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The Difference Between Softwood And Hardwood

We have all come to know pine as a softwood, but what's the difference between softwood and hardwood and does it really matter?

17/08/2020

 

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When it comes to durability and longevity, not all woods are the same. There is a big difference between softwood and hardwood and it's in your interests to understand how these may affect any project you do using a particular type of wood.

When discussing softwood and hardwood, you tend to think that hardwoods are called that because they are harder woods, right? That's not true and isn't exactly what the terms mean. Softwoods are of the species conifer and produce pine cones or unprotected seeds, while hardwoods are flowering trees and the seeds from these have a protective coating.

Furthermore, the hardness of any wood is determined by a specific testing method: the Janka test. This test uses a specific method for testing hardness of wood species to determine which are hard woods, not specifically hardwoods. If you are interested in reading more about the Janka Hardness test, you will find the information on Wikipedia informative. It also offers a detailed list of wood species and their Janka rating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak is a popular hardwood choice for furniture due to its durability and longevity.

 

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LESS STRESS AND STRAIN ON YOUR TOOLS

Another differentiation between softwood and hardwood is the weight. Pine, as we know, is not a dense or heavy wood, while Imbuia is the opposite. Working with a softwood such as pine has its advantages for the DIY enthusiast, being easy to cut and sand, which is one of the reasons that pine is the preferred choice for affordable furniture.

By their very nature, softwoods won't put stress on your power tools and your blades and accessories will last longer, ultimately costing you less to maintain your tools and their accessories.

 

Zebrano or Zebrawood is loved for its unique wood grain.

 

 

 

AFFORDABILITY AND AVAILABILITY

While woodworkers, amateur or otherwise, aren't too fond of using pine for their projects, DIY enthusiasts prefer to due to the fact of its availability and affordability. Pine has a raw beauty of its own and is a renewable material that grows in our local managed forests.

 

LIST OF POPULAR WOOD SPECIES

 

 

     Acacia:

This tree species is native to South Africa, Australia, Hawaii, Southeast Asia, and other tropical countries. Listing high on the Janka Hardness scale, Acacia is moisture-resistant and considered durable and doesn't warp. This wood is favoured for its striking, swirling grain.

 

 

     Ash:

Considering that ash is used for baseball bats, this is a hardwood yet it’s flexible enough for use in bentwood pieces where the wood is steamed or soaked before being bent and left to dry in a curved shape.

 

 

     Beech - American:

Also used for bentwood furniture pieces, this hardwood is favoured for its light colour and faint grain and is used for all types of furniture design.

 

 

     Birch:

Birch is another light hardwood that is durable and favoured for furniture or veneer. When stained, birch closely resembles mahogany or walnut and is used as an affordable alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Cherry - Red or Black:

As a fruit hardwood, cherry has a distinctive red colour that can easily be enhanced with oils and sealers. Cherry is durable yet flexible and has a smooth texture and attractive grain. Any piece made with cherry wood needs to be out of direct sunlight, as this can fade from its beautiful, rich colour.

 

 

     Elm:

Used to manufacture hockey sticks, elm is a popular choice for tables and any piece of furniture that needs to bear weight, such as living room furniture or beds.

 

 

     Imbuia

Also known as Brazilian Walnut, Imbuia offers beautiful, natural and sometimes erratic grain patterns. Imbuia is beloved for its stunning contrast and rich golden-brown hues. A somewhat dense and heavy hardwood, this expensive wood is used in small pieces to enhance and complement the use of other woods.

 

 

     Mahogany:

A popular choice for hundreds of years, mahogany has been synonymous with luxury since the 18th century. Durability and longevity, as well as resistant to swelling and shrinking, mahogany furniture is still appreciated by connoisseurs of beautifully crafted wood furniture.

 

 

     Mango:

Mango has come to the fore in recent years as an affordable choice for furniture. It is available in a vast array of colours and is considered fairly durable with the application of sealers or varnish. But this product does have a tendency to split or crack over time, so keep this in mind.

 


     Maple:

Tough and durable and resistant to shocks, and fairly resistant to scratching, you will find maple on the alleys in a bowling alley. Not as heavy at some other hardwoods, maple is a good choice for heirloom, furniture.

 

 

     Oak:

Extremely popular throughout the years, Oak is a hardy wood that is resistant to scratches. It has a distinctive colour and grain that is used to enhance heirloom and luxury furniture designs.

     Pine:

A sustainable softwood, pine is the most popular wood for furniture around the globe. The downside of pine is that, as a soft wood, it is susceptible to dents. Another common problem with pine is the prominent grain that can be difficult to sand and an abundance of knots.

 

 

     Teak:

Used for outdoor furniture due to its high oil content, this hardwood also repels insects and is resistant to moisture, warping, cracking, and decay and it is these qualities make it popular for outdoor furniture. When left unsealed outdoors the colour of teak will change from a golden-brown to a silvery hue.

 

 

     Walnut - African:

Particularly popular because of its hardness and the fact that it is resistant to splitting, Walnut is used for intricate carvings and detailed woodworking. Walnut is considered an heirloom wood as it will maintain its beauty for hundreds of years. This hardwood is heavy, so not exactly recommended for large furniture pieces.

 

 

     Zebrano:

Much sought-after for its visually striking grain, this West African hardwood but its coarse, open-pored texture and grain patterns make sanding and planing a mission and it takes a toll on your tools. With most of its appeal on its unique grain, Zebrano is a durable wood.

For more information on local available softwoods and hardwoods, visit rarewoods.co.za.

 

 

 

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