What Are Characteristics of Hardwood and Softwood?

Hardwood comes from deciduous trees with broad leaves that shed their leaves during portions of the year, while softwood comes from conifers that remain green throughout the year and have needles instead of leaves. Hardwood trees are also slower growing than softwood ones, leading to higher prices.

Hardwood is not always harder than softwood. Balsa wood, which is considered a hardwood, is a rather soft wood when compared to the hardness of most softwoods. Other examples of hardwoods include oak, maple, walnut, ash and poplar. Most commercial hardwoods in the United States grow in the Midwest and are used for making furniture because of the varied colors in the woods and visible grain when worked. Hardwood is also commonly used for floors, cabinets and doors.

Softwoods include pine, fir, redwood, cedar and hemlock. They grow primarily in the Pacific Northwest and in the South of the United States. Due to their faster growth, softwoods are lower in cost than hardwood. Despite their classification, softwood is still fairly hard and dense and is used mostly for construction purposes. Softwoods are usually found making up the framework of most houses, though they are also useful in creating cabinetry and trim or other decorative finishing touches.