One of the immediate difference between the different woods is in their names. Both woods are used for all sorts of different decorative and structural items and each have good practical functions, with hardwood usually being used outdoors and softwood used indoors.
It is the botanics which distinguishes the two woods in that it is their reproduction which sets them apart as soft and hardwoods. Hardwood comes from deciduous trees which lose their leaves each year, and are denser as they grow slower, while softwoods are usually evergreen trees such as conifer, but are less dense.
Softwoods are known as gymnosperms and they reproduce forming cones which will then emit pollen which is then spread via the wind to other trees. Pollinated trees will form naked seeds that will travel on the wind so that new trees can grow somewhere else. Other examples of softwoods include – Douglas-fir, redwoods, cypresses, pine and larch.
All hardwood trees are known as angiosperms in that the plant will produce seeds that aren’t naked as the evergreen ones are, and are usually covered in a fruit or protective shell. Angiosperms will create flowers to reproduce, birds will come to the flowers, or insects, and then take the pollen with them to other trees where they will fertilise as fruits, seeds or nuts. Examples of hardwoods are beech, blackwoods and eucalypts.
Although evergreen trees are denser in terms of their foliage, in wood terms they are less dense than deciduous and this makes them easier to cut. Hardwoods produces sturdier wood and are great for outdoor use. Softwoods can be used outdoors, but they have to be treated first so they won’t succumb to fungi, mould and rot.
All in all, both hardwoods and softwoods have myriad uses throughout the home, indoors and outdoors and is still the material of choice for millions of people. Wood is a natural material and regardless of the type of wood you choose, it will have a long life and is renowned for being more long lasting and useful than other man-made materials.
The Janka Test
The most popular way of testing the hardness of any wood is known as the Janka Hardness Test which has been used since the beginning of the 20th century. This test requires measuring how much force is needed to embed a steel ball in to the wood, usually around .444inches of steel ball to be exact.
The test was the invention of a Gabriel Janka after being asked to come up with a reliable test which would be objective and scientific enough to measure the hardness of a single piece of wood. With this test it’s possible to determine both the hardest wood and the softest, which is apparently the Cuipo tree found in almost all South American countries.