Wood flooring is broadly divided into two categories, hardwood and softwood. Both varieties are popular flooring options. However, there’s a common misconception that the differences between them is their density or hardness. The truth is that the two species are differentiated by their origin, structure, appearance and use.
Let’s find out more.
Hardwood originates from angiosperm and deciduous trees. These flowering trees produce enclosed seeds such as acorns and apples. They have broad leaves that drop annually in the fall. Softwood originates from gymnosperm and coniferous trees. These trees have needles and cones instead of leaves and produce uncovered or exposed seeds such as spruce, pine, and cedar. The seeds are blown by the wind and spread over a wide area.
Hardwood and softwood have different grain patterns due to their pores. Hardwood has vessel elements that transport water from roots to tip to nourish the wood. These vessel elements appear as pores of different shapes and sizes under a microscope, thus forming different grain patterns. Softwood has medullary rays (a system of linear tubes) forming tracheids, not pores, to transport water throughout the wood for producing sap to strengthen the stem. When observed under a microscope, pores are not visible in softwood.
The structure of hardwood (presence of pores) makes it a denser flooring option compared to softwood. It is fire resistant and provides more durability to your floors. Due to the presence of tracheids, softwood has a lower density.
Both varieties of wood have a distinct appearance. Hardwoods are available in variations of dark red, white and rich brown, whereas softwoods are available in variations of red and yellow. When looking at grain patterns, they can vary wildly from one wood to another.
Hardwood is commonly used for decking, flooring, and making sturdy, long-lasting furniture. It is a preferred choice for durable construction projects. Softwood is also a popular flooring option, but it is commonly used for paper, timber, mineral density fibreboards and Christmas trees.
Softwood is a cost-effective option compared to hardwood because it is easy to harvest, manufacture and distribute in the market. On the other hand, hardwood has a slower growth rate and costs more than softwood as it takes time to harvest.
Both hardwood and softwood have their unique characteristics. However, they have different origins, purposes and vary in prices. It’s up to you what you want, hardwood or softwood.