Compare Hardwoods and Softwoods


Commercial Timbers for use in  Construction, Joinery, and Furniture


We have more than 1500 commercial timber species available to use in the Construction, Joinery and Furniture sectors this is ever increasing with the addition of modified timbers. We narrowed down to appx 100 species in the Gallery – find your wood here, to help the wood enthusiasts make an informed decision with some of the more readily available wood types available in Europe and Worldwide. To see the list of species we have considered visit sections- Hardwoods, Softwoods and Modified sections.


There are two main classifications of wood – Softwoods and Hardwoods a new classification that has been added i.e. Modified woods. There are a number of features in wood structure and properties that need to be considered so you can say you know the differences between the two main classifications. The physical structure of the wood, as well as its makeup, should be considered to know in what classification a certain type stands. One might think that it is as simple as defining hardwood as anything hard and durable while softwood as soft and flexible made from softwood timber. This might be the simplest way to classify in some degree, but there are exceptions to every rule such as yew trees which are considered to be softwood but are hard and balsa trees which are known hardwood but actually softer compared to softwood. Softwoods have the smallest diversity making them easier to identify in their anatomical features compared to hardwoods. To identify hardwoods, a number of features need to be considered in the cell structure such as vessel elements unique to hardwoods their- porosity, arrangement, size, frequency, contents; Parenchyma or storage cells- apotracheal, paratracheal and Rays- width, spacing, aggregate, noded, storied etc


Difference between hardwoods, softwoods and modified timber Andrew GotoHardwood is sourced from flowering plants that are not monocots called angiosperm with common examples such as walnut, oak, and maple . The hardwood family includes Convolvulaceae (morning glory family), Fabaceae (legume family) Rosaceae (rose family)Sapindaceae (soapberry).


Softwood is sourced from softwood timber of gymnosperm trees such as evergreen conifers. The coniferous family includes, Araucariaceae, Cupressaceae, Pinaceae, Podocarpaceae and Taxaceae, The most popular description of conifers is spruce and pine.Difference between hardwoods, softwoods and modified timber Andrew Goto


Here are some of the  general differences between the two:


  • The trees of hardwood have usually broad leaves while the softwood trees have needles and cones for leaves.
  • Most Softwoods tend to have resin canals and long fibers, e. longitudinal tracheids
  • With hardwood trees, water is transported through vessels or pores elements while softwood trees have medullary rays as well as tracheids.
  • Hardwood has pore-like elements when viewed using a microscope while softwood does not have any pores. It is easy to identify the difference quickly by looking at the end grain; hardwoods will have prominent pores.The pores that are present in hardwoods are the ones responsible for giving the wood its prominent grain while softwood has a lighter grain in comparison.
  • It is easier to make things out of softwoods. This is the reason why many of the wood used all over the globe are softwoods, making up 80 percent of the total timber used. Hardwoods are usually used in furniture with high quality, flooring, constructions built to last and decks. Softwoods, on the other hand, are used in building components such as doors and windows, furniture, paper, fiberboard with medium density and Christmas trees.
  • Common examples of hardwood trees are Ash, oak, alder, walnut, balsa, maple, beech, teak, hickory and mahogany. Common examples of softwood trees are yew, cedar, spruce, douglas fir, and pine.
  • Many of the hardwoods have been found to have the higher level of density compared to many of the softwoods and vice versa.
  • When it comes to cost, the hardwood is considered to be more expensive while the softwood is more affordable.
  • In trees, the hardwood’s growth rate is considered to be much slower while the softwood grows at a much faster rate.
  • The leaves of the hardwood trees are known to shed leaves during certain periods in a year such as winter and autumn while softwood is known to maintain their needles all throughout the seasons.
  • Most hardwoods are considered to be more fire resistant while softwood have a poor resistance to fire.


Wood Modification is the process of treating wood with a chemical, biological or physical agent to enhance its performance, this excludes treating with biocides. A number of species have been modified with the different technologies e.g Radiata pine, white Ash, Ayous (Obeche), Scots Pine ( redwood- Pinus sylvestrus) whitewood (spruce), Frake, Beech, Southern Yellow PineThere are number of modification processes all yielding different benefits e.g


  • Improve biological resistance on low durability wood or timber species,
  • Improve dimensional stability, g movement, shrinkage and swelling
  • Improve mechanical properties g hardness
  • Improve fire performance e reaction to fire
  • Improve aesthetics g colour
  • Improved coating performance etc


Modified wood can be used for a variety of applications it is always important to check the suitability of the modified timber for the intended use. Three main types of wood modification processes exist with some examples of products


Thermal modification – use of heat e.g Thermowood S or D ( International Thermowood Association), PlatoWood, Lunawood, Brimestone, Durawood, Vulcan Abodo


Thermowood Association




Abodo Vulcan Cladding


Lunawood – Thermal modification






Chemical modification – use of chemicals e.g Accoya and Tricoya (Accsys Technologies), Kebony






Kebony wood


Impregnation – use of resins or polymers  Lignia  ( Fibre7), Organowood


Lignia Wood




For a detailed selection of the most common commercial timber species used in the UK  search the  Gallery – find your wood here.


It should be noted that during modification some timber properties may remain unchanged and some may be reduced. More information is available from the following British Standards


BS EN 113:1997. Wood preservatives. Test method for determining the protective effectiveness against wood destroying basidiomycetes. Determination of the toxic values. 


BS EN 839:2014. Wood preservatives. Determination of the protective effectiveness against wood destroying basidiomycetes. Application by surface treatment. 


BS EN 335:2013. Durability of wood and wood-based products. Use classes: definitions, application to solid wood and wood-based products. 


BS EN 460:1994. Durability of wood and wood-based products. Natural durability of solid wood. Guide to the durability requirements for wood to be used in hazard classes. 


BS 8605-1:2014. External timber cladding. Method of specifying


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