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What's the Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood

By Edited Jun 22, 2015 0 0

So you want to know the difference between hardwood and softwood.  Anyone that enjoys woodworking or other crafts that involve wood knows which woods they think are hard and which they think are soft.  According to the lumber industry though, some hardwoods are softer than softwoods and some softwoods are harder than hardwoods.  This is because according to the hardwood and softwood lumber industries, the difference in classifying a hard or softwood lies not in the actual density of the wood, but simply in the classification of the tree as either deciduous (loses its leaves in winter) or coniferous (an evergreen that has needles and does not shed in the winter).  The category of hardwoods has some very soft species such as basswood, balsa, and poplar, which would be softer than many of the woods classified as softwoods.  On the other hand, softwoods such as Longleaf pine and yew are harder than many of the different varieties of hardwoods.

So now you may be asking yourself, why should I care about any of this and why did I just waste 2 minutes (more if you're a slow reader) reading this article.  It comes down to not being fooled by just the way the wood is described when you're deciding on which wood you want for a variety of things.  Are you looking at putting down hardwood floors, buying new furniture, building a fence, carving a duck.  There are many options for all of these and when looking at them it's best to know that just because a certain wood may look better than the others to you, in the application you are buying it for, or more importantly the environment you are bringing it into, it may no t be the best suited.  For instance, soft maple, which as its name implies is softer than hard maple, is a beautiful wood with many unique characteristics that can be greatly enhanced with the proper treatment (staining, polyurethaning) but would be better suited to furniture in low traffic areas or items that can show this beauty like picture frames, guitars, or cabinetry without the threat of major marring or denting.  And the reverse of this would be someone looking to build something simple or carve something and decide that since ash is very white wood that it would be best to carve with because afterwords the color palette is basically open.  Unfortunately, carving ash with a knife is no easy task (I've actually done it and carving the same item out of ash took 3 times longer than carving the same thing out of soft maple and 5 times longer than poplar) so a better option for carving, especially for a novice would be poplar, basswood, tupelo or balsa.



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