Wood is one of the most versatile and abundant materials available on earth. As a material, it is of great economic importance. Some woods are strong, hard, weather resistant, chemical resistant, or rot resistant, but none stands out for every possible function or use. Natural wood is of two main types – hardwood and softwood.
What are the most durable woods? Though no species of wood is considered the most durable in all situations, hardwoods are the most durable. These woods also have various unique textures, colors, and motifs. Softwoods are not necessarily softer than hardwoods. There are variations in both types.
Formation Of Wood
Wood is part of a plant. The stems, branches, and twigs undergo lignification to become hard. Since ancient times, humankind used wood for cooking, making furniture, and construction.
Hardwood comes from deciduous trees. They are broad-leaf evergreen trees. All hardwoods are angiosperms or flowering plants, which form the largest group of land plants. There are several species of hardwood trees, and each species has its own set of properties.
Hardwoods are denser in structure – that is why they are heavier and harder than other woods. Black ironwood is the hardest hardwood. It is so dense that it sinks in water instead of floating like the other types of wood. The cell walls of the xylem vessels in hardwood are strongly “lignified” by a substance called lignin that makes the wood hard.
Species Of Hardwood
Alder, aspen, beech, birch, boxwood, cottonwood, elm, hackberry, cherry, poplar, walnut, and willow are some species of hardwood trees.
Information About Some Common Species Of Hardwood
There are hundreds of types of hardwood. Here are a few of the commonest types of hardwood that we use in woodworking:
This wood is good for flooring as it is a tough hardwood. Oak floors can last for hundreds of years. It is also suitable for a variety of furniture. Red Oak is the most popular among hardwoods. It is easily available, and very durable. Red Oak has an attractive finish, and it is the flooring most people choose. It suits almost all flooring needs.
Maple wood looks similar to the wood from an oak tree. The wood is whitish or slightly yellow. We use the wood from this tree for furniture, ceilings, and walls. Maple wood is of two types – hard and soft. The leaves of these two trees are different.
Walnut trees often grow in mountainous areas. They grow up to 30 meters. The wood of the walnut tree is dark brown or blackish brown. The quality of the wood is very good and we use it for making furniture. Walnut is very hard and can withstand extreme temperatures. It does not easily warp or shrink.
The Cherry tree not only produces delicious fruit but also strong quality wood. The wood is dark brown to almost black. It is easy to work with as it has a stable and straight pattern. We use it for interior or exterior decoration. It also has aesthetic value.
General Uses Of Hardwood
We use hardwood as fuel, to make tools, for construction, boat building, to make musical instruments, and barrels, and also for manufacturing charcoal. We also use them for making items that we use a lot because of their high density. These include furniture, flooring, and utensils. Hardwoods are also used in construction.
Flooring is usually made of hardwood because it is long-lasting despite people walking on it with their shoes.
We use hardwoods to make veneers to glue over cheaper woods. This makes them less expensive than solid hardwood while still giving the appearance of an expensive species of wood. It is a common way of using tropical hardwoods as there is a limited supply of trees due to deforestation.
Hardwoods are less likely to decay or rot than other woods. Furniture made with hardwood joinery is more expensive than that made from softwood. Nowadays, the supply of some species of hardwood is scarce, so the prices of hardwood furniture are high.
As hardwood has very short fibers, we use it to make paper such as writing paper, printing paper, and tissue paper.
Using Wood for Fuel
Denser hardwoods like oak, cherry, and apple are good for campfires, cooking fires, and smoking meat, as they tend to burn hotter and longer than softwoods. Utensils like bowls, plates, cups, and spoons made of hardwood last for many years without breaking.
We get softwood from the wood of gymnosperm trees like pines and spruce. Gymnosperms plants produce seeds. There is a lot of variation in the wood hardness of both hardwood and softwood. Softwoods are not necessarily softer than hardwoods. And, some hardwoods are softer than many softwoods.
An example of a hardwood softer than most softwoods is balsa. Some softwoods like the longleaf pine, Douglas fir, and yew are harder than most hardwoods in the mechanical sense.
Species Of Softwood
Pine, larch, Douglas fir, poplar, cedar, and redwood, are some popular softwoods. Here is some information about some common species of softwood:
The most versatile and popular among these is pine. Its easy adaptability to a variety of applications makes it a favorite among woodworkers. It is also the most easily available timber the world over. We use it for furniture-making and construction. It is also resistant to moisture, decay, and insects.
Cedar is a relatively denser and highly durable softwood. It is tough too. We use it to make outdoor furniture, decking, and other exterior work. Western red cedar is the most popular species of cedar.
We use it to make outdoor furniture and flooring because it is highly resistant to moisture. It is not as hard as cedar. European redwood, which is light in color, is a popular species. We use it for indoor and outdoor applications.
Larch is a softwood that is durable and strong. We use it in construction projects to build exterior designs such as timber cladding. The properties and color of larch wood differ according to its origin.
Commonly called fir, it is a reddish-brown softwood timber used in constructing buildings. The grain is straight and tight with a few knots. We use it for joinery work, flooring, cladding, and facades. Douglas firs are also used as Christmas trees!
General Uses Of Softwood
Woodworkers enjoy working with softwood because of its unique and versatile nature. They are less dense than hardwoods, but some of them can be equally strong and durable.
We use softwoods like pine to make furniture. The aesthetic nature of the pine gives the furniture an impressive and beautiful finish. Furniture made from softwood is lightweight, convenient to move around, affordable, and popular.
Softwood flooring is also a safe option as some are as strong and durable as hardwood. They resist wear and tear. We use softwoods for molding and trimming because of their high flexibility and bending qualities. We use cedar, spruce, and pine for the same reason.
Woodworkers use softwood to make window frames, doors, and cabinets. They get the desired shape and design just by using hand tools. Softwood is lightweight and light-colored which makes it easy to work on it. It is a good choice for making cabinets. Once finished, the cabinets look attractive and impressive.
We use fine layers of softwood sheets to make plywood. The flexible nature of plywood makes it easy to cut, carve and turn.
How can wood be made more durable?
To make wood durable we have to take good care of it.
- To remove airborne deposits that build up and scratch the surface, you need to dust regularly.
- Use a soft cloth to clean the sticky spots with mild soap and water. Rinse and dry immediately.
- Wax or polish to keep the wood from drying out.
The durability of wood in contact with the ground depends on many factors such as substrate quality, climate, and microflora of the soil. We need to consider all these factors to predict the life of wooden structures used in the ground.
Durability is determined by use and conditions. Some woods have qualities of strength, hardness, weather resistance, rot resistance, or chemical resistance. No single wood has every possible use or function. We hope the information given about hardwoods and softwoods is useful to you. Now you can choose whichever wood you want for the project you have in mind.