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What’s the Difference Between Hard and Softwood Lumber, and Why Does it Matter? Part I

What’s the Difference Between Hard and Softwood Lumber, and Why Does it Matter? Part I

For the amateur home builder or craftsman, something as simple as choosing a type of wood for crafting can prove daunting. There are, after all, so many species of tree and even more cuts and finishes of wood. Well, we can’t promise to turn you into an overnight lumber expert, but in the following article, we will discuss the two major types of wood used in crafting and home building: Softwood and Hardwood lumber. Both have uses, but neither type is universal. Knowing which wood is right for you can make the difference between success and failure when you reveal your finished product.

First, we will start with Softwood Lumber. Softwood is, for all intents and purposes, pine lumber. This wood type stems (no pun intended) from trees of the evergreen or “coniferous” variety. These include pine, cedar, redwood, fir, and other “cone-producing” trees. Softwood lumber is the source of over three-quarters of the world’s timber. Interestingly enough, “soft” wood is not necessarily softer than its “hardwood” counterpart. In fact, there are many “hardwoods” which are much more fragile than softwood; Balsa wood is a prime example of this. That said, the more solid hardwoods are many times stronger than softwood. Since softwood lumber is of such great supply, it is often used as the main material for structural building. In fact, most houses in America are built from Canadian softwood.

If you decide that softwood is right for your woodworking or home building project, then you should know the risks of buying softwood lumber and the proper caring techniques for your wood product. Softwood absorbs and loses more moisture than its hardwood siblings, so great care must be taken to ensure that your product remains at a stable humidity. In the weeks leading up to your project, you should store your softwood lumber indoors, preferably in a room with a humidifier if possible. If this is not possible, then you should try your best to ensure that the wood maintains as close to an equal balance of moisture and dryness as possible, otherwise you will likely be forced to deal with expanding and “cracked” lumber, which can create unsightly marring on your finished product.

Softwood is finicky and sometimes tricky to craft with, but if you can maintain the proper moisture equilibrium, then softwoods versatility grants you the ability to craft almost anything.

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