Consumers looking into wood for construction projects are often confused by the softwood and hardwood designations. To make the distinction more complex, it does not always refer to density as well as the origin of a specific wood. However, characteristics vary between tree species enough that it is difficult to rest on one assumption. Allow Bolen-Brunson-Bell Lumber Co., a specialty lumber company in Memphis, TN, to help you understand the subtle differences and best applications for each kind.
Classification depends on tree species
Softwoods come from gymnosperm trees, which are basically evergreens with needles and cones. Pine, redwood, Douglas fir and cedar are all softwoods. Hardwoods are from angiosperm trees, which have broad leaves that shed every fall. Oak, walnut and mahogany are examples of hardwoods.
Even these characteristics are not firm. Maple trees, for example, have broad leaves like angiosperms, and are hardwoods, but they produce sap like gymnosperms. There are even some hardwoods with lower density than softwoods, which makes the distinction even more confusing. That is why you often have to research deeper into the characteristics of particular trees.
What about density?
The key word when it comes to density is “normally,” which is to say that hardwoods normally have a higher density than softwoods.
However, each category contains species which are an exception to the rule. Yew is one of the toughest woods with high density, but it is considered a softwood due to the fact that yew trees are gymnosperms. Balsa has a softer density than many softwoods, but it is still categorized as a hardwood.
Most of the time, making assumptions about a wood type will not be wrong. That said, you will want to understand the best applications for wood, not just for type but also for that particular tree. Oak, for instance, works great for construction and decks, but another hardwood, like cherry, is often best used for furniture rather than outdoor construction.
How to choose?
Understand first that 80 percent of available lumber is usually softwood. Hardwoods, when available, are more expensive. You will have to choose based on what you are building and your willingness to maintain it.
Ipe, for example, is a very dense hardwood with a lovely color. It is also very expensive, and while your ipe floor or deck will last a long time, you may not be able to afford enough of it to finish your project. Cedar, while it is a softwood, also offers many of the properties needed for a strong deck and will cost less. Even if your project requires a finish, it will tolerate many different types, so you do not have to worry about using a product that compromises its quality.
Bolen-Brunson-Bell Lumber Co. is a specialty lumber company in Memphis, TN that distributes both soft and hardwoods. You do not need to be stuck on wood density when there are varieties of both types that will likely fit your project. Arrange to visit us today to see what is offered and learn how it will enhance the plans for your home.