The terms ‘softwood’ and ‘hardwood’ do not indicate softness or hardness of particular timbers. In fact, some hardwoods are softer and lighter than softwoods. The main differences between hardwoods and softwoods are botanical. For example, hardwood comes from angiosperm — or flowering plants — such as maple or poplar. Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees, usually evergreen conifers, like radiata pine or spruce.
Here are some detail differences as the below between softwood and hardwood.
Leaves: Hardwoods have broad leaves, while softwoods are conifers and have more needle-like leaves.
Color: Hardwoods often have darker colored wood, while softwoods are invariably light in color. (Note that there are a number of species of hardwoods with light colored woods.
Density: Most hardwoods have thicker cell walls than softwoods. Hardwoods often have higher densities than softwoods. Again, this is not a definitive test, but it does reflect most of the Australian species.
Microstructure: The essential difference between the wood from hardwoods and softwoods is the presence of vessels in hardwoods. These are continuous pipes running the length of the tree and serve as conduits for water and nutrients in the outer layers of wood in a growing tree.
In hardwoods, the cells are closed and cannot function as conduits. In softwoods, the cells have openings to other cells. This means the cells are the nutrient conduits. The actual cells in the softwood species have the same function as the vessels in hardwoods. The open cell structure of softwoods makes them generally more receptive than hardwoods to preservative treatments to enhance durability.
Generally, though, softwoods are cheaper and easier to work with than hardwoods. As such, they make up the bulk of all wood used in the world, with about 80% of all timber being a softwood. This is impressive considering hardwoods are much more common in the world than softwoods. Softwoods have a wide range of applications and are found in building components. e.g., windows, doors, so we use them to make pine wood moldings and shutter components, furniture, Christmas trees, and much more. Pines are one of the most commonly used softwoods.
Though hardwoods are often more expensive and sometimes more challenging to work with, their upside is that most — though not all — are denser, meaning many hardwoods will last longer than softwoods. For this reason, hardwoods are more likely to be found in high-quality furniture, decks, flooring, and construction that needs to last.