What is the difference between hard and soft woods? Is it just the density of the wood, or does the species of the tree matter?
The terms 'hard wood' and 'soft wood' are used in the woodworking and timber industries to differentiate between types of wood. The distinction between hardwood and softwood relates to the type of tree from which the wood is produced, specifically the type of reproduction the tree carries out.
Softwood is the term used for wood produced from conifers, which are evergreen and tend to keep their needles all year round. Conifers are gymnosperm trees, meaning their seeds have no covering. Gymnosperms reproduce by forming cones which are wind pollinated and drop naked seeds to the ground.
Evergreens tend to be less dense than deciduous trees, and the wood is therefore easier ('softer') to cut. Softwood is typically less expensive compared to hardwood due to its faster rate of growth. Lighter in appearance than hardwood, with distinct annular rings, it is resinous and splits easily.
It is widely used as a material for building homes/cabins and furniture. Examples of softwood-producing trees include pine, spruce, cedar, fir, larch, Douglas-fir, hemlock, cypress, redwood, and yew.
Hardwood is produced from broad-leaved, mostly deciduous trees. These trees shed their leaves in winter when the temperature falls and are dormant until the spring.
They are angiosperm trees, producing covered or enclosed seeds or fruits such as apples or acorns. Angiosperms usually form flowers to reproduce which are pollinated by birds and insects.
Hardwoods tend to be slower growing and are usually denser than softwoods. This makes them harder to cut, and therefore sturdier. The wood is closely grained and darker in appearance, with less obvious annular rings. Hardwood takes longer to grow than softwood and so is typically more expensive. However, not all hardwood is hard, as some woods like balsa wood are less dense than most softwoods.
Hardwood is ideal for construction, furniture, flooring, and utensils. Examples of hardwood trees include holly, boxwood, Holm oak, mahogany, teak, walnut, oak, ash, elm, aspen, poplar, balsa, birch and maple.
What is the difference between a conifer and a deciduous tree?