How to Distinguish Between Hardwood and Softwood Trees
Navigasi - The terms hardwood and softwood are widely used in the construction industry and among woodworkers to distinguish between types of wood that are considered hard and durable and those that are considered soft and malleable. And while this is generally true, it is not an absolute rule.
Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood
In reality, the technical differences relate to the reproductive biology of the species. Informally, trees that are categorized as hardwoods are usually deciduous - meaning they lose their leaves in the fall.
Softwoods are conifers, which have needles instead of traditional leaves and store them over the winter. And while in general the average hardwood is much harder and more durable than the average softwood, there are examples of deciduous hardwoods that are much softer than the hardest softwoods. An example is balsa wood, a hardwood that is quite soft when compared to wood from the yew tree, which is quite durable and hard.
In fact, the technical difference between hardwood and softwood has to do with their method of reproducing. Let's look at hardwoods and softwoods one by one.
Hardwood Trees and Their Wood
Definition and Taxonomy: Hardwood is a species of woody fleshy plant that is an angiosperm (the seeds are enclosed in an ovary structure). These may be fruits, such as apples, or hard shells, such as acorns or hickory nuts. This plant is also not a monocotyledon (the seeds have more than one leaf that is not yet complete when germinating). The woody stems of hardwoods have vascular tubes that transport water through the wood; these appear as pores when the wood is viewed with magnification in cross-section. These same pores create the wood grain pattern, which increases the density and workability of the wood.
Uses: Wood from hardwood species is most commonly used for furniture, flooring, wood moldings, and fine veneers.
Examples of common species: Oak, maple, birch, walnut, beech, hickory, mahogany, balsa, teak, and alder.
Density: Hardwoods are generally denser and heavier than softwoods.
Cost: Varies a lot, but is usually more expensive than softwood.
Growth rate: Varies, but all grow more slowly than softwoods, the main reason why they are more expensive.
Leaf structure: Most hardwoods have broad, flat leaves that fall off over time in the fall.
Softwood Tree and Its Wood
Definition and Taxonomy: Softwoods, on the other hand, are gymnosperms (conifers) with "bare" seeds that are not contained in a fruit or nut. Pines, firs, and cypresses, which grow seeds in the shape of a cone, fall into this category.
In conifers, the seeds are released into the wind upon maturity. This disperses plant seeds over a large area, which provides an early advantage over many hardwood species.
Softwood has no pores but has linear tubes called tracheids that provide nutrients for growth. These tracheids do the same thing as wood pores - they transport water and produce a sap that protects against pest attack and provides essential elements for tree growth.
Uses: Softwoods are most commonly used in dimensional lumber for construction frames, pulpwood for paper, and sheet goods, including particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard.
Examples of species: Cedar, Douglas fir, juniper, pine, redwood, spruce, and yew.
Density: Softwoods are usually lighter and less dense than hardwoods.
Cost: Most species are much less expensive than hardwoods, making them an obvious favorite for any structural application where the wood would not be visible.
Growth rate: Softwoods grow quickly compared to most hardwoods, one of the reasons they are less expensive.
Leaf structure: With rare exceptions, softwoods are conifers with needle-like "leaves" that remain on the tree throughout the year, although they will gradually fall off with age. In most cases, softwood conifers complete changing all their needles every two years.