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Hardwood vs. Softwood


wooden blocks

Wood is material which was used by human beings for a long time already. As far as we are developing we get more knowledge in all spheres of our activities and proper usage of BeaverCraft wooden materials is not an exception. Despite the fact that every breed has its own characteristics, wood generally differs as hardwood and softwood. So what is the difference between them and what are their pros and cons? That's what we want to talk about today, and if you're interested in the difference in types of wood, we recommend «Best Wood for Wood Carving» guide.

What is Hardwood?

Hardwood - this is wood from dicot (angiosperm) trees. They are mostly spread in tropical, subtropical and broad-leaved temperate areas of forests. The main characteristic which differs it from softwood is vessels, that appears like pores under the microscope and are used to transport water, mostly giving to it prominent grain. Most of these breeds are deciduous. Common examples of hardwood are oak, walnut wood, mahogany, alder wood, beech, hickory, maple and teak. If you're a hardwood fan, be sure to read our articles «Is Walnut Wood Good for Carving?»‎ and «Is Alder Good for Carving?»‎.

wooden figures and blanks

Pros of Hardwood
  • Mostly higher density: Hardwood's higher density compared to softwood provides several advantages in wood carving. It offers greater stability and strength to carved pieces, allowing for intricate details and ensuring durability.
  • Better fire resistance: Hardwood exhibits better fire resistance compared to softer woods. Its dense nature and low resin content make it less prone to ignition and combustion, adding an extra layer of safety.
  • Long-lasting material: Hardwood is known for its longevity. Carved artworks and functional pieces made from hardwood can withstand the test of time, becoming cherished heirlooms that can be passed down through generations.
  • Easy maintenance: Hardwood requires relatively easy maintenance. With proper care and periodic treatments, such as polishing or waxing, hardwood carvings can retain their beauty and structural integrity for years.
  • An enormous variety of appearance: Hardwood offers a vast array of appearances, colors, and grain patterns. From the rich reddish-brown tones of mahogany to the golden hues of oak, the diversity of hardwood species allows woodcarvers to choose the perfect material to achieve their desired aesthetic and create unique, visually stunning pieces.

These pros make hardwood a preferred choice for woodcarvers who value durability, beauty, and versatility in their creations.

Cons of Hardwood
  • More expensive than softwood: Hardwood tends to be more costly than softwood due to factors such as its density, quality, and desirability. This higher cost can pose a financial challenge for woodcarvers, especially beginners or those with budget constraints.
  • Slow growth rate: Hardwood trees generally have a slower growth rate compared to softwood trees. This slower growth means that it takes longer for hardwood trees to reach maturity, resulting in limited availability and potentially increasing the cost of the raw material.
  • Some species are over-exploited: Certain hardwood species have been over-exploited due to high demand, leading to deforestation and depletion of their populations. This over-exploitation can negatively impact the environment and biodiversity, and it is important to prioritize responsibly sourced hardwood to support sustainable practices.
  • Workability: While the density of hardwood is advantageous for its durability, it can make it more challenging to work with. Carving hardwood may require sharper tools, more effort, and skill due to its hardness, potentially slowing down the carving process and requiring additional expertise.
  • Costy refinishing: Hardwood may require refinishing over time to maintain its appearance and protect it from wear and tear. The cost of refinishing, which can involve sanding, staining, and applying finishes, can add to the overall expenses of working with hardwood.

Despite these cons, hardwood remains a popular choice for woodcarving due to its unique qualities, durability, and aesthetic appeal. Woodcarvers often find the benefits outweigh the drawbacks when it comes to working with hardwood.

What is Softwood?

Softwood - being mainly recognized as opposite in characteristics, wood from gymnosperm trees as well as hardwood still has an extreme variety in technical characteristics. Meaning of softwood can be also explained as open-grained wood of any coniferous tree. Cedar, pine, yew, redwood, Douglas fir, spruce should be mentioned as most common examples of this type of wood, as 80% of all timber comes from it. While hardwood is associated with broad leaves, these trees tend to have needles and cones, that is what differs them on their surface. The absence of pores due to medullary rays and tracheids as water transportation gives softwood its light grain. If you prefer to carve softwood, our guide «Is Basswood Good for Carving?»‎ will help you learn all the pros of this type of wood.

softwood figure with wooden block

Pros of Softwood
  • Very simple workability: Softwood is known for its excellent workability. It is generally easier to carve compared to hardwood due to its lower density and softer nature. This makes it ideal for beginners or those who prefer a more straightforward carving experience.
  • Faster growth rate: Softwood trees typically have a faster growth rate compared to hardwood trees. This faster growth allows for a more readily available supply of softwood, making it easier to source and potentially more affordable.
  • Cheaper in comparison with hardwood: Softwood is generally more affordable compared to hardwood. This cost advantage makes it a practical choice for woodcarvers on a budget or those who are working on larger projects that require more material.
  • Sustainability: Softwood often comes from sustainably managed forests or plantations. These forests are carefully monitored and replanted, ensuring a renewable and eco-friendly source of wood for carving. Choosing softwood can support sustainable forestry practices and help minimize the impact on the environment.
  • Insect attack resistance: Softwood species, such as cedar or redwood, possess natural properties that make them more resistant to insect attacks compared to certain hardwood species. This resistance reduces the risk of damage to the carved pieces, enhancing their longevity and reducing the need for additional protective measures.

These pros make softwood a popular choice for woodcarving, especially for those seeking ease of workability, affordability, sustainability, and natural resistance to insects.

Cons of Softwood
  • Mostly have lower hardness: Softwood generally has lower hardness compared to hardwood. This lower hardness can make softwood more susceptible to dents, scratches, and general wear and tear, which may affect the overall durability of the carved piece.
  • Poor fire resistance: Softwood tends to have poor fire resistance compared to hardwood. Its higher resin content and lower density make it more prone to igniting and burning, which can pose safety concerns in certain situations.
  • Decay resistance: Softwood is typically less resistant to decay compared to hardwood. The natural properties of softwood make it more susceptible to fungal attacks and rotting, especially when exposed to moisture or damp environments. Proper sealing or protective finishes are necessary to enhance its resistance to decay.
  • Production of sticky saps: Softwood trees, such as pine or spruce, often produce sticky saps or resins. These saps can be problematic for woodcarvers as they can stick to carving tools, causing difficulties in the carving process. Regular cleaning and maintenance of tools become necessary to avoid buildup.
  • Require more attention: Softwood requires more attention and maintenance compared to hardwood. It may need more frequent refinishing or protective treatments to maintain its appearance and ensure its longevity. This extra care includes protection from moisture, regular cleaning, and occasional reapplication of finishes.

Despite these cons, softwood remains a popular choice for woodcarving due to its availability, affordability, and ease of workability. Many woodcarvers appreciate the unique characteristics and aesthetic qualities that softwood offers, and with proper care, it can still result in beautiful and long-lasting carved pieces. Woodcarves are looking for the softest wood for carving and there are plenty of such wood options.

Usage of hardwood and softwood

carving wooden spoon

Generally, usage of this or that type of wood depends only on the breed of the tree due to its density, so that both of them can be used for similar purposes. Despite that, it might be helpful to specify directions of common use for hardwood and softwood. This list does not pretend to be completely finished in a variety of applications and its main purpose is recognition of several common uses.

Usage of Hardwood

Hardwood is an incredibly versatile material that finds application in various industries, including wood carving. One prominent use of hardwood is in the creation of high-quality furniture. Its durability and exquisite grain patterns make it ideal for crafting enduring pieces, such as tables, chairs, cabinets, and bed frames. Wood carvers can leverage the strength and aesthetic appeal of hardwood to create intricate and visually captivating furniture designs.

Another significant application of hardwood is in outdoor spaces, particularly for decks. Hardwood, known for its natural resistance to moisture, rot, and insects, is favored for constructing durable and visually appealing decks. Wood carvers have the opportunity to showcase their artistic skills by incorporating intricate carvings into hardwood deck designs, adding an extra touch of elegance to outdoor areas.

Additionally, hardwood is widely used in flooring due to its timeless beauty and longevity. Wood carvers can create stunning patterns and designs on hardwood floors, bringing warmth and character to interior spaces. The durability of hardwood flooring ensures that the carved designs withstand the test of time, allowing the artistry to be appreciated for years to come.

Furthermore, hardwood finds applications in other industries, including construction, decor, and functional items. It is utilized in buildings for beams, posts, and framing, providing strength and structural integrity. Hardwood can also be carved into decorative accents, frames, chests, and even wine and whiskey barrels, adding elegance and charm to interior spaces. Additionally, hardwood is employed in functional items such as paper, boxes, the interior of cars, crates, and frames, where the strength and versatility of the material enhance both functionality and aesthetics.

Usages of Softwood

carved wooden figure

Softwood, known for its versatility and accessibility, finds application in various industries, including wood carving. Its unique qualities make it suitable for a range of wood carving endeavors. Softwood is commonly used for cladding, paneling, and the production of windows and doors. Its workability allows wood carvers to create intricate designs and patterns on softwood surfaces, adding visual interest and charm to both interior and exterior spaces.

In construction, softwood plays a vital role in the production of beams, poles, and benchtops. Its strength and structural properties make it a suitable material for supporting structures, providing stability and durability to architectural elements. Softwood is also used for fences and roofing due to its availability and cost-effectiveness. Wood carvers can incorporate carved details into softwood fences, adding artistic flair to outdoor spaces. Softwood roofing components can also be embellished with intricate carvings, contributing to the architectural character of the building.

Softwood is valued in the realm of furniture, where its affordability and workability are advantageous. Wood carvers can create beautifully carved designs on softwood furniture pieces, adding unique artistic elements to interior decor. Additionally, softwood serves as a popular choice for sculptures. Its ease of carving allows wood carvers to transform softwood blocks into intricate and expressive sculptures, showcasing their craftsmanship and artistic vision.

Moreover, softwood finds application in the production of fiberboards, such as fiberboard panels and organ pipes. Wood carvers can leverage the versatility of softwood fibers to create detailed carvings on fiberboard surfaces, contributing to the aesthetics and functionality of these applications. Softwood's availability and workability make it a preferred material for DIY projects as well. Wood carvers can embark on various creative endeavors, such as frames, shelves, and decorative items, using softwood as their canvas.

Density is one of the most important characteristics when it comes to wood choice. This chart below represents the density of the most commonly used wood. To summarize everything already written, we want to give you a piece of advice: no matter what type of wood do you choose, due to your personal purposes, if you treat it in the proper way it will bring you a significant result, no matter if this is long-lasting black oak or easily renewable pine.



Roman Law

Wood carving guru

From a childhood enchanted by nature, my passion for wood carving guided me on a path of creativity. With a pocket knife, I uncovered the transformative power of my hands, breathing life into driftwood and forging a lifelong connection with the medium.

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