Comparing Hardwoods and Softwoods

Comparing Hardwoods and Softwoods

January 24, 2024 0 By Kasey Chapman

When it comes to selecting a hardwood floor, there are many factors to consider. From coloration to grain personality, each species has a unique character all its own.

One of the most important considerations is how well a particular species holds up to moisture levels in your home’s environment. To determine this, you’ll want to look at the Janka Hardness Scale.


The distinction between hardwood and softwood has less to do with the density of each species than you might think. The terms have more to do with the types of trees from which they come and the way their seeds are encapsulated. Hardwoods, also known as angiosperms, are flowering trees and their seeds are enclosed in fruit or flowers while softwoods, which include pine, yew, hew and balsa, are gymnosperms and their seeds are naked.

As a result, hardwoods generally grow more slowly than softwoods, and their complex, condensed structure results in heavier timber when harvested. Hardwoods’ rich color palettes, intricate grain patterns and stability make them ideal for applications that demand strength and durability, while softwoods excel in projects that prioritize versatility and lighter overall weight.


As suggested by their name, hardwoods are typically much more durable than softwoods. This is largely due to their more complex, condensed cellular structure that produces more prominent and heavier grain. The wood also contains tube-like pores that are used to transport water, nutrients and air around the tree. Softwoods, on the other hand, have a simpler cellular structure and use longitudinal tracheids and medullary rays to move water throughout their branches and stems.

Hardwoods are also more resistant to dents, divots and scratches than softwoods. This makes them ideal for construction projects that are expected to endure a high level of impact and pressure. For this reason, it is important to consider the durability of your chosen timber before committing to a specific project.

Moisture Resistance

When it comes to the difference between hardwoods and softwoods, it has much more to do with how a tree reproduces than its hardness or density. Trees categorized as hardwoods are angiosperms, which means they produce seeds in flowers or fruit. This includes broad-leaved trees like maple and oak found domestically and tropical hardwoods such as ipe and cumaru. These trees have a unique cellular structure with tube-like vessels that create openings known as pores. These pores contribute significantly to the grain pattern of a piece of hardwood, with larger pores producing coarse but bold grains while smaller pores produce more subtle or even grains.

In contrast, softwoods come from gymnosperms, which are coniferous plants that grow their seeds in a hard shell or cone. Softwoods like pine and spruce are used for the majority of wood framing in homes. While the cost differences between the two do not usually offset these differing properties, hardwood’s fire resistance makes it an excellent choice for areas with a higher risk of fire.


When deciding on a wood type, it is also important to assess the environmental impact of your choice. Hardwoods require more work to harvest than softwoods, and are often sourced from forests that have been damaged by illegal logging operations.

Similarly, hardwoods tend to have a higher price tag than softwoods. However, if you are looking to add value and elegance to your home or business, hardwood is an excellent choice that will last for years.

For example, hickory is stiffer and harder than other hardwoods, and it resists dents and divots, making it the ideal material for bowling alley and basketball hardwood floors. It is also fire-resistant, which makes it a good choice for any room that requires shock resistance and superior strength. The only disadvantage is that it is a slower-growing tree, which may result in shorter panels if used in a modular ceiling. However, one strategy to avoid this issue is to use architectural hardwood veneer instead of solid hardwood.