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  • Pinto Carpentry

Carpenter's Corner: Types of Wood-What is the difference between hardwood and softwood?

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Get your thinking caps on and get ready to absorb this knowledge to impress your friends at your next trivia night. For today’s edition of Carpenter’s Corner, we’re sharing some fun facts and fascinating information about terms and phrases used in woodworking and carpentry. It’s one of the oldest trades in the book, so there’s lots to learn about all the different types of wood!

logs of wood pilled up

Did you know that the terms Hardwood and Softwood don’t refer to the wood itself, but the trees and leaves in which they’re harvested from?

forest with a river and large tree framing photo on the right

Hardwood comes from deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves annually. Deciduous trees are also known as angiosperms, or flowering trees. Hardwood trees grow at a slower rate than softwoods. Hardwoods are heavier, darker in color, have natural weather resistance, and last for several decades, however, harvesting these trees has more of an environmental impact.


Softwood comes from conifers, also known as evergreens! Softwood makes up about 80% of the world’s lumber industry; most production is done in North America, Scandinavia, China, and Baltic countries. Softwood trees are called gymnosperm trees, which have needle shaped leaves. Softwoods are generally lighter in color, more lightweight, less costly, last for more than a decade, are weather resistant if properly treated, and have less of an environmental impact when harvested.

What is the difference between hardwood and softwood in regards to carpentry projects and what types of wood should you choose?

logs of wood stripped and stacked into a pile

When it comes to construction materials, wood is generally measured by a Janka score. The Janka score measures how much weight it can withstand before it gets damaged. For carpentry projects like stairs, it’s generally preferable to use hardwood which has a higher Janka score and can withstand a significant amount of foot traffic. When it comes to softwoods, these materials are preferred for railing installations and pieces like balusters, newel posts, and handrails. Although, sometimes a builder or client may also opt to use hardwood features for those parts as well.

Examples of hardwoods used in stair treads, risers and balustrades include white oak, walnut, and ash. Examples of softwoods used in balustrades include pine and hemlock. Examples of some railing materials may be made of oak, maple, clear or knotty alder, and others. You’ll want to check with your contractor to determine which materials are best for your project needs and your aesthetic choices.

carpenter marking a piece of wood with ruler and pen

Are you looking to update your home’s railings and stairs or perhaps need a repair?

Let the experts at Pinto Carpentry help guide your project in the right direction. We’ll help you find the perfect look to update your home or business and choose the best materials for the project. Give us a call today to request a custom quote and get the ball rolling!

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