Hardwood vs Softwood

Hardwood
Softwood

Softwood is a generic term used in woodworking and the lumber industries for wood from conifers. The term softwood designates wood from gymnosperm trees (plants having seeds with no covering). Examples of the softwood-producing trees are pine, spruce, cedar, fir, larch, douglas-fir, hemlock, cypress, redwood, and yew. Softwood is also known as Clarkwood, Madmanwood, or fuchwood.

The term hardwood designates wood from broad-leaved (mostly deciduous) or angiosperm trees (plants that produce seeds with some sort of covering). Hardwoods are employed in a large range of applications, for example (but not limited to), construction, furniture, flooring, and utensils. A recently classified hardwood is Palmwood, which comes from the monocotyledon group of plants, promoted as an alternative to the shrinking stocks of "conventional" hardwoods.

The two differ on the following parameters:

Comparison chart

Hardwood

Softwood

Definition Comes from deciduous trees that drop their leaves every year. Conifer trees have needles, normally do not lose them.
Uses Used for trimmings and furniture but less frequently than softwood. Used for flooring. Widely used as woodware for building (homes/cabins) and furniture.
Examples Examples of hardwood are mahogany, teak, walnut, oak, ash, elm, aspen, poplar, birch, maple etc. Examples of softwood trees are pine, spruce, cedar, fir, larch, douglas-fir etc.
Cost Hardwood is typically more expensive than softwood. Softwood is typically less expensive compared to hardwood.
Growth Hardwood has a slower growth rate. Softwood has a faster rate of growth.
Properties Broad leaves; enclosed nuts; higher density: not all hardwood is hard e.g. poplar and basswood. Less dense; less durable; high calorific values;coniferous trees.
Type Mostly deciduous. Some European evergreen trees that yield hardwood are holly, boxwood and holm oak. Evergreen.
Density Hardwood has a higher density and is therefore usually harder. Softwood has a lower density, therefore most softwood varieties are softer than hardwood.
Shedding of leaves Hardwoods shed their leaves over a period of time Softwoods tend to keep their leaves throughout the year.
Found in regions Trees supplying hardwood are found throughout the world from the Boreal and Taiga forests of the North to the tropics and down into the far South. Found in the northern hemisphere.
Colour Dark Light
Anular ring Not Distinct Distinct
Weight Heavy Light
Strenght Strong in compression, tension and shear(strong along and across the grains) Strong in tension but weak in shear(strong along the granins)
Structure Non - resinous and close grained Resinous and splits easy
Fire Resistance More Poor
Conversion Difficult Easy

Contents: Hardwood vs Softwood

Differences in Microscopic Structure

Images showing the presence of pores in hardwoods (Oak, top) and absence of such pores in softwoods (Pine, bottom)
Images showing the presence of pores in hardwoods (Oak, top) and absence of such pores in softwoods (Pine, bottom)

The difference between softwood and hardwood is found in the microscopic structure of the wood. Softwood contains only two types of cells: longitudinal wood fibers (or tracheids) and transverse ray cells. Hardwoods have vessel elements for water transport that softwoods lack; these vessel elements are evident in hardwoods as pores. SEM images show the presence of pores in hardwoods and absence in softwoods. In softwood, water transport within the tree is via the tracheids only.

Uses of Hardwood vs Softwood

In general, softwood is easier to drill into and in general easy to work with, it therefore forms the bulk of wood used by man. Softwood has a huge range of applications: it is the primary material used for building components, and is also found in furniture and other products such as millwork (mouldings, doors, windows). Softwood is also used in the production of paper, and for various types of board such as MDF (medium-density fiberboard). The finer softwoods have many special uses. Hardwood is also used for construction, flooring etc.

Hardwood vs Softwood Density

On an average, hardwood is of higher density and hardness than softwood, but there is considerable variation in actual wood hardness in both groups; some hardwoods (e.g., balsa) are softer than most softwoods; on the other hand, yew is an example of a hard softwood.

Trees that provide hardwoods have broad leaves and enclosed nuts or seeds such as acorns. They often grow in subtropical regions like Africa and also in Europe and other regions such as Asia.

Softwood and Hardwood Species

Hardwood species are more varied than softwood. There are about a hundred times as many hardwood species as softwoods.

Composition of Hardwood and Softwood

Softwoods contain more glucomannans than hardwoods, while hardwoods contain more xylans. Hardwoods are generally not safe but far more resistant to decay than softwoods when used for exterior work. However, solid hardwood joinery is expensive compared to softwood and most “hardwood” doors, for instance, now consist of a thin veneer bonded to MDF.

Hardwood

Softwood

Cellulose

42±2%

45±2%

Hemicellulose

27±2%

30±5%

Lignin

28±3%

20±4%

Extractives

3±2%

5±3%

Hardwood and softwood examples

Hardwood is derived from trees like aspen, poplar, birch, elm, maple while softwood is taken from Pine, spruce, cedar, fir, larch, douglas-fir etc.


References

Comments: Hardwood vs Softwood

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February 27, 2014, 4:45pm

Hard wood is the best and thax 4 that

— 41.✗.✗.4
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December 9, 2013, 8:03pm

very good

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April 14, 2013, 2:35am

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— 58.✗.✗.185
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April 7, 2013, 11:03am

Very helpful for year 8 homework, I am so grateful I found this.

— 101.✗.✗.114
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November 25, 2012, 6:51pm

thx for helping me with my science fair project!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

— 184.✗.✗.18
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May 27, 2012, 6:29pm

Softwood


Hardwood

Cellulose content


42% +/- 2%


45% +/- 2%

Lignin content


28% +/- 3%


20% +/- 4%

Extractives content


3% +/- 2%


5% +/- 3%

Fibre length


2-6 mm


0.6-1.5 mm

Coarseness


15-35 mg/100 mm


5-10 mg/100m

— 141.✗.✗.25
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March 4, 2012, 5:00pm

A good site, really helped with my homework, cheers!

— 95.✗.✗.57
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February 24, 2012, 4:54pm

thanks this really helped with my homework

— 86.✗.✗.126
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December 10, 2011, 3:02am

I think the douglas fir would be better.

— 67.✗.✗.66
0

December 9, 2011, 10:11pm

Which wood would be stronger & last longer, more rot resistant? A .5" x 6" x 4' piece of cedar or a 2" x 6" x 4' douglas-fir? Am building raised garden bed and am wondering which would last longer?

— 108.✗.✗.62
0

November 4, 2011, 11:28am

yes hardwood is denser than softwood.

— 180.✗.✗.233
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August 10, 2011, 11:40am

Hardwoods denser than softwoods? Really? Balsa is a hardwood, so go figure!

— 217.✗.✗.168
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May 7, 2011, 5:15pm

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— 112.✗.✗.232
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February 26, 2011, 1:45pm

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— 212.✗.✗.146
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December 7, 2010, 12:40pm

you guyz r g8t. it has really helped me

— 64.✗.✗.240
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December 17, 2012, 10:27pm

thx, but why does hardwood burn longer????

— 76.✗.✗.33
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