Hardwood Information: Recognizing Hardwood Tree Characteristics

Hardwood Information: Recognizing Hardwood Tree Characteristics

By: Teo Spengler

What are hardwood trees? If you’ve ever bumped your head on a tree, you’ll argue that all trees have hard wood. But hardwood is a term biolog to group together trees with certain similar characteristics. softwood discussion, read on.

What are Hardwood Trees?

The term “hardwood tree” is a botanical grouping of trees with similar characteristics. Hardwood tree characteristics apply to many of the tree species in this country. The trees have broad leaves rather than needle-like leaves. They produce a fruit or nut, and often go dormant in the winter.

America’s forests contain hundreds of different hardwood tree species. In fact, about 40 percent of American trees are in the hardwood category. A few well-known hardwood species are oak, maple, and cherry, but many more trees share hardwood tree characteristics. Other types of hardwood trees in American forests include:

  • Birch
  • Aspen
  • Alder
  • Sycamore

Biologists contract hardwood trees with softwood trees. So what is a softwood tree? Softwoods are conifers, trees with needle-like leaves that bear their seeds in cones. Softwood lumber is often used in building. In the U.S., you’ll find that common softwoods include:

  • Cedar
  • Fir
  • Hemlock
  • Pine
  • Redwood
  • Spruce
  • Cypress

Hardwood vs. Softwood

A few simple tests help you differentiate hardwood from softwood trees.

Hardwood information specifies that hardwood trees are deciduous. This means that the leaves fall off in autumn and the tree remains leafless through springtime. On the other hand, softwood conifers do not pass the winter with bare branches. Although sometimes old needles fall off, the softwood tree branches are always covered with needles.

According to hardwood information, almost all hardwoods are flowering trees and shrubs. The wood of these trees contains cells that conduct water, as well as tightly packed, thick fiber cells. Softwood trees only have water-conducting cells. They do not have the dense wood fiber cells.

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Architectural Material Guide: Hardwood vs. Softwood

Consider how a species’ performance factors will level up to your design needs.

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When applied as external cladding, the service lives of various species of timber can range anywhere from 15 to 60 years. That’s a massive, gaping window of time where colors can fluctuate, cracks can occur and extreme weathering can take place. And so, while cost and aesthetic style will be driving factors in your material selection, the key consideration should always be how a species’ performance factors will level up to your design needs. What’s the use in affordability and beauty if they don’t last?

The first distinction that is useful to wrap your head around is the difference between hardwood and softwood, as the dichotomy is sometimes a little bit misunderstood. Oftentimes, it is assumed that hardwood is hard and softwood is soft, and while that is an apt place to begin your investigation, it is also an oversimplification.

Hardwood features a more porous and noticeable grain than softwood image via Diffen.

What is the difference between hardwood and softwood?

Despite their names, hard w ood isn’t necessarily harder than softwood, and softwood isn’t always softer than hardwood. The difference actually comes down to the type of trees they come from. Hardwood comes from deciduous trees (trees that shed their leaves in the winter) and have seeds with a fleshy or nutty covering. Examples of hardwood include oak, elm and teak. Softwood on the other hand comes from evergreen trees such as pine and spruce. Their seeds are bare and exposed (think conifers).

Hardwood — in particular teak — is popular for use in garden furniture due to its durability and weather resistance. It is also often used for indoor furniture, flooring, tools, musical instruments, barrels and shipbuilding amongst other things. Hardwood tends to be heavier and more expensive than softwood.

Softwood is also used to make garden furniture, but has to be treated in order to protect it from the elements. In general it is more commonly used than hardwood due to its lower cost and ease to work with. Softwood is widely used in construction.

What Is Hardwood?

Angiosperms are plant species that contain seeds within an ovary-like structure, such as a hickory nut. These species are also non-monocots, meaning that they have more than one leaf when they sprout. The woody stems of hardwoods have vascular tubes that are used to transport water throughout the tree. When a cross-section of an angiosperm is viewed under a microscope, it appears to contain pores. These pores-like structures create a wood grain pattern that increases the density of the wood. Hardwoods are generally denser than softwoods.

Hardwood Vs Softwood – 15 Differences, Advantages & Disadvantages

Hardwood vs softwood is the comparison between them and comes down to its physical structure and makeup and as being hard and durable compared to softwood, it is overly simplistic to think of hardwoods and softwood is also workable.

From angiosperm or flowering plants such as oak, maple, or walnut, that are not monocots, the hardwood is formed by these while from gymnosperm trees, usually evergreen conifers, like pine or spruce, the softwood is formed.

Hardwood Vs Softwood Comparison:


From angiosperm trees that are not monocots and usually broad-leaved and Has vessel elements that transport water throughout the wood, hardwood is formed and these elements appear as pores under a microscope.

From gymnosperm trees which usually have needles and cones and rays, softwood is formed and tracheids transport water and produce sap and have no visible pores because of tracheids under a microscope.

In high-quality furniture, decks, flooring, and construction that need to last, hardwoods are more likely used.

Softwoods have a lower density than most of the hardwoods.

These woods are more expensive than softwoods.

The rate of growth is faster than hardwood.

Shedding of Leaves

Over a period of time in autumn and winter hardwoods shed their leaves.

Trees Example

Cedar, Douglas fir, juniper, pine, redwood, spruce, and yew are examples of softwoods.

Fire Resistance

Hardwoods have more fire resistance.

These woods are harder and heavier than softwoods.

These woods are lightweight and softer as compared to hardwoods.

Weather Resistance

Having an environmental impact, if treated then these may become resistant to weather.

Ring Structure

There are not distinct annual rings.

There are distinct annual rings.

Tensile & Shear Strength

These woods have good shear and tensile strength.

Wood Branching

These woods create more shoots and branches.


To curve these woods are difficult.

To crave these woods are easier.

Hardwood Vs Softwood Similarities:

There are the following similarities in hardwood and softwood such as

  1. Hardwood and softwood both are secondary xylem.
  2. Hardwood and softwood both contain parenchyma and tracheids.
  3. Hardwood and softwood both are hard.
  4. As timbers, both kinds of woods are economically valuable.

Hardwood Vs Softwood Advantages:

Advantages of Hardwood:

There are the following advantages of hardwoods such as

  1. Hardwoods are extremely durable.
  2. These woods have enhanced strength due to higher density.
  3. These woods are easy to repair and very low maintenance required.
  4. The fire resistance of hardwood is great.
  5. These woods are long-term investments.

Advantages of Softwood:

There are the following advantages of softwood such as

  1. Softwood can be used across a broad range of applications and is easier to work with.
  2. Softwoods are considered a very renewable source because the trees for softwoods grow much faster than hardwoods.
  3. The timbers are cheaper and easier to source that’s why these woods are less in cost.

Hardwood Vs Softwood Disadvantages:

Disadvantages of Hardwood:

There are the following disadvantages of hardwood such as

  1. Hardwoods are more expensive than softwoods but for quality, you can use this.
  2. Due to its density more difficult to work with hardwood.
  3. It can be noisy when walking across it if used for flooring.
  4. These woods have a slow growth rate.
  5. In high traffic areas, hardwood floors will require refinishing down the track and it may be costly.

Disadvantages of Softwood:

There are the following disadvantages of softwood such as

  1. The main reason for weaker and less durable wood is a low density of softwood.
  2. For heavy foot traffic areas, softwood is not suitable.
  3. Unless treated, softwoods tend to have poor fire resistance.