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Softwood vs Hardwood – The Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood

Contrary to popular belief, softwood vs hardwood isn’t distinguishable by varying degrees of wood hardness. Rather, the names are derived from the way the wood is produced and the botanical structure of the timber. However, hardwood timber is generally harder than softwood due to its higher density, though there are some exceptions. Below is a quick guide on softwood vs hardwood, and how you can tell the difference between hardwood and softwood.

Softwood vs hardwood


Softwood refers to wood that comes from a specific type of tree known as ‘gymnosperms.’ Gymnosperms or ‘naked seed’ refers to a group of plants that have exposed seeds. The most common form of gymnosperms, pine trees and conifers, are also the most common type of wood used in softwood. Fast growing and readily available, softwood is often cheaper than hardwood but not as durable.

Softwood is generally a lighter material to cut, which makes it a favourite in the construction industry as it can be used for multiple purposes such as fixtures and fittings and inner wall structures. Pliable and bendy, a softwood such as conifer contains only a few different cell types which means more air spaces – resulting in a softer, more malleable piece of wood. If used for outdoor fixtures, a softwood will often have to be reimbursed with preservative timber formulations to ensure a longer lifespan. When it comes to identifying the key difference between hardwood and softwood, malleability is the biggest indicator.

Softwood timber is best used for:

  • Structural framing
  • Benchtops and cabinets
  • Cladding
  • Roof trusses


Hardwood timber is derived from an angiosperm tree – a plant that produces enclosed seeds. This type of wood has a higher density, which means it’s generally stronger than softwood, though there are some exceptions – balsa wood is a hardwood that is incredibly lightweight and soft.

Hardwood timber is perfect for any construction project that requires a strong, base material or for outdoor use. Its beautiful appearance and durability make it the popular choice for decking, and indoor flooring, where it’s considered a favourable selling point.  Hardwood is highly versatile and can be used for anything from musical instruments to fencing and furniture. As hardwood timber comes from slow growing trees, it’s generally more expensive than softwood. However, if you’re looking for a timber that can withstand a lot of wear and tear (particularly foot traffic), hardwood timber is worth the extra money.

Hardwood flooring is best used for:

  • Flooring
  • Outdoor decks
  • Furniture
  • Fencing
  • Boats

How to Tell the Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood

‘How to tell the difference between hardwood and softwood’ can be as simple as using your fingernail. If you’ve stumbled across a piece of wood you like and need to quickly determine whether it’s softwood vs hardwood, simply scratching the wood with your fingernail should give you a good idea. If scratched, a softwood timber will retain a very clear line of damage. Scratching on hardwood timber, however, will not leave a mark.

Timber yard Brisbane

We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog on ‘softwood vs hardwood’ timber. If you’d like to discuss whether softwood or hardwood timber is the best material for you, call us on 07 3266 9000

and a member of our friendly staff will be more than happy to help.

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