Hardwood and Softwood Furniture

hard wood table

There are countless types of wood available for furniture manufacturing, from the common to the exotic. The beauty of wood is that each timber has its own character and provides different templates for furniture makers to work on.

There are two basic categories of woods — hardwood and softwood. It is a common misconception that the names refer to the density of the woods. Many people are led to think that the former is no doubt better as it's harder. Even though hardwood is typically harder than softwood, some species of hardwood are actually softer than softwood, while some softwoods have the density of hardwoods.

In truth, the distinction between hardwood and softwood has to do more with the way the plant reproduces and its seed structure than the density of the timber. Hardwood trees are angiosperms, plants that produce seeds with some sort of covering. Softwoods, on the other hand, are gymnosperms. These plants let seeds fall to the ground as is, with no covering.

Both classes of wood can be used for constructing furniture but they present distinct characteristics. The majority of the world's timber production comes from softwood trees because softwood grows faster than its hardwood counterpart. Softwood is also generally more pliable, making it an easier material to work with and hence cheaper to manufacture. However, due to its lack of density, it can scratch and damage more easily. Consequently, softwood furniture needs more care than hardwood.

Hardwood, being harder and heavier, tends to be sturdier and longer-lasting. Additionally, hardwoods are more resistant to decay than softwoods. The biggest drawback for quality hardwood is its high cost. Do bear in mind though that this is a generalization — there are exceptions in the hardwood family, such as balsa, that are softer than many softwoods.

With the depleting resources and resultant higher prices of some exotic hardwoods, less expensive and readily available wood types such as ash, pine, gum, poplar and fir gained importance in the furniture industry. What we tend to see in today's furniture market is the combination of expensive and quality wood with the less expensive types of woods.

Popular hardwoods include teak, maple, oak, aspen, mahogany and cherry. Common softwoods would be pine, cedar, spruce, fir and redwood. For more on the different types of hardwoods and softwoods, click here.

Hardwood vs Softwood (Generalised Comparison)
Hardwood Softwood
Lower supply Higher supply
Harder Softer
More durable Not as lasting
Harder to make into furniture Easier to make into furniture
More expensive Less expensive