First things first: ‘hardwood’ does not necessarily imply that the wood is harder. Take Balsa wood, as an example– it is among the weakest woods around, however it’s still classified as a hardwood.
To properly address the question, we’re going to need a fast biology lesson:
Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms.
Okay, stay with us. There are two divisions of seed-bearing plants; Angiosperms and Gymnosperms.
The seeds of Angiosperms have a covering– either soft (i.e. fruit– such as apples, peaches, etc) or tough (i.e. nuts– such as walnuts, macadamias, etc). Angiosperms are hardwoods and comprise most of the plant kingdom.
On the other hand, the seeds of gymnosperms fall to the ground without any sort of covering. Pine trees are a good example– their seeds are grown in pine cones, which are released into the wind once they reach maturity. This assists to spread out the tree’s seed across a bigger area. Gymnosperms are softwood trees.
The significant structural difference is that hardwoods (Angiosperms) have Vessels or pours in the wood grain whereas softwoods (Gymnosperms) do not.
If that’s too complicated, there’s a much easier method to differentiate the two. Angiosperms are flowering plants while Gymnosperms are not. Likewise, Gymnosperm trees typically remain their leaves all year round, while Angiosperms generally lose their leaves in winter. Thus, deciduous trees are hardwoods, while evergreen trees are softwoods.
So why the confusion?
Generally speaking, Hardwoods are hard and strong when compared to Softwoods which, certainly, are commonly softer and weaker. This is since the vessels in all Hardwoods (which assist carry nutrients and water) permit the rest of the wood grain to be denser since these fibers do not have to transport as much nutrients and water. This means that Hardwood is often very dense which generally makes it hard and strong.
However this is not always the case, the strongest Softwoods are harder and stronger than the weakest Hardwoods regardless of vessels. This is where the mix-up takes place. It is common for carpenters and tradesmen to make use of the term “Hardwood” to explain any strong wood that is made use of in a structural application and “Softwood” to explain any wood that is simple to form and work.
So “Hardwood Floors” may technically be a Softwood (such as Cypress Pine) and on the other side Bamboo floorboards and lots of Engineered floors are technically Hardwood but not called such!
Uses for Hardwood.
Examples of hardwood trees consist of Oak, Maple, Birch, Eucalyptus and Mahogany. Hardwood finds its way into all manner of things– from tools, boats and structures, through to furnishings and musical instruments. Most relevantly, because of its density, hardwood is frequently utilized in flooring.
Uses for Softwood.
Some of the widely known kinds of softwood are Cedar, Pine and Spruce. Softwood is rather easy to work with, and as such it has the tendency to be used in furniture, windows and doors. It’s also used in the production of paper, in addition to different kinds of board such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF).
Softwood can also be utilized in floorboards– often offering a more environmentally friendly alternative when compared with hardwood (as softwood trees grow faster).
For more information on Hardwood and Softwood contact your local timber yard for advice. They will explain which wood is best suited for your Timber Flooring, Decking and Building projects.