hardwood species. We have been providing wood and timber cut to size and to meet the exact requirements of our customers, including wood merchants, companies and individuals all over the UK. We pride ourselves on being a leading destination for high-quality hardwood timber in the UK.
What is Softwood?
Softwoods are equally popular as hardwoods, as they can have amazing characteristics including high strength and a fantastic appearance, which make them suitable for a wide range of applications, from furniture and construction to flooring, decking, and other interior and outdoor projects. Softwood trees grow faster, which is why these wood species are easily and readily available and generally cost lower than hardwoods. They are also generally easier to work with because of their low density, low weight and typically straight grain. Softwoods can have low to moderate durability and are commonly considered suitable for interior applications.
Top softwood species include Douglas fir, Pine, Cedar, Spruce, and Hemlock.
At White Knight Consulting, we have years of experience manufacturing, processing & supplying an extensive range of softwoods and all top softwood species. We can provide softwood and timber cut to size based on the exact requirements of our customers, including wood merchants, companies and individuals all over the UK. We pride ourselves on being a leading destination for industrial-grade softwood timber in the UK.
Hardwood vs Softwood : Some Key Differences
The difference between hardwood and softwood starts from their very origins. While hardwoods come from deciduous trees which lose old leaves and get new leaves every year, softwood originates from conifer trees that are evergreen.
Deciduous trees, i.e. the trees from which hardwood is obtained are slow growing, which is why the wood grows denser and harder over the years. Conifer trees grow faster and have shorter lifespans.
Here are some other differences between softwood and hardwood:
Origin: Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, as we discussed above. These trees lose their leaves every year and have a relatively slower growth cycle, which means they grow very slowly and may take many years or even decades to fully grow. Softwoods come from evergreen conifer trees, which have a faster growth cycle and typically take a few years to fully grow. This is why softwoods are generally easily available in abundance.
Availability & Price: Because hardwoods have a slow growth rate and some species are in very high demand, they may not be as commonly available as softwoods. Also, the price of popular hardwoods is naturally higher compared to the price of most softwoods.
Density: Hardwoods are generally hard and dense by nature. The hardest wood types in the world are all hardwoods. Softwoods are rarely as hard or dense as many hardwoods, but it is a possibility for a softwood to be as hard or even harder than a hardwood.
Colour: Hardwoods commonly have a darker colour, like dark brown or black, though some hardwoods such as white oak, hickory, and red oak are light-coloured. Softwoods are almost always light in colour. You’ll rarely find a softwood that is completely black or dark brown.
Strength/Durability: Hardwoods are generally stronger and more durable than softwoods, but there are exceptions such as Balsa, which despite being a hardwood is softer than most softwoods.
Grain: Hardwoods have a close and generally irregular grain, which makes the wood dense and typically difficult to work with. Grain in softwoods is loose and straight.
Weight: Most hardwoods are heavy because of their dense structure. Softwoods are generally lighter than hardwoods.
Resistance: Many hardwoods can be resistant to everything from insect attacks to bugs, moisture, termites and/or fire. Softwoods are rated as low or moderately durable in terms of resistance.
Hardwood Vs Softwood : Uses & Examples
Uses of Hardwood
Hardwood is suitable for almost all types of applications where softwood is used, but it comes at an expensive price and some species may not be as easily available. The benefit of using hardwoods over softwoods is that they can offer greater strength and durability to a project and are perfect for exterior applications.
Hardwoods are commonly used in high-end projects and to build premium-quality furniture that lasts long. Hardwood is also used for exterior applications such as decking, boatbuilding, flooring, and others because of its durability and high strength.
Top uses of hardwood include:
- Construction – structure for buildings, high-quality furniture, etc.
- Boatbuilding and ships
Some species of hardwood are also used in genre-specific applications such as sports equipment, musical instruments like guitars, walking sticks, and specialty wooden items.
The top examples of hardwood are as follows:
Oak: Oak is a very popular and widely used hardwood species that is prized for its beautiful golden-brown appearance and unmatched durability. There are over 600 varieties of oak available, of which the most popular ones are Red Oak, White Oak, Black Oak, and European Oak. Oak is preferred for exterior woodwork and boatbuilding.
Walnut: Walnut is one of the premium hardwoods that is famous for its natural beauty and high strength. The most popular species of walnut are – American Black Walnut, White Walnut, and English Walnut.
Maple: Maple comes in two types – hard maple and soft maple. Both are used commercially, though hard maple is more popular due to its strength. The pale white sapwood of maple is more useful and durable than its brown-red heartwood. Maple is used for interior applications.
Beech: Beech trees are common in North America, Asia and Europe. The wood is pale cream and has good strength and moderate durability. American Beech and European White Beech are the most common types.
Ash: Ash is another popular hardwood. It has three varieties – White Ash, European Ash and Black Ash. The heartwood of ash is pale beige or light brown and the grain is straight. Ash is mainly used for moulding, construction, furniture and tools.
Uses of Softwood
Because softwoods are easily and widely available at cheaper prices and are easier to work with, they are used in all kinds of general applications. Roughly 75%-80% of all timber in use comes from softwoods.
Common uses for softwoods include building components such as windows and doors, furniture, construction, pulpwood, plywood, fibreboards, and cardboards, among others.
Top uses of softwood include:
- Doors, window frames, cabinets
- Picture frames
- Pulpwood & paper
- Construction – roof and inner wall structures, ceilings, props and trusses
- Furniture – bed, cabinets, couches
- Fencing & decking
- Other engineered wood options such as fibreboard and MDF
Softwoods are less expensive than hardwoods, fairly easy to work with and can be as strong and durable, which makes them a wonderful option for practically every type of woodworking project.
The top examples of softwood are as follows:
Pine: The most popular softwood of all time, pine is found and used all over the world as the best, most cost-effective alternative to many hardwoods. Pine mainly grows in North America, Asia and Europe. Pine has more than 126 species, of which Eastern White Pine, Scots Pine, and Black Pine are the most famous. Pine is a yellow-reddish-coloured wood with a straight grain and moderate durability. It is a versatile wood with many uses.
Cedar: Cedar is obtained from conifer trees, i.e. trees that have cones for leaves. The most popular type is Western Red Cedar. It has a reddish to pinkish brown heartwood with noticeable streaks and a straight grain with a coarse texture. Cedar is considered very durable and resistant to decay. It is also easy to work with.
Fir has more than 40 species and is commonly found in Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa. Douglas Fir, the most widely used species of Fir, is light-brown with dark growth rings. It generally has a straight grain with a coarse texture. It is moderately durable.
Spruce has many varieties, of which Norway Spruce is the most common and popular. It is found in Northern and central Europe and has a creamy white heartwood. Spruce is mainly used for pulpwood, crates, and Christmas trees.
Redwood: Coastal Redwood is the most popular type of Redwood. It is a softwood found in the Coastal northwestern United States. The reddish brown wood has a straight grain with a coarse texture and is moderately durable.
Hardwood vs Softwood : Where To Buy High-Quality Softwood & Hardwood?
In conclusion, when it comes to choosing between hardwoods and softwoods, it is important to consider the specific properties and advantages of each type of wood. Hardwoods such as oak and maple are known for their strength, durability, and unique grain patterns, making them ideal for furniture and decorative woodworking projects.
On the other hand, softwoods like spruce and pine are more affordable, versatile, and often used in construction and outdoor projects due to their natural resistance to decay and insects. Ultimately, the choice between hardwood vs softwood will depend on the intended use and desired aesthetic of the project, as well as the availability and cost of the chosen wood type.
Whether you are looking to buy hardwood timber or high-quality softwood, contact White Knight Consulting Limited now to choose from more than 40 wood species that can be prepared in custom sizes and dimensions to match the needs of your project.