Softwood vs Hardwood

Softwood, post and beam fencing in Alabama

Two types of wood dominate the construction world: softwood and hardwood. It may seem like softwood should be weaker than hardwood, based on the name only. However, this is not the case. The terms “softwood” and “hardwood” address the attributes of the tree and the wood’s origin, not the attributes of the wood when used in fencing and other construction projects. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees  such as oak, beeches, and maple trees which lose their leaves annually, whereas softwoods are from evergreen trees that have leaves all year round. Examples of evergreen trees are pine, cedar, and olive trees. Here are some of the attributes of each type at a glance:

With 80% of all timber coming from softwood, it is a popular choice for a variety of uses, including wood fences, decking and other outdoor applications. Softwoods tend to be a more aesthetically-pleasing wood type, and are typically lighter in color.  As you can see above, softwood maintains its straightness better which is a characteristic important in fencing applications, however there are the occasional exceptions. For example, Poplar is a hardwood, yet it is often used on the east coast to create post-and-rail type fences.  Due to the slow growth that is common to hardwoods, Poplar is becoming less common as the supply lessens. 

In addition, some of the typical softwood species are some of the most popular choices for wood fencing. Pine and cedar are commonly used for wood fences because of their relatively inexpensive cost and longevity. These softwoods are easy to work with, and they also resist shrinkage.

Price is another major difference between softwood and hardwood when it comes to fences. Softwoods tend to be less expensive because they grow faster and reproduce in greater quantities. This is because their unprotected seeds are free to scatter longer distances, covering a larger area. Hardwoods tend to be more expensive because of their low sustainability, slow growth, and the fact that some hardwoods are imported from tropical countries. 

Within the softwood category, there are many other individual species with their own unique characteristics. Now that you know the general direction on wood type, you can proceed to check out the different species of wood.  Check out our other articles for more on each wood species.