Hardwoods and Softwoods


Differences between hardwood and softwood

There are several differences between hardwood and softwood when it comes to their physical structure, makeup, and properties.

These differences aren’t always clear-cut, so it’s important to do your research first before choosing between hardwood and softwood.

In this blog, we’ll discuss hardwood vs softwood trees – defining these terms and outlining how to tell the difference between them.

What is hardwood?

Hardwood is a material that comes from angiosperm trees – those that have broad leaves that change colour and die in autumn. These trees have elements that allow them to diffuse water throughout the wood, which means they have a porous structure when viewed under a microscope.

Some examples of hardwood trees or plants include:

  • Maple
  • Walnut
  • Oak
  • Balsa
  • Alder
  • Hickory
  • Beech
  • Teak
  • Mahogany

What is softwood?

Softwood is a material that comes from gymnosperm trees that are known for their cones and needles. Their microscopic structure is different from hardwood in that they don’t have pores. This is because water-conducting cells called tracheids aid water movement throughout the tree. This movement causes sap to occur on the surface.

Some examples of softwood include:

  • Yew
  • Cedar
  • Juniper
  • Spruce
  • Pine
  • Redwood
  • Douglas fir

How to recognise hardwood vs softwood

There are several ways to tell the difference when it comes to hardwood vs softwood. The most obvious difference is that hardwoods usually have a higher density than softwood. However, this isn’t always the case as some softwood – such as yew trees – are incredibly dense. Similarly, balsa trees are a form of hardwood that are lightweight.

In autumn and winter, be sure to look at the leaves of the trees. This is because hardwoods shed their leaves throughout this period and will appear bare. By contrast, softwoods have needles that stay with them throughout the year and remain evergreen.

On a microscopic level, consider the water-producing properties of the trees. That is, hardwoods will have a porous exterior whilst softwoods won’t. This is reflected in the fact that the former has a more prominent grain.

Hardwood vs softwood trees

When it comes to hardwood vs softwood, how do you choose? To begin with, hardwoods are the superior option when it comes to purchasing wood for high-quality furniture. Hardwood is typically found in flooring, decks, and furniture that is designed to withstand the test of time.

It’s important to note that hardwoods and softwoods have some of the same furniture applications. However, if you’re looking for a more accessible option, around 80% of all timber comes from softwood. This means that softwood has a range of applications, including:

  • Windows
  • Medium-density fiberboards
  • Doors
  • Christmas trees

Since hardwoods are a lot denser and more resistant to wear and tear, they’re often more expensive. However, this in no way compensates for their malleability given that hardwood is an extremely challenging material to work with when compared to softwoods.

For smooth exterior finishes, one may consider hardwood – which is far more resistant to decay and corrosion. Yet some hardwood structures, such as doors, are now commonly supplemented with a thin veneer and medium-density fibreboard – otherwise known as a softwood product.

Now that you know the main physical and property differences between hardwood and softwood, you can make an informed decision. Upon making your decision, contact Woodbois for sustainable timber solutions worldwide.

We have specific African hardwoods – such as cedrella – which is an extremely rare option on the wholesale market. Fill out our contact form today.


Woodbois Ltd, listed on the AIM section of the London Stock Exchange, is involved in the production, processing, manufacture and supply of sustainable African hardwood and hardwood products.

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