Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Got Wood? Hardwood vs Softwood

If you've watched my videos or read the articles I've written about making fires, you may have noticed me refer to hardwood and softwood. While the argument could be made that any wood is hard when it's falling on your head, there are important distinctions between hard and soft varieties of wood.
Hardwoods are used in flooring, furniture, cabinet-making, and for smoking food. They are tough, durable woods, usually with a very tight grain structure. They are also more energy-dense than softwoods when being burned.

Hardwoods come from deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees that shed their leaves every year. Normally these trees reproduce with fruits or nuts, but not always, such as in the maple tree.

Softwoods are used mainly in structural building frameworks, but are also used in large decorative and structural wood beams. They are also popular for some trim and veneer applications.

Softwoods come from evergreen conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir trees. They tend toward a more open grain pattern, and are easier to shape and work with than hardwoods. They also have a very pleasant aroma.
Why does all of this matter, and how will it benefit you? There are numerous reasons why being able to identify the wood type you're selecting is important. In the bushcraft and firemaking realm, selecting the right woods can be vital in keeping you warm with minimal effort. Softwoods are great for starting a fire, as they're easier to process into kindling and small logs, and take a flame more readily. Conversely, hardwoods burn hotter and longer, and produce wonderful coals for cooking.

If you're buying wood for building projects, softwoods will be less expensive, but hardwoods tend to look better when finished. As a rule, hardwoods get stain or varnish, softwoods get painted. The aromatic nature of some softwoods, such as cedar, also serves as a wonderful rodent and insect repellent. The cedar chest grandma kept her bedsheets in did far more than just smell pretty.

Be familiar with your wood, so that you can get the most mileage out of it.


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