Hard and soft woods: a guide

When looking at furniture, the expression “hardwood Y softwood.” Many people don’t understand the difference. This article will help you understand the wood options that will help you gain more confidence the next time you shop for furniture.

What is hardwood?

Hardwoods come from trees that bear fruit. Walnuts are also a type of fruit. Some examples are cherry, hazel, apple and beech trees. Some are deciduous, meaning they are broad-leaved and lose their leaves in winter, for example oak and ash. Others are grown in tropical regions where there are no winters, therefore they do not tend to have leaf drop as temperatures remain fairly constant during the dry and wet seasons. Some hardwoods from these warm regions are mahogany, teak, and sapele.

Hardwoods are often, but not always, harder than softwoods. However, it is important to note that hardness is not the defining factor. This means that balsa wood, favored by modelers and so easily damaged by a fingernail, is a hard wood. Other examples of hardwoods are iroko, ebony, maple, and hickory.

What is softwood?

Softwoods come from trees that have cones, in other words, conifers. They typically have needle-shaped leaves and grow in the cooler temperate areas of the world, such as Scotland, the Alps, and Scandinavia. Some examples are the ubiquitous pine, spruce, which is often referred to as “whitewood”, red deal, and Scots pine.

Many have been introduced to parts of England instead of native hardwood forests. Softwoods such as yew, larch, hemlock, redwood, and cedar are also used.

Are there other differences?

An important aspect is the time it takes to grow into a full-size tree that is ready to be cut down and turned into furniture. Softwoods can reach full size in as little as 30 years. Deciduous hardwoods will take about 100 years to reach the same maturity, that is, more than three times as long. That explains why that beautiful oak sideboard is so much more expensive than the same design in pine. Another aspect that affects cost is how easy or difficult it is to “work” the material. Harder wood requires more effort. I mentioned earlier that hardness is not necessarily a reliable indicator and cited balsa as a very soft hardwood. A very hard softwood is the paraná pine. It is often found in Victorian and Edwardian homes on solid wood doors and is harder than many hardwoods.

Armed with the knowledge from this article, you will now be able to understand why certain types of wood cost more than others.

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