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Difference between Hardwood and Softwood

Hardwood does not necessarily refer to a wood that is hard and dense. Similarly, softwood is not necessarily a soft or less dense wood. Let us see how they differ from each other!


Hardwood is the wood that is obtained from angiosperms (flowering plants) such as evergreen trees especially with broad-leaves and deciduous trees which shed leaves annually. The seeds of angiosperms are enclosed in the ovary which later develops into a fruit. They usually grow at a slower pace and are far bigger in size. It is believed that black ironwood is one of the hardest woods known to the mankind.

Hardwood trees have xylem with vessels to carry or transport water throughout the tree. The cell walls of these xylem vessels are lined with lignin which is an extremely hard material, responsible for the hardness of the tree. The main advantage of hardwood is that they are more durable than softwoods. Some of the species of hardwood trees commonly found in Europe and USA are willow, maple, sassafras, olive tree, walnut, cherry, ash, alder, birch, cottonwood, elm etc.


Softwood is the wood that is obtained from gymnosperms like pines, larches, spruces etc. These trees produce naked seeds which mean their seeds are not enclosed in an ovary or any other protective covering like an ovary. These trees have needle-shaped leaves and generally grow fast than hardwood trees. More than 70% timber is obtained from softwood which makes it four times more common than hardwood.

Softwood is cheaper than hardwood so sometimes it is used as a substitute for hardwood. It is also lighter and easier to cut to produce planks with different shapes. Generally, the softwood is light-colored and has less distinct grain and is very knotty. The knots are circles which result from the branches of the trunk.

Based on the above information, some of the key differences between hardwood and softwood are as follows:

Hardwood Softwood
Hardwood trees belong to angiosperms (flowering plants). Softwood trees belong to gymnosperms (trees that produce naked seeds).
It is hard, dense, and heavier than softwood. It does not split or break easily and not easier to cut using cutting tools. It is lighter and less dense than hardwood. It tends to split more easily and easier to cut with cutting tools.
More wastage as hardwood trees don't grow straight. Less wastage as softwood trees tend to grow straight.
It is more expensive than softwood. It is generally less expensive than hardwood.
Hardwood trees grow at a slow pace as compared to softwood trees. These trees grow fast as compared to hardwood trees.
Common examples: willow, maple, teak, walnut etc. Common examples: pine, cedar, larches, cypresses, spruces etc.
It is more resistant to fire. It is less resistant to fire.
It is used to produce highly-durable and high-quality furniture, deck, flooring etc. It has a wide range of applications such as windows, doors, medium-density fiberboard, paper etc.
These trees have xylem with vessels to transport water throughout the tree. These trees lack vessels and have medullary rays and tracheids to transport water throughout the tree.
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