There are thousands of different species of wood with varying colors and characteristics (talk to a forester, they’ll tell you all about it). Of those thousands of species, we usually divide wood into two types: hardwood and softwood. But are softwoods actually soft? No way. The magnificent cellular structure actually builds an intensely strong piece of lumber…strong enough to frame a house, support a deck, or even build a skyscraper.
The best way to tell if a wood is a hardwood or softwood is to look at the tree before it is harvested.
They Look Different. And that’s OK.
Hardwoods have broad leaves and are often described as flowering. Softwoods usually have pine needles or pinecones. Not only do hardwoods look different than softwoods, there are biological differences too. In most cases, you can notice these differences during the winter months when hardwoods lose their leaves – softwoods won’t. There are exceptions, though, as there are thousands of species of trees out there.
So. Many. Types. Of. Wood.
Sometimes, if you feel like geeking out, check out the Wood Database. You can do a lot of research to see different types of wood from around the world. But back to hardwood vs. softwood:
Hardwoods and softwoods are further broken down into subcategories. The National Hardwood Lumber Association list the following as hardwoods (not an exhaustive list by any stretch): American Elm, Basswood, Beech Willow, Birch, Cherry, Mahogany, Maple, Oak, Sweet Gum, Walnut and White Ash.
The softwood category is comprised of: Cypress, Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Ponderosa Pine, Redwood, Southern Yellow Pine, Spruce, Sugar Pine, Western Larch, Western Red Cedar, White Fir and White Pine. This list, too, isn’t all encompassing, but it’s a start for all of you budding foresters out there.
Uses of Hardwood and Softwood
Hardwood is used to make flooring, decks and high-quality furniture. Sometimes hardwood is used for construction purposes, but only in cases when the construction is desired to last a very long time. Hardwood is also more expensive than softwood as it does not mature as quickly..
Softwood is used for numerous construction projects and comprises the vast majority of the timber market. Softwood is used to frame houses, build decks, make furniture and is the most widely used construction material in America.
Let’s Talk More About Southern Yellow Pine
There are four species under the general name of Southern Yellow Pine: Loblolly (which is a fun word to say), Slash (also a fun word), longleaf, and short leaf (not really as fun to say, but we still love them). If you’re looking at a piece of lumber and want to know which type it is, it’s going to be hard to tell. Good news is that the different types are all equally as strong, durable, and good-looking.
It is a renewable resource that can be used to build homes and power electrical plants. It only takes 17 years to grow a Southern Yellow Pine. Most hardwoods take between 70 to 120 years to reach maturity.
Because Southern Yellow Pine is readily available it drives the costs down.
It can be pressure treated to ensure each piece of wood is flush and square. Other woods can’t be pressure treated because they are not the same on the cellular level, it simply won’t work. That is why close to 90 percent of all pressure treated wood is Southern Yellow Pine.
Southern Yellow Pine is a great load bearing wood, perfect for construction projects.
Who knew soft could be so strong? We plan on bringing you more stories about how wood actually gets its strength. It’s something only Mother Nature can do and it’s impossible to replicate. Stay tuned.