Hardwood vs softwood lumber: pros and cons of each

Hardwood vs softwood lumber: pros and cons of each

If you’re here reading this article, it means you’re in the market for lumber for various projects. Whether it’s a commercial project or a project for your own house, like siding, fencing, decking, or perhaps you’re considering building a gazebo, wood remains one of the most popular choices. 

So what is a better choice: softwood or hardwood? 

Perhaps your immediate  answer is – hard wood is expensive and high quality, soft wood is cheap and not particularly high quality. But knowing this doesn’t necessarily make the decision any easier, so let’s explore further.

What is difference between hardwood and softwood?

Hardwoods contain a higher proportion of cellulose, which contributes significantly to their strength. This difference is stark at the cellular level: in hardwoods, cells are densely packed in circular formations, while in conifers, they appear more spread out, resembling lines with minimal interaction. This structural variance underscores the denser nature of hardwoods compared to conifers.

In essence, without delving too deeply into botanical intricacies, hardwoods are generally denser than conifers. However, like any rule, there are exceptions; for instance, the coniferous tree has a density of 670 kg/m³, surpassing some hardwoods that register densities of up to 200 kg/m³.

Typically hardwoods exhibit slow growth, taking approximately 150 years to reach maturity before harvesting, shedding their leaves seasonally. In contrast, conifers (softwood), known for their evergreen nature, mature in around 40 years.  This significant difference in growth time directly impacts pricing dynamics.

As a result of their slower growth rate, hardwoods are far less abundant than softwoods, growing nearly four times slower. To manage this scarcity and prevent over-harvesting, various regulations govern hardwood cutting.

Delving into the economic aspect, let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of both hardwoods and softwoods as lumber:

ExamplesOak, Mahogany, Merbau wood, Balau Bangkirai, Meranti, CumaruCedar, Pine, Spruce, Fir
Price❌More expensive✅Less expensive
Complexity of woodworking❌Difficult✅Easy
Fire resistance✅High❌Low
Durability✅40-50 years❌15-20 years
Resistance to rot✅High❌Low
Resistance to parasites✅High❌Low
Resistance to moisture✅High❌Low
Damage resistance✅High❌Low
Maintenance✅Practically no need❌Frequently needs maintenance
Aesthetics✅Luxury level❌Classic level

Uses of Hardwood and Softwood

As indicated in the table, hardwoods are synonymous with luxury. These lumber products exude reliability, durability, and sophistication, making them highly sought after for various upscale applications such as:

  • Luxury furniture.
  • Outdoor furniture and structures.
  • Decking.
  • Siding of residential and commercial facilities.
  • Shipbuilding (IPE decking is most commonly used). 
  • Musical instruments.
  • Accessories for active sports: baseball, fencing, hockey.
  • Status items like walking sticks.

Softwoods lack the exquisite qualities of hardwoods, but their affordability makes them a practical choice for many projects. If hardwoods are likened to a rare gem like a diamond, softwoods serve as the versatile backdrop, filling in all the remaining space. This type of lumber finds its utility in a wide range of applications, including:

  • Ceilings.
  • Doors.
  • Window frames.
  • Classic furniture.
  • The frame of commercial and residential buildings.

The applications are numerous, but you’ve probably got the gist of it by now. 

Any more questions on Hardwood vs Softwood?

If you’re still on the fence, it’s worth noting that we pride ourselves as Canada’s premier supplier of hardwood lumber. The advantages of opting for hardwood over softwood are clear. However, the final decision rests on your specific requirements and constraints. Should you need further guidance, our experts are here to assist you every step of the way.

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Kayu Team
We are recognized as the leading authority on tropical hardwoods, boasting over 30 years of expertise in this domain.
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