The Differences Between Hardwoods and Softwoods

What Makes Hardwood Different From Softwood?

You might think that hardwood is more durable than softwood simply because of the contrast in their names. But the truth is the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” actually refer to a tree’s structure and origin, not its density – although most softwoods are more pliant than hardwood..

The differences between hardwood trees and softwood trees begin with a tree’s origin and its structure.

 Wood Origins

Hardwood comes from angiosperm trees – or trees with enclosed seeds, like apples or acorns. These are also called “flowering plants”. Examples include ash, aspen, balsa, birch, cherry, elm, mahogany, maple, oak, and walnut.

Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees – or trees with uncovered seeds. Think of cedar, pine and spruce, with exposed seeds that blow away to germinate and needles they keep year-round.

 Differences In Structure

A primary difference between hardwoods and softwoods is the presence of pores. Hardwoods have pores ranging in size and shape. The pores allow water to travel from the roots to nourish the wood. They also contribute to a hardwood’s grain pattern. The hardwood’s structure also makes it more dense and more resistant to fire

Softwoods have a system of straight, linear tubes (tracheids, not pores), which transport water and produce sap and provide strength to the stem.


Every wood species has something unique to offer in color and grain pattern. Hardwoods typically can be white, dark red, rich brown, and variations of those colors. Most softwoods tend to be yellow or reddish in color.

Grain patterns can also vary and have nothing to do with a wood being hard or soft. For example, fir is a softwood and has a very pronounced grain, but so does oak, which is a hardwood.

 Hardwood and Softwood Uses

Hardwood species provide wood used for durable construction projects, hardwood flooring, decking, and high quality furniture.

Softwood trees generally produce a less expensive wood used for timber, paper, Christmas trees, and mineral density fiberboard.

 Hardwood or Softwood Floors?

When it comes to wood flooring, hardwoods are typically more durable and more expensive than softwoods. Hardwood flooring tends to be better suited to withstand heavy foot traffic and last longer overall.

When choosing a species for your hardwood floor, there are many factors that will play a role in your decision. If you’re not sure which hardwood floor is right for you, contact our Customer Care reps for assistance. They can help you find a wood flooring option that matches your decorating style and lifestyle.