Hardwood and softwood are terms that are commonly used in all things wood-related. Often misunderstood, it’s useful, if you’re thinking about a timber flooring project, to refresh yourself about what exactly is meant by each term. Here’s a useful outline which should help:
Examples of hardwoods include the likes of mahogany, teak, walnut, oak, ash, birch and maple. The thing that each of these woods have in common is that they all come from deciduous trees. That’s to say, from trees that shed their leaves each autumn. A more expensive option than softwood, there’s no getting away from the fact that most, but not all hardwoods are more durable, as well as generally speaking, more sought after than softwoods. The reason that hardwoods are more expensive than softwoods is largely down to the simple economics of supply and demand: a hardwood tree can take decades to grow, while softwood trees grow relatively quickly.
Generally speaking, a tougher wood type than softwood, solid hardwoods are ideal for use in timber flooring because they will stand up to the harsh wear and tear that life under foot throws at them and will last (more than) a lifetime in most instances. Add to all of this the fact that hardwoods are more fire resistant than softwoods and you soon start to see the appeal.
As we’ve mentioned already, softwoods grow much more rapidly than hardwoods, making them a more affordable timber flooring option. The trees that softwoods originate from are evergreen, sporting needles that they don’t typically shed. Widely used in the construction of homes, cabins and furniture, common softwoods include pine, spruce, cedar, larch and fir. As the name suggests, softwoods tend to be less dense than hardwoods, and as a result, in most cases are less hardwearing.
When it comes to wood flooring, in addition to the option of softwood or hardwood, there is also the possibility of investing in engineered wood flooring. Engineered flooring is made up of bonding a number of layers of ply or high density fibreboard (HDF) to create a core board, which effectively makes up the inner part of a “sandwich” which is then topped with a solid wood lamella or top layer. These core boards are made by bonding layers of ply together or by introducing a thick layer of HDF, which is laid in different directions to create a strong, stable base for the solid wood top layer, which is commonly made of oak, larch or walnut.
Once you’ve decided to opt for a wooden floor, you’ll be faced with (amongst many other exciting decisions), the choice between hardwood, softwood and engineered wood. Which option will work best for your project will depend upon many things, such as your budget, the relative humidity and temperature fluctuations in your room as well as the natural colour of wood you’re looking for. While personal taste and preference will heavily influence the decision you make, it’s really important that you make the right choice, and with this in mind, you should never fear asking for advice from your wood flooring supplier if you’re in any doubt whatsoever.