People who don't regularly work with lumber would be challenged to mention even one major difference between hardwood and softwood lumber other than the fact one material is harder than the other.
The fact is there are several major differences between hardwood and softwood limber. Anyone who is planning a building or construction project that requires lumber would want to understand some of the differences. Why? Building materials matter in terms of the ease of working with the materials and what finished projects might look like.
About Hardwood and Softwood Trees
Since nonmanufactured wood comes from trees, a brief education on the trees that produce hardwood and softwood lumber projects seems in order.
Hardwood trees are angiosperms or flowering trees. They are typically found in tropical rainforests or subarctic forests because of their ability to hold up well to harsh climates. They grow slowly, are covered in leaves, and can get very large over years of growth. The list of common hardwood trees includes hickory, mahogany, oak, maple, teak, balsa wood, beech, alder, and walnut.
Softwood trees are gymnosperms. Their seeds are typically found in fruit and cones while the trees are generally covered in needles and not leaves. The list of common softwood trees includes pine trees, Douglas fir, redwood, yew, cedar, juniper, and spruce.
The Differences: Hardwood and Softwood Lumber
Depending on the building or construction project you have in mind, finding the right kind of lumber should make for better results. To help you select the best kinds of lumber based on the hardness of the lumber, we offer you the following information on the differences between hardwood and softwood lumber.
We start with the most obvious difference that being the hardness of the wood. Hardwood limber much harder than softwood lumber, which causes it to be less flexible or pliable. You can immediately recognize a hardwood piece of limber by its darker color, the weight of the piece, and the density of the wood.
Conversely, softwood lumber is much more delicate and pliable. The pliability makes it easier to work with but more difficult to handle because of the lumber's flexibility. Softwood lumber is more porous much lighter in color.
The way a piece of lumber is machined is ultimately going to affect its price.
Hardwood is oftentimes more difficult and time-consuming to manage during the manufacturing process. It requires the use of special cutting tools and blades that can endure the strength or hardness of the lumber. These special tools can get quite expensive.
The machining and manufacturing process for softwood lumber is much easier and less expensive. Common metal blades and tools will generally suffice when making cuts to softwood lumber.
Ease of Use
When it comes to using lumber, softwood lumber is by far easier for builders to work with and use. Softwood lumber material is easier to cut to specs and the pliability of the lumber makes it a good choice in terms of home building because of the multitude of projects for which the wood can be used. The pliability of the lumber also makes it easier to use when needing to bend or create some type of wood form. Also, the ease of cutting and nailing makes it the perfect choice for projects that need to be done quickly.
Hardwood lumber requires a lot more manipulation and patience on the part of the user. Simply cutting the wood could require extra time and special saws and blades, which are typically more expensive.
Since hardwood lumber is more difficult to work with and expensive, its uses are somewhat limited by logistics. It is typically used to build products that require strength and endurance. Typical hardwood lumber products include high-end furniture, beams for wood bridges, outdoor decking, fences, and hardwood flooring.
Softwood limber is used for a wider range of products. It is used a lot in home building (roofing, walls, doors), paper manufacturing, low-end furniture, firewood, and any type of product that might require lathing.
Cost of Lumber
Hardwood trees require a lot longer to grow and are much more labor-intensive when it comes to converting the tree into lumber. These are the primary factors that make hardwood lumber more expensive than its softwood lumber counterpart.
While softwood trees are less plentiful, the lumber from softwood trees is very affordable because of the ease of use and production factors. Anyone who has ever cut down their own Christmas trees knows how easy it is to cut the timber, which ultimately reduces the cost of manufacturing.
Looks and Appeal
At the end of the day, it all comes down to how lumber looks like as a finished product. Softwood lumber produces a finished product that looks more elegant and dainty. The pliability of the lumber makes it easier to bend into special forms that are creative, decorative, and give a project that extra appeal.
Since hardwood lumber is more robust, it holds up well in cool and rainy climates. It also holds up well to stains and painting and will hold its looks for a lot longer than softwood lumber.
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