How to Identify Hardwoods and Softwoods

How to Identify Hardwoods and Softwoods

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Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva walks host Kevin O’Connor through the types of woods available and the best uses for each.

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Cost: Varies

1. The terms hardwood and softwood do not refer to density but rather to the type of tree- hardwoods come from deciduous trees and softwoods from conifers.
2. Softwoods grow fast and straight so they are a good option for framing material like fir and spruce. The less knots, the stronger the wood. These woods are typically dried in a kiln to prevent warping and shrinkage.
3. Some softwoods like pine are inexpensive and can be used for interior trim, but they can warp and twist.
4. A hardwood like maple is used for cabinets whereas oak is a good choice for flooring. Both of these are more common hardwoods.
5. Fine hardwoods are denser and include species like walnut and mahogany. They’re used for balusters and decking and are more expensive than common hardwoods.
6. Exotic hardwoods like purple heart and zebra wood are the most expensive and usually used for accents on fine furniture.

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20 Replies to “How to Identify Hardwoods and Softwoods”

  1. Really didn't tell me much about identifying woods etc. & I must say that his "floating" wood test was bogus. The balsa piece was about 1/4" thick while the lignum was 1" thick! Make both pieces the exact same size & test it!

  2. Another thing to factor into wood selection is the environmental impact. Most tropical hardwoods are sourced from countries without the forestry regulations and best practices of Europe, the US, etc. As beautiful as the exotics are, I don't trust any supplier to source sustainably. I prefer softwoods, maple, oak, and other domestics.

  3. density is a string indicater , the pines that are hard are hard dense strait grained few knots , if you look up r value and heat value , good woods score high , also water content , it warps and twists as it drys

  4. NO NO NO!!! I love this channel but you guys are wrong about the distinction. Hard wood is a tree there the seed is covered (by a fruit or a nut) and soft wood is one where the seed is naked. Come on guys

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