What is the Difference between Hardwood and Softwood?

The terms “hardwood” and “softwood” are a bit misleading. A hardwood is not necessarily a harder, or denser material than softwood. Both hardwood and softwood trees produce specialty woods, ideal for a variety of home projects, such as interior and exterior doors, molding, and millwork. The distinction between hardwood and softwood actually comes from the plant’s reproduction. All trees reproduce by creating seeds, but the structure of those seeds varies.

Softwood trees are gymnosperms—plants that let seeds fall to the ground as-is, without a covering of any type. Trees which grow seeds in hard cones, like pines, are softwoods.

Hardwood trees are angiosperms, plants whose seeds do have some sort of covering. An example of this would be a hard shell like an acorn, which protects the seeds.

Typically, hardwoods (angiosperms) lose their leaves only during cold weather while softwoods (gymnosperms) keep their leaves year-round. Generally, it can be said that evergreens are softwoods and deciduous trees are hardwoods.

When it comes to basic woodworking projects, the majority of wood materials available for purchase will be softwoods, as they are generally less expensive than their counterparts.

Hardwood varieties are considered to be specialty woods and are better suited for fine woodworking projects, like vanities and cabinetry. When choosing a hardwood for a project, there are a couple things to consider:

  • Will you be staining or painting the wood? If you choose to paint, don’t bother with woods known for their beauty when stained. If you opt to stain the wood, there are lots of specialty woods for which staining bring out the beauty and color.
  • Where will the final project be located? If you are working on something for the outdoors, like furniture, a deck, or interior and exterior doors, then you may want to consider the more moisture-resistant species.

If you would like more information on choosing a wood for your next project, contact our experts at Southern Lumber. We’re happy to answer any questions you have about all the available varieties of wood on the market.

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