Types of Softwood with Properties & Uses in Detail

Softwood properties, types and uses

Softwood is one of the two main groups of wood; hardwood being the other.

Softwood is a term generally used for wood that is derived from conifer trees, i.e. trees that have cones or needle-like leaves and are evergreen or do not lose their leaves through the year. Softwood trees are also commonly known as gymnosperm trees or evergreens.

The wood of softwood trees generally has a lower density and is less strong than hardwoods. Softwoods are also often lighter in colour and cheaper than hardwoods because of their fast growth cycle and easy availability. Softwoods are easy to work with and are considered suitable for a wide range of applications.

Pine, Cedar, Fir, Spruce, and Larch are some popular examples of softwood.

Common Properties of Softwood

Not all softwoods share similar characteristics. The properties of a particular wood depend on a number of things, including its type, origin, environment, age, etc. Here are some of the most common properties of softwood:

Low density: Most softwoods have a low-density or low average dried weight. This is because the grain in softwood is widely distributed or located far from each other. This makes softwoods weigh lower. This is also one of the reasons why softwoods are easier to work with and handle.

Low Durability: Most softwoods have low durability, which means they will break and dent easily.

Less Resistant: Softwoods are generally poorly resistant to fire, moisture and weather conditions. They may also be prone to attacks by insects and termites.

Light Colour: Softwoods are usually light in colour, which may range from white to yellowish and light brown or red.

Easy workability: Most softwoods are easy to work with because of their low weight and light and typically straight grain. Softwoods like pine also bend easily.

Versatility: Softwoods serve many purposes and can be used for a large number of applications both indoor and outdoor, though it is preferred for indoor construction and uses.

Inexpensive: Though not a physical characteristic, another good thing about softwoods is that they are easily and widely available at a low price, which is why they are often favoured over hardwoods.

Softwood species grow very quickly, which makes them sustainable by nature. Despite being soft on the outside, softwood timber is generally very strong. It is also lightweight, which makes it easy to work with and transport. Softwoods are also easy to finish, glue and paint. Their durability can be enhanced through treatment, which also makes them resistant to termites, moisture and other things.

Check out the different types of softwood with their properties:

Types of Softwood

There are hundreds of species of softwood, of which the most common and popular ones are the following:

  1. Pine
  2. Cedar
  3. Redwood
  4. Larch
  5. Douglas Fir
  6. Spruce
  7. Hemlock

Pine

Pine is the most famous of all types of softwoods. As one of the most widely available timber woods in the world, pine is prized for its versatility, easy availability, ease of work, and good looks.

Pine comes in many varieties, some of which are soft while others are hard.

Avg. dried weight: 25 lbs/ft3 (400 kg/m3)

Janka hardness: 380 lbf (1,690 N)

Colour: light brown

Grain: straight with even texture

Durability: moderately durable; not resistant

Workability: easy to work, glue and finish

Cedar

Cedar is another popular softwood that is more durable and stronger and has good durability, which makes it suitable for some outdoor applications as well.

Avg. dried weight: 33 lbs/ft3 (530 kg/m3)

Janka hardness: 900 lbf (4,000 N)

Colour: reddish or violet-brown

Grain: straight with even texture

Durability: Moderate to high

Workability: easy to work

Redwood

Redwood is popular because of its excellent resistance to moisture, though it is not as hard as cedar.

Avg. dried weight: 26 lbs/ft3 (415 kg/m3)

Janka hardness: 450 lbf (2,000 N)

Colour: light pinkish brown to a deep reddish brown

Grain: straight with coarse texture

Durability: Moderate to high

Workability: easy to work

Larch

Larch is commonly found in Central Europe (European Larch). It is moderately durable and used in a range of applications, from veneering and flooring to boatbuilding, and construction.

Avg. dried weight: 36 lbs/ft3 (575 kg/m3)

Janka hardness: 740 lbf (3,290 N)

Colour: yellow to a medium reddish brown

Grain: straight with medium to fine texture

Durability: moderately durable

Workability: easy to work

Douglas Fir

Douglas fir is a softwood timber primarily used for construction of cladding, facades, flooring and joinery. Douglas fir trees are famous for use as Christmas trees.

Avg. dried weight: 32 lbs/ft3 (510 kg/m3)

Janka hardness: 620 lbf (2,760 N)

Colour: light brown

Grain: straight with medium to coarse texture

Durability: moderately durable

Workability: easy to work with machines

Softwood Vs Hardwood

The most basic difference between softwood and hardwood is their origin. Softwoods are taken from conifer trees that have cones, are evergreen and have seeds in cones, while hardwoods are derived from deciduous trees which lose their leaves every year and have flowers with seeds.

Another difference between softwood and hardwood is in terms of hardness (density, strength & durability). Hardwoods are generally (but not always) harder than most softwoods, and have a higher density and durability. This is because hardwood trees grow slowly over a period of many years or sometimes decades. Their grain is closely located, which makes the wood stiff and denser. Softwoods have a shorter growth cycle of a few months or up to a year.

Softwoods are easily available in abundance and are generally cheaper than most hardwoods, which may not be as easily and widely available because of their slow growth.

Softwoods are also generally light in colour, which ranges from almost white to yellowish, light brown and pink-red. Hardwoods are dark-coloured.

In terms of distribution, North America, Russia, and Europe are the leading distributors of softwood, while hardwoods are mainly sourced from Africa, Asia, and South America.

Softwood Distribution

Softwoods grow in many parts of the world, though their major distribution is limited to the Confederation of the Independent States of the former Soviet Union (Russia, Ukraine, etc.), North America, Europe, and Asia. (see the table below)

RegionSoftwood forest (%)
Africa0.2
Asia5
Central America1.5
Europe8.2
CIS*53
North America30.5
South America0.8
Oceania0.8
World (total)100

Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/softwood

Applications & Uses of Softwood

Softwoods are most commonly used by the construction industry for building plywood, structures for buildings, inner walls, windows, cabinets, and more. It is also used in the pulpwood industry to produce paper and card products, boxes, etc.

Pine, which is the most popular softwood, is used for everything from decking and cladding to flooring, panelling, beams, framing structures, furniture, cabinets, poles, and benchtops. The wood can be easily treated to enhance its durability and resistance to insects.

Other uses of softwood include doors, windows, ceilings, feature walls, interior mouldings, plywood, fibreboard, paper, MDF, picture frames, firewood, DIY craft, fixtures and fittings, wood carving, carpentry, fencing, engineered wood, inner wall, and roof structures.

What is The Most Common Softwood?

Pine is the most commonly found and used softwood. It has moderate durability, looks good and is strong enough for many types of projects. Pine is often used in furniture as an alternative to costlier hardwood options such as oak, walnut and mahogany. It is easy to work with and bends easily. It is also very easily and widely available.

Are all Softwoods soft?

Softwoods generally have a lower density and hardness when compared to hardwoods, but this may not always be the case. Some types of softwoods such as yew wood are extremely hard, even harder than some softwoods. Similarly, some hardwoods such as Balsa are not really very hard.

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