Main author

G&S Specialist Timber Supplier Website
Last edited 10 Jul 2017

Hardwood

Contents

Introduction

Hardwoods are one of the most common types of wood used in manufacturing; everything from oak furniture to a mahogany mantelpiece are constructed with the hardwood. But what makes hardwood so special, and why is it different to traditional softwoods?

What are hardwoods?

Hardwoods are types of wood that come from deciduous trees – trees where their leaves fall every autumn. Some of the most common types of hardwood trees include oak, mahogany, ash, beech, and birch.

One reason hardwoods are known as hardwoods is because they tend to grow a lot more slowly than other types of trees, which results in the trunk, bark, and branches becoming denser, which can be a great benefit for carpenters and people that use wood on a regular basis.

Because of the increased density of the tree, the wood is more 'heavy duty' than its soft counterparts, which is why it is typically used in furniture such as tables, chairs, chest drawers, and so on.

The difference between hardwoods and softwoods

Traditional hardwoods, such as oak, can show annual growth rings, meaning that carpenters and tree enthusiasts can determine how old certain types of wood are, and that can determine various important characteristics of the wood. For example, the more rings there are, the denser it will be, meaning that it is a much higher quality hardwood compared to one that has very few rings.

However, people tend to associate hardwoods with hardness, but this isn’t always the case. For example, balsa is a common hardwood but it is generally softer than softwoods.

Timber-frame.png Chipcarving270.jpg
Softwood Hardwood

Applications of hardwoods

Hardwoods have a wide range of applications, being used for fuel, tools, furniture, flooring, barrels, and the manufacturing of charcoal. The important thing is that, because hardwoods take longer to develop, they are more expensive, which is why they aren’t used as much as softwoods in industries, such as construction.

Hardwoods also have a complex structure, meaning they can produce beautiful features on the wood itself. For example, if you cut a hardwood tree horizontally, you will notice the annual growth rings, but, if you cut a hardwood tree vertically, you will notice the lines that run along the wood that is formed from the xylem tubes; this is known as the grain.

Because of its complex nature, unusual structures can form easily within the wood, such as extra branches protruding out of the wood. When the wood is cut, round ovals of darker wood can be seen, which are known as knots.

However, knots can actually weaken the structure of the wood itself, so it is important to make sure that you use wood with little knots for uses that require wood’s strength. For furniture items, strength isn’t a necessity, because people tend to focus more on the aesthetics of the wood, and it can definitely be said that hardwood with knots looks more aesthetically pleasing than plain hardwood.

--G&S Specialist Timber 09:11, 16 Feb 2017 (BST)

Find out more

Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki