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Hartholz/Laubholz oder Weichholz/ Nadelholz: Was sind die Unterschiede?

Hardwood/hardwood or softwood/coniferous: what are the differences?

Different types of wood are required for different projects, and most of us will have heard the terms "hardwood" and "softwood" before.

But what are the differences between these two wood groups? How can I tell them apart? What are the main uses for both? Let's dive right in...

What is the difference between hardwood and softwood?
Hardwood and softwood are distinguished by the tree they come from. These have needles that remain evergreen all year round. Because hardwood trees grow slower than softwood trees, their wood tends to be denser and stronger.

What are hardwoods?
Hardwoods come from trees that are angiosperms and reproduce with a flowering plant, such as oak, walnut, and maple. Deciduous trees are found in temperate and tropical forests around the world. They are mostly deciduous and have broad leaves that change color and fall off in the fall and winter. These leaves all have a network of fine veins.

The structure of hardwood is usually more complex than that of softwood. They typically grow more slowly than softwoods - they can take up to 150 years to mature - resulting in the wood they harvest being denser, heavier and more durable.

The word angiosperms means "enclosed seed" - the seeds of the tree are in an ovary, e.g. B. in a fruit or nut. These seeds don't disperse as easily, resulting in deciduous trees often standing in larger clusters.

What are softwoods?
Softwoods are descended from gymnospermous trees such as conifers (evergreen). These trees -- like pine, cedar, and spruce -- have needle-like leaves that typically stay green year-round, as opposed to broad leaves that shed annually. Softwoods grow faster than hardwoods and typically take around 40 years to mature. Due to their rapid growth, they are usually less dense than deciduous trees.

The word gymnosperms comes from Greek and literally means "revealed seed"; this is because the seeds of these trees - such as B. pine cones - are not surrounded by an ovary. They have no form of housing. This means they can spread much more easily and quickly than hardwoods, sometimes even with the wind.

Hardwood vs. softwood: cell structure
An important difference is the presence of visible pores (or vessels) in hardwood that serve to transport water and nutrients. This structure can be seen under the microscope. In softwoods, the cell structure is simpler. Here the water is transported through the tree by cells called the longitudinal tracheids and medullary rays, which contain no visible pores and produce sap.

Wood essentially consists of tubular units that are compressed together. This cell structure is fundamental to the properties of each individual wood species. The pores in hardwoods give them a more pronounced, heavier grain compared to softwoods.

Hardwood vs Softwood: Strength
As the name suggests, hardwoods are generally stronger and more resilient than softwoods. This is due to the slower growth time and more complex, dense structure resulting in a higher density in the harvested wood. In general, higher density equals higher strength and durability.

However, as with all rules, there are some notable exceptions. There are "hard" softwoods and "soft" hardwoods. Yew is a softwood with a dry density of 670 kg/m³, making it harder than American cherry, which is classified as a hardwood despite its lower density of 560 kg/m³. At the extreme end of the spectrum is balsa, which is classified as a hardwood but has an extremely soft density of 160 kg/m³!

Hardwood vs Softwood: Durability
Due to their more complex, dense structure, hardwoods are usually better able to withstand the elements and have a higher fire resistance. Softwoods that are intended to withstand the effects of the weather - e.g. B. Garden furniture - are usually treated to improve their appearance. Both deciduous and softwoods weather untreated to a silvery grey.

However, there are some naturally durable softwoods. When exposed to the elements, western red cedar can perform exceptionally well even without treatment. Other commercially available softwoods such as Siberian Larch are moderately durable and can withstand most elements of the weather as well as some bumps and knocks that come along in their path.

The difference between hardwood and softwood
Hardwood and softwood are distinguished by the tree they come from and not necessarily by their appearance or properties - although these can be a good guide.

Grain: Softwoods are veinless and therefore have a softer, less pronounced grain than hardwoods, which are characterized by a heavy, pronounced grain.
Color: Hardwoods tend to be darker than softwoods, which are often lighter.
Hardness: Hardwoods tend to be stronger, more scratch-resistant, and more wear-resistant. If the wood splits easily with a chisel, it is most likely softwood.
Weight: Because of their higher density, hardwoods tend to be heavier than softwoods.
In order to really tell the difference between hardwood and softwood, you ideally need to know the species of tree the wood came from. If it comes from an angiosperm (usually a deciduous tree), it is a hardwood. If it comes from a gymnosperm (usually conifers with needle-like leaves), it is classified as softwood.

If you are looking at a tree and not wood, the leaves are usually a good guide to tell the difference. Softwood trees usually have needles and stay green all year round; Deciduous trees typically have broad leaves that change color and die off each fall. All deciduous trees have a fine network of veins on their leaves.

Hardwood vs. Softwood: Cost
Because softwood grows faster, is easier to obtain, and is therefore more common, it is typically much cheaper than hardwood. However, the cost of a particular hardwood or softwood depends entirely on the product and type of wood chosen, and of course the quantity required.

Hardwood vs. Softwood: Machinability
In general, hardwoods are more complicated and time consuming to work and process. In addition, they are usually not as easy to paint or treat in any other way as softwoods. Better tools are required for processing woods with a higher density.

Hardwood vs. Softwood: Environmental Impact and Sustainability
Both hardwood and softwood sequester carbon dioxide and are 100% renewable, but softwood is usually the greener option. This is simply because these trees grow faster than their hardwood counterparts, meaning they can regrow faster. However, when you source wood from sustainably managed forests, you can rest assured that hardwoods are also a very good fit for our planet.

Consumption of wood from sustainably managed forests helps our environment because the growth of new trees removes harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Make sure that you buy your wood from a dealer who has a clear commitment to sustainability - like us! If you want to show the ultimate environmental commitment, you should choose PEFC™ and FSC® certified wood, because these certificates are internationally recognized and confirm the sustainability of a forest.

Deciduous and coniferous trees: list and examples
Did you know that there are over 60,000 tree species in the world? If we wanted to make an exhaustive list, it would probably take us quite a long time here!

So let's explore a few of the most common types of hardwoods and softwoods, where they come from, what types there are, and what their wood looks like.

Oak
These include a variety of species from around the world - over 600 in number - including European Oak (Quercus robur), American White Oak (Quercus alba), Black Oak (Quercus velutina), Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and many more.

Although their appearance can vary widely, oak is typically characterized by a timeless, versatile golden to tan color and straight grain.

walnut
There are 21 tree species in the walnut tree family. These include American black walnut (Juglans nigra), native to North America, Europe, and Asia, white walnut (Juglans cinerea), English walnut (Juglans regia), and others.

Walnut wood is valued for its strength, grain and color. These wood species are dense, tightly grained and typically chocolate brown in color with a purplish tinge - though lighter walnut species also exist.

beech
Native and widespread beech species in Europe, North America and Asia include the European hornbeam (Fagus sylvatica), the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and the Japanese beech (Fagus crenata). Beechwoods are usually pale cream in color, sometimes with pink tinges.

maple
Maple is a classic light wood with an attractive, clean, light cream color, sometimes with a red tinge. There are 132 maple species, most of which are native to Asia but can also be found in Europe, North America and North Africa.

These include the American sycamore maple (also known as the sugar maple, Acer saccharum), the Amur maple (Acer ginnala), and the boxwood maple (Acer negundo).

ash
Common ash species include the white ash (Fraxinus americana), black ash (Fraxinus nigra), and European ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Ash wood is usually straight-grained and is characterized by a light beige to light brown color.

Examples of softwood
Pine trees
Perhaps considered the quintessential softwood, pine is native to all of North America, Europe, and Asia.

Any tree that belongs to the genus Pinus (careful with the pronunciation!) can be classified as a pine. There are over 126 species, the most common being Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Black Pine (Pinus nigra) and White Pine (Pinus strobus).

Due to the many different species of pine that exist, color variance is a characteristic of this type of softwood. Most species are characterized by a reddish-yellow heartwood that darkens to a reddish-brown hue over time. However, there are also almost white pine species - see Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica).

cedars
There are many different types of trees that we refer to as cedars.

Those that have Cedrus in their botanical name are often referred to as "true cedars," but we also use cedars for other trees that some call "false cedars." What they all have in common is that they are conifers - and therefore conifers.

Some of the popular species we refer to as cedars include the western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and the Alaskan yellow cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis). Interestingly, there are only four "true cedars" - the Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), the Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara), the Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani), and the Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica).

Although color and grain can vary from species to species, many architects, designers, and home improvement enthusiasts value species like western red cedar for their beautiful reddish-brown color and straight grain common to many other cedar species.

spruces
About 35 species of evergreen conifers belong to the spruce group, which are distributed in the temperate and boreal regions. One of the most common is Norway spruce (Picea abies), which is used as a Christmas tree in many countries around the world. The color of spruce varies from pale creamy yellow to reddish brown.

firs
Over 40 tree species belong to the fir group, which is widespread in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa. They are very closely related to the cedars.

As with cedars, there are a number of trees that we classify as firs that don't actually have the botanical name Pinaceae - they are often referred to as "false firs". One such tree is the ever-popular Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

Rest assured that all the trees we commonly refer to as firs are conifers - and therefore softwoods!

sequoias
Also known as the Sequoioideae, the sequoias are a large family of conifers — and thus softwoods — native to south-central China and North America. They are known for their immense size. The tallest tree in the world is the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens).

Hardwood and softwood: uses
Wood from the logs of all hardwoods and softwoods can be used for everything from large scale building projects to small craft jobs, and there are many more uses in between. The most common include construction work, furniture, paneling, fences and patios.

Branches, treetops and other small trees can be used as pulp to make paper, cardboard, newspapers, books, wallpaper, toilet paper, stationery and more. The leftover bark and other parts of trees can be used for wood fuel, wood pellets, wood chips, sawdust and wood shavings.

So it's safe to say that wood is an incredibly versatile resource - but what are the differences in how hardwood and softwood are used?

What is hardwood used for?
Hardwoods are strong and durable and are preferred for use in any heavy-duty structure, surface or building project that needs to last a long time. Hardwood is also a popular choice for high quality furniture due to its decorative, grainy appearance and durability.

  • Construction (e.g. half-timbered buildings)
  • floors
  • fences
  • decking boards
  • boat building
  • Luxurious furniture
  • disguises
  • Niche applications for hardwoods include cricket bats (made from white willow), guitars, tobacco pipes and walking sticks. Since hardwoods are more difficult to work with and tend to be more expensive, softwoods are more commonly used. Sometimes softwood products can be finished with a hardwood veneer.


What is softwood used for?
An estimated 80% of the wood consumed worldwide comes from softwoods - a testament to their versatility and usability. Because of their less dense and less durable nature, softwoods are typically used for temporary, less stressful construction when time or budget is tight. Treated softwoods perform just as well as hardwoods when used outdoors.

  • doors
  • window frames
  • Picture Frame
  • DIY supplies
  • Floors (usually with a hardwood veneer)
  • firewood
  • Building elements, furnishings and fittings
  • Roof and interior wall constructions
  • Columns and trusses in construction
  • papermaking
  • Cover
  • wood carving
  • furniture manufacture
  • carpentry
  • carpentry
  • fences
  • disguises
  • decking boards
  • Engineered wood and man-made wood (plywood, fiberboard and MDF)
Softwood is not only easier to work with, but also accepts varnishes and stains very well, making it a popular material for woodworking at home. Christmas trees are made of softwood, which you know if you've ever dealt with pin scraps!
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