Buying wooden furniture can be very confusing considering the many types of wood available. Every type of wood has its own charm and reflects a unique character, however, the aesthetic appeal is not the only difference between different types of wood.
Each of them has unique physical properties which play an important role in its strength and durability as well as the amount of care required. Generally, however, all types of wood available can be classified as softwoods and hardwoods.
Why does this matter? Because it helps you determine what can you expect from a particular type of wood?
What is the Difference between Softwood and Hardwood?
Obviously, wood that is obtained from softwood tree species is softer than that from hardwoods.
Softwood mostly comes from coniferous trees such as pine for instance and is relatively inexpensive in comparison to hardwoods because it is easy to work with and because it available in abundance.
As much as 80% of the world’s timber production is obtained from softwood tree species.
However, the “softness” also makes softwoods more prone to damage such as scratches and dents in comparison to hardwoods. These are mostly deciduous, while the tropical hardwood tree species are typically evergreen.
Hardwood tree species are relatively rare also due to over-exploitation that took place in the second half of the 20th century, especially in tropical and subtropical regions. In addition to being harder, wood from hardwood tree species is also stronger and more dense but it is also typically more durable.
Rarity, unfortunately, means that hardwood furniture is more expensive than that made from a softwood species but it is often more cost efficient in the long term . It is not unusual for hardwood furniture to last a lifetime, especially if it is well made.
How Can You Distinguish between Softwood and Hardwood?
Wood from hardwood species has more complex structure than that obtained from softwood trees. The easiest way to determine which furniture is made from softwood and which one from hardwood is to look for the pores or vessels.
If you cannot see any, you are probably looking at softwood. Keep in mind, however, that the size and shape of vessels varies greatly from one type of hardwood to another and that they may be sometimes hard to see with the naked eye.
Are All Types of Hardwood a Better Choice than Softwood?
As much as furniture is concerned, hardwood is generally always a better choice than softwood although it is highly important to keep in mind that there is a huge variation in hardness, strength and durability between different tree species.
In addition, not all hardwoods are harder from softwoods although this is the exception rather than the rule.
Also, be sure not to confuse hardwood with heartwood which refers to wood that is obtained from the very centre of the log which, however, can either be softwood or hardwood.