Softwood is a versatile and widely-used type of timber that is popular because of its wide availability and easy-to-use nature. Softwoods are distinct from another botanical category of wood that is known as hardwood. Softwood timber possesses qualities that make it suitable for a wide range of construction and woodworking projects. Because it is low density, it has easy workability, but it is also strong and durable. Whether it is providing structural support or raw material for other products like paper and turpentine, softwoods are a fundamental component of our everyday lives.
What is Softwood?
Softwood refers to wood that comes from gymnosperm trees, or trees which are cone-bearing rather than flower-bearing. Typically, gymnosperm trees have needle or scale-like leaves and are known as conifers. The term “softwood” can be misleading as there are many types of softwoods, such as Douglas fir and yew, that are harder than hardwoods. Yet most softwoods are less dense than most hardwoods.
Building professionals, craftsmen, and various other production industries value softwood for its ease of workability, fast growth, and abundant availability. This means that manufacturers use it in a wide variety of industries and in all levels of production.
Qualities of Softwood
Softwood has many desirable qualities that make it a good choice for many applications.
Most softwood varieties have a low density and soft composition. This means that they are easy for craftsmen and manufacturers to cut, shape, and join. This helps to maintain the longevity of expensive woodworking tools.
Softwood varieties such as pine, cedar, and spruce are plentiful and grow all over the world. This abundance makes softwood less expensive and easily available in most regions for the building industry and consumers.
Strength and Durability
Most softwood types are less strong and durable than hardwood varieties, but softwood still has sufficient strength and durability for many applications. It can provide good structural support and withstand various stresses and strains. These qualities combined with its price and easy workability make it an ideal building material in the home building industry.
There are a wide variety of types of softwoods. Manufacturers use all these types in varied industries from construction elements like the materials for structural support, window frames, and floors to the raw ingredients for paper and chemical production.
Sustainable and Renewable
Softwood is a renewable resource because it comes from fast-growing trees that can be replaced with responsible forestry practices. Softwood trees have a relatively short growth cycle compared to hardwoods. Using softwoods is a way to support environmental conservation efforts.
Thermal and Acoustic Insulation
Softwood has a particular cellular structure that contains air pockets. These air pockets help to slow down the transfer of heat and sound. Softwood’s low density also contributes to giving them natural thermal and acoustic insulating properties.
The aesthetic choices regarding color and grain patterns are not as wide-ranging for softwoods as for hardwoods, but many softwoods still have a pleasing natural appearance. Softwoods such as pine and spruce exhibit a straight grain pattern and other softwoods like cedar have an irregular grain pattern. Builders and craftsmen finish softwoods in a variety of ways including with stain and paint depending on the desired outcome.
Examples of Softwoods and Their Uses
Building professionals and manufacturers use different types of softwood for a range of projects according to their specific composition and characteristics.
- Pine – Builders use pine widely in construction for framing, flooring, paneling, and interior trim work. Craftsmen also use pine to create furniture and cabinetry because of its ease of workability and low cost. Chemicals such as turpentine and rosin are derived from types of pine.
- Spruce – Spruce is commonly used throughout the construction process because of its high strength-to-weight ratio. Builders use it to create trusses and rafters for framing. Manufacturers also use spruce as a raw ingredient in plywood. Paper manufacturers utilize spruce to make paper because of its long and fine fibers.
- Cedar – Cedar has a natural resistance to decay and insects, making it ideal for outdoor applications such as exterior cladding, decking, siding, and fencing. Woodcrafters also utilize cedar for indoor furniture projects such as chests and closets because of its aromatic properties.
- Douglas Fir – Douglas fir is a versatile softwood used for construction purposes such as framing, beams, and plywood. It is also strong and durable and holds fasteners well. Douglas fir has strong fibers, so manufacturers use it to make specialty paper such as tissue paper and heavy paperboard.
- Hemlock – Builders use hemlock in general construction in areas like framing, general millwork, and creating plywood. Craftsmen also use hemlock for furniture production and interior applications. Because of its long, slender fibers, paper producers use hemlock to create low-grade paper types like newspaper.
- Larch – Larch has natural durability and resists rot and decay. Builders use it for outdoor applications like cladding and decking.
- Redwood – Redwood has a natural beauty that builders value for its aesthetic qualities, but it also has an excellent natural resistance to decay. Builders use it for outdoor projects like decking, exterior cladding, and garden furniture.
- Fir – Types of fir like Douglas, white, and balsam fir are used widely in construction because of their strength and durability. They are used to create beams, doors, and joinery.