< Softwoods vs Hardwoods | Beginners Woodworking Plans

Softwoods vs Hardwoods, What Are They & Which One To Choose?


For beginners in the world of woodworking, it’s important to recognize the difference between softwoods and hardwoods and their identifying characteristics.

Categorically, lumber is being grouped into hardwoods and softwoods, according to botanical distinction.

The kind of wood species that have their source from leaf bearing trees producing fruits, flowers, and nuts are called the hardwoods.

Oak, cherry, poplar, ash, beech, birch and walnut are examples of common North American hardwood lumber.

Examples of the less common ones are mesquite, sycamore, butternut, Holly, and pear.

For exotic hardwood species, examples include Mahogany, Bubinga, Purpleheart, Pear, and Ebony.

You can purchase these kinds of woods via specialty catalogs or on the internet, although they are of high prices and they always come in limited sizes.

Species of softwoods are from cone-bearing trees bearing needles instead of leaves.

Cypress, Redwood, and cedar are examples of North American softwoods that have been made into board lumber.

Due to its suitability, especially for construction purposes, softwoods are always used for roughing and framing.

They are very strong when it comes to structural application, and they are easy to work with, either using power tools or common hand.

One significant advantage of woods from cone-bearing trees is that they grow very fast with straighter branches and trunks when compared to hardwoods.

Lastly, you can get a higher yield in less time when you plant softwood trees per acre.

Wrong notions and misconceptions

Just because we call it hardwood does not mean the wood is really hard, or softwood because the wood is soft; this is quite wrong.

Although a lot of hardwoods are more difficult to work on compared to softwoods, it’s still wrong to distinguish the two with workability or hardness.

Walnut Wood - Beginners Woodworking GuideFor instance, the southern yellow pine is a dense softwood that is being used for large framing lumber and stair treads.

Poplar and Walnut seem to be common hardwoods, but both of them can easily be sawn and routed just like redwood and cedar.

Pricing even isn’t an indicator to know which is hard or soft.

More softwoods are made into building materials when compared to furniture grade lumber, and lumber, of course, is quite expensive; just as the sugar pine lumber is as expensive the white oak or cherry.

This means the basic economics of demand and supply have a lot to do with the pricing of lumber than some species of woods or even the designation its grade.

What do you use?

Get this right: you can make use of both softwoods and hardwoods.

Hardwoods generally are used for indoor projects like trim work, furniture, turnings, and cabinetry because the figures and wood grain are highly desirable.

Softwoods, on the other hand, are used as outdoor furniture, especially for children’s projects, tree houses, painted projects and a variety of utility projects.

Although these are general guidelines, you can make use of any furniture for children’s project if money isn’t the issue.

Still, we’ve not cut out the question of what species to use for your project.

Ask yourself the questions below:

  • Is your project an outdoor or indoor one?

Some woods will lose its durability faster when exposed to ultraviolet light and water.

Another deadly threat to wood is moisture.

Moisturized woods in no time would invite wood- boring insects and mold.


Cypress, redwood, western red cedar, and white oak are examples of outdoor woods that are durable.

These just-listed lumbers have in them profiling compounds or natural oils that can repel insects and also resist rot.

Woods like teak and mahogany that are used for boat building are perfect choices to opt for, just that they are a bit expensive when compared to weather resistant species.

Go for woods that are pressure-treated if you’re not planning to use them for food or for a job that involves constant contact with skin (probably a bench or a chair).

These kinds of woods will be better when painted as there won’t be a need to worry about rotting for a very long time.

You should be careful when handling pressure-treated lumber; you should even have a dust respirator on so you don’t take in the sawdust.

  • Is your project going to receive a clear finish or will be painted?

If you are going to paint your work at the end, you should go for woods with a smooth texture and one that does not have a heavy grain pattern.

Normally, the lumber is supposed to sand and finish in a neat way till the grain wears off completely.

Aspen and birch are good examples of hardwoods that are of excellent paint-grade, they are also not as expensive as other hardwoods that have more attractive wood grain patterns.

Generally, these woods (softwoods) produce an uneven, blotchy tone when finished with a stain, although at the end they make perfect painted woods.

Examples of good candidates that are fit for paint finishes are first, some white woods and pines.

  • Does your project require so much thickness and a high proportion of lumber?

beginners woodworking plansMost board lumber out there today are about ¾ inch thickness.

There could be traces of craft woods in ¼ thickness made of poplar or oak, also with laminated blanks in sizes up to a thickness of 3 inches.

Craft woods length will be reduced to about 3 feet.

I’ve seen projects that require very large panels like entertainment centres and tables, so if you do not have clamps or joiners in place to hold your wide panels from narrower or bigger boards, sanded panels that are pre-glued at about 8 feet long and 3 feet wide can probably be stored in your local home store.

  • What part will be displayed on the outside?

A lot of wood makers often practice this when it comes to furniture building; most times what they do is make of a cheaper or secondary lumber on the insides and peace, while they make use of nicer, more expensive wood on the outer parts of the furniture.

Areas, where cheaper or secondary lumber, can be used should be the shelves in the cabinet, drawers, cabinets back and desk, legs, and under the table top. Pine and poplar are often used as secondary wood pieces for projects.


  • Have you budgeted enough? What’s your budget like?

Lumber seems to be quite expensive, especially when you get a completed surfaced one.

Stick shock sometimes might want to push you over the edge, making your desire for lumber obvious.

Next time you’re summing up, all that’ll be needed and the amount of lumber you want to purchase, you probably should increase with another 30 to 40 percent extra wood.

If you cannot afford the price, then you should go for the kinds of wood that are more economical, just stain it so it meets the standards of an expensive wood.



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