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Characteristics of Hardwood & Softwood

Updated April 17, 2017

When starting a craft or construction project that requires wood, the first question one must ask is whether hardwood or softwood is better suited for the task. Before making that decision, knowing the ins and outs of each type of wood is valuable.

Cellular Differences

Softwood is made up of fewer cell types than hardwood. But interestingly, the cells found in softwood tend to be longer. These elongated cells are called tracheids.

Pores

As a result of having fewer types of cells, softwood has fewer pores that transport liquid. To make up for the lack of pores, softwoods have more tracheids, which function to move water through the plant.

Staining

Staining softwood tends to be more difficult than staining hardwood because there are fewer pores to transport the liquid through the softwood. With hardwood, it is generally easier to create an even stain and requires less coats.

Seeds

When the seeds of hardwood trees and softwood trees fall to the ground, one can immediately see the difference. Hardwood seeds are angiosperms, or seeds wrapped in a tough covering; softwood seeds are gymnosperms, or seeds that have no exterior covering.

Environmental Impact

Softwoods tend to grow faster than hardwoods. For that reason, softwoods are easier to obtain, less expensive, and tend to be better for the environment. On the flip side, softwoods do deteriorate faster than hardwoods so they are often treated with wood preservatives.

What Is This Wood?

Softwoods are conifers, which can be identified by their cones and needle-like leaves. A few examples would be pine trees and redwood trees. Hardwoods tend to have bigger, flatter leaves, like those of the hickory trees and beech trees.

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About the Author

Samantha Herman earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University in 2005. Her professional writing career started in 2008, when she accepted an internship at "Willamette Week," a local alternative publication. Upon completing her internship, she became employed as a copywriter for an internet media company. In addition to copywriting, she has written articles for PDX Pipeline and eHow.