Softwood vs. Hardwood: Which Wood Should You Choose for Woodworking?

How to choose which wood to use!

Jim Grobecker

7/4/20232 min read

brown wooden plank in close up photography
brown wooden plank in close up photography

When it comes to woodworking, selecting the right type of wood is crucial to the success of any project. Two popular categories of wood used in woodworking are softwood and hardwood. Each of these wood types has its own unique characteristics and suitability for different applications. In this article, we will explore the differences between softwood and hardwood, helping you make an informed decision about which type of wood to choose for your woodworking projects.

1. Source and Availability:

Softwood: Softwood is obtained from coniferous trees, such as pine, fir, spruce, and cedar. It is widely available and accounts for the majority of commercially harvested timber worldwide. Softwoods are commonly found in construction and general carpentry applications.

Hardwood: Hardwood is sourced from deciduous trees, including oak, maple, mahogany, walnut, and cherry, among others. Although hardwood is generally more expensive and less abundant than softwood, it offers a wider variety of species and aesthetic options for woodworking projects.

2. Density and Strength:

Softwood: Despite its name, softwood is not necessarily soft. Softwood has a lower density compared to hardwood, which results in a lighter weight. While softwood may not be as strong as hardwood, it can still be suitable for many woodworking applications, especially when combined with appropriate joinery techniques.

Hardwood: Hardwood is known for its density and durability. It offers excellent strength properties, making it ideal for furniture, cabinetry, and other high-quality woodworking projects that require robustness and stability. The density of hardwood also contributes to its resistance to wear and tear.

3. Appearance and Grain Patterns:

Softwood: Softwoods generally have a more uniform and straight grain pattern, which can give a project a clean and consistent appearance. They are often used for construction and outdoor projects where aesthetics may be less of a priority. However, softwoods can be stained or painted to enhance their visual appeal.

Hardwood: One of the primary attractions of hardwood is its rich and diverse range of grain patterns and colors. The unique grain patterns of hardwood, such as swirls, burls, and knots, add character and beauty to woodworking projects. Many woodworkers choose hardwood for furniture and decorative pieces, as the natural beauty of the wood can be showcased through clear finishes and polishing.

4. Workability and Versatility:

Softwood: Softwoods are generally easier to work with due to their lower density. They can be easily cut, shaped, and nailed, making them suitable for various woodworking techniques. Softwoods also tend to have better dimensional stability, meaning they are less prone to warping or shrinking.

Hardwood: Hardwoods can be more challenging to work with due to their higher density, which may require sharper tools and more effort. However, hardwoods can hold intricate details, intricate joinery, and fine finishes better than softwoods. The versatility of hardwood allows it to be used in a wide range of woodworking projects, from small decorative items to large-scale furniture pieces.

Choosing between softwood and hardwood for your woodworking projects depends on various factors, including the intended application, aesthetics, and personal preference. Softwood is readily available, affordable, and suitable for many construction and general woodworking projects. On the other hand, hardwood offers superior strength, durability, and a wide range of aesthetic options for high-quality furniture and decorative pieces.

Consider the specific requirements of your project, such as durability, appearance, and workability, when making a decision. In some cases, a combination of both softwood and hardwood may be the best approach to take advantage of their respective strengths. Ultimately, whether you opt for softwood or hardwood, woodworking is a rewarding craft that allows you to create beautiful and functional pieces