Hardwood Vs Softwood – Whats The Difference?

Spotted Gum Hardwood Floorboards

Spotted Gum Hardwood Floorboards

First things first: ‘hardwood’ does not necessarily imply that the wood is harder. Take Balsa wood, for instance– it is among the weakest woods around, but it’s still categorized as a hardwood.

To correctly address the question, we’re going to need a fast biology lesson:

Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms.
Okay, stay with us. There are 2 divisions of seed-bearing plants; Angiosperms and Gymnosperms.

The seeds of Angiosperms have a covering– either soft (i.e. fruit– such as apples, peaches, etc) or tough (i.e. nuts– such as walnuts, macadamias, etc). Angiosperms are hardwoods and comprise many of the plant kingdom.

On the other hand, the seeds of gymnosperms fall to the ground without any sort of covering. Pine trees are a good example– their seeds are grown in pine cones, which are launched into the wind once they reach maturity. This assists to spread the tree’s seed throughout a larger area. Gymnosperms are softwood trees.

The major structural difference is that hardwoods (Angiosperms) have Vessels or pours in the wood grain whereas softwoods (Gymnosperms) do not.

If that’s too confusing, there’s a much easier way to set apart the two. Angiosperms are flowering plants while Gymnosperms are not. Likewise, Gymnosperm trees generally keep their leaves all year round, while Angiosperms generally lose their leaves in winter. Therefore, deciduous trees are hardwoods, while evergreen trees are softwoods.

So why the confusion?
Generally speaking, Hardwoods are hard and strong when as compared to Softwoods which, undoubtedly, are commonly softer and weaker. This is because the vessels in all Hardwoods (which assist carry nutrients and water) enable the remainder of the wood grain to be denser because these fibers do not need to transfer as much nutrients and water. This implies that Hardwood is frequently very dense which normally makes it hard and strong.

However this is not always the case, the strongest Softwoods are harder and stronger than the weakest Hardwoods regardless of vessels. This is where the mix-up takes place. It is common for carpenters and tradesmen to make use of the term “Hardwood” to explain any solid wood that is used in a structural application and “Softwood” to explain any wood that is easy to form and work.

Jarrah Hardwood Floorboards

Jarrah Hardwood Floorboards

So “Hardwood Floors” may technically be a Softwood (such as Cypress Pine) and on the flip side Bamboo floorboards and many Engineered floors are technically Hardwood however not described as such!

Uses for Hardwood.
Examples of hardwood trees consist of Oak, Maple, Birch, Eucalyptus and Mahogany. Hardwood discovers its way into all manner of things– from tools, watercrafts and structures, through to furnishings and musical instruments. Most relevantly, because of its density, hardwood is frequently utilized in flooring.

Treated Pine - Softwood

Treated Pine – Softwood

Uses for Softwood.
Some of the widely known sorts of softwood are Cedar, Pine and Spruce. Softwood is rather simple to work with, and as such it tends to be utilized in furniture, windows and doors. It’s likewise used in the production of paper, in addition to different types of board such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF).

Softwood can also be utilized in floorboards– commonly supplying a more environment-friendly option when compared with hardwood (as softwood trees grow much faster).

For more information on Hardwood and Softwood contact your local timber yard for advice. They will explain which wood is best suited for your Timber Flooring, Decking and Building projects.