A Buyer’s Guide to Softwood vs. Hardwood

The variety of lumber options out there is staggering. Alder, oak and pine are just a few of the types of woods you’ll find at any lumber store in Houston. Besides the different types of woods, you will also find different colors, grains and more. However, before you get carried away in the veritable forest of options, it’s good to know that all woods can be separated into two categories: hardwood and softwood.

If you’re new to the world of lumber, we cannot stress enough the importance of understanding these two different categories. The type of project you’re doing, how much you want to spend, how you will treat your wood and even the dimensions of your lumber come down to deciding between hardwood and softwood. So before you head off to your local lumber store in Houston, here are a few things you should know about the differences between softwoods and hardwoods.

Tree types

Hardwood and softwood lumbers are determined by the types of trees they come from. Softwoods come from conifer trees—needle-leaved trees that bear cones. Conifers include trees like pine, spruce, cedar and fir trees. Hardwoods, on the other hand, come from deciduous trees—trees that have broad leaves that they lose in the winter months. Examples of deciduous trees would be oak, maple and mahogany.

Moisture levels

Softwoods absorb and lose moisture more easily than hardwoods. Changing moisture levels can cause wood to warp or split. As a result, softwoods require more care in order to maintain their stability over time. Softwoods almost always require special treating in order to stay protected from the elements.

Hardness levels

As the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” suggest, these two categories of wood have varying hardness levels. Although some hardwoods may be softer than certain softwoods, as a general rule, hardwoods are the stronger of the two. Most softwoods are easier to cut, and can actually be dented by a firm press of a fingernail.


Hardwoods are almost always more expensive than softwoods. Coniferous trees that are used for softwoods mature more quickly than hardwood trees, and are easier to cut down. Therefore, softwoods take less time to grow and require less time and labor to log, which is reflected in their pricing.


Because softwoods are easier to work with and less expensive, these woods are often used in construction projects such as framing walls, building a deck or putting up a fence. Hardwoods, however, are often used for fine woodworking projects or projects where the end product will see a lot of wear and tear. Examples of hardwood projects might include shelving, cabinetry, furniture and flooring.

Whether you are looking to do your first DIY construction project or ready to break in that new saw by making a wood table, understanding the differences between softwoods and hardwoods is essential. With some basic knowledge about wood types, pricing and uses, you will be well on your way to becoming a master woodworker and an expert lumber buyer.

When you’re ready to visit a lumber store in Houston to procure the lumber you need for your project, we hope you’ll make Houston Hardwoods Inc. your first stop!