What is Hardwood?

It is an easy mistake to make to think that the difference between hardwoods and softwoods is to do with hardness. This is not true. A hardwood is defined as coming from a tree belonging to the angiosperm family of trees. Angiosperm trees are different from softwood trees in that have a more complex structure characterised by the presence of pores or vessels. Compare the photos at the bottom of this page. The black and white picture in the middle is a magnification of a hardwood oak. The wood is dense with big holes or pores. The black and white photo on the right is of the softwood pine. In contrast it looks honey-combed and without big holes or pores.

The confusion between hardwood and softwood is compounded by the fact that some hardwoods are very weak. The classic example is balsa which has a Janka Hardness Rating of only 100 pounds force. Whereas yew, which is a softwood, has a comparatively high Janka Hardness Rating of 1,600 pounds force.

However, the hardest hardwoods are much harder than any softwood.

Finally, there are many more varieties of hardwood trees than softwood.

Hardwoods are much more useful for man's purposes. Hardwoods are preferred for construction, furniture making, flooring, making musical instruments and for cooking. Hardwoods are better to burn because they burn hotter and longer than softwoods. However, this site believes we should be conserving hardwood trees, several of which are already becoming scarce (such as Burma teak and mahogany) and that if we must use hardwoods, it should be reclaimed hardwood.

Tags: definition of hardwood, softwood, angiosperm, pine, balsa, yew, pores or vessels







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