When your home improvement project requires lumber, knowing the basics will help you communicate effectively with your contractor. Do you need hardwood or softwood?
Hardwoods are strong and durable. They come from slow-growing trees, such as oak, teak, ash, bamboo, cherry, maple, and walnut. They’re dense and can be hard to work with. Their color and open pores on the surface create an appealing “grain.” They require less maintenance and last longer than softwoods.
Hardwoods are graded according to the number and size of boards that can be produced from them and the number of defects. The upper grades are used for fine joinery such as window and door frames and for furniture that requires long expanses of unblemished wood. The common grades are best for furniture parts, flooring,and cabinets.
If your needs can be met by a shorter or narrower board, don’t waste money using top-grade boards, which are at least 6 inches wide and 8 feet long, or the “select” grade, 4 inches wide and 6 feet long. These hardwood boards are 83.3% to 100% “clear” wood, representing the percentage of surface without defects.
Common-grade hardwood lumber is 4 inches wide and 3 feet long and can be bought in grades of from 66.6% to 25% clear. It is generally resawn into smaller clear pieces, which have the same attractive appearance as the upper-grade pieces.
Softwoods come from conifers, such as Douglas fir, cedar, and cypress. These trees tend to grow quickly, and their wood is usually easier to work with and available at lower cost than hardwoods.
Softwoods are used for construction framing and making plywood. They are rated on strength and appearance. Before being used outside, softwood should be impregnated with a biocide, but it will still not last as long as hardwood.
Using the right type of wood for the right purpose will save you money and headaches. Take a few minutes to consider where and when to use hardwoods or softwoods in your building plans.