Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, such as oak, maple, teak and mahogany trees. These trees feature broad leaves, flowers and form seeds. Conifers, which are cone-bearing trees, produce softwoods.
As the name implies, hardwoods are generally harder than softwoods. However, some hardwoods, such as basswood, remain relatively soft, while the yew tree, a softwood, produces a relatively hard wood.
Hardwoods generally sell for higher prices than softwoods. While softwoods are used in framing houses, finished work, such as flooring, cabinets and furniture, requires hardwoods. The demand for some hardwoods, such as Brazilian rosewood, can lead to a limited supply of these hardwoods. This type of harvesting of timber is hard on the environment and increases the cost of the wood, placing some varieties out of the reach of most consumers.
Oak is often cut into 1 1/2- to 3-inch strips for use as unfinished flooring. The installer finishes the flooring in place to create a long-wearing floor covering. A solid oak floor provides many years of service, and if the surface suffers damage, refinishing returns it to its former beauty.
Birch is a relatively inexpensive hardwood. Buyers can find it at home improvement centers and lumber yards. It has a straight grain and is easy to stain and finish.