Hardwood vs. Softwood: What’s the difference?

Would you be surprised if I told you that the difference between hardwood and softwood has nothing to do with the hardness of the wood? It seems like a complete misnomer, but let me explain.

Hardwoods and softwoods are sorted based on their seeds. The seeds of a hardwood tree have some sort of protective barrier, like the shell of a walnut, or are embedded in a fruit like an orange. Likewise, softwood seeds, such as pine, fall without any protection.

Walnut's seed comes protected by a shell classifying it as a hardwood.

Walnut’s seed comes protected by a shell classifying it as a hardwood.

So how exactly can you tell a wood that’s hard (as in durable) from one that’s soft? Look at the Janka hardness score. This test has been an industry standard since the 1950s, and it consists of measuring the force required to embed a steel ball exactly halfway into the wood. The measured force (in pounds) is the resulting Janka score.

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You can use the Janka score to determine how easily a wood will scratch or dent. If you wish to see a list of Janka hardness scores for different woods, please view our comprehensive Janka score graph!

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