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Material Properties - Hardwoods

Wood can be further classified into two categories based on the tree species into Softwoods & Hardwoods. Although the words 'soft' & 'hard' are used this does not determine the material property of the wood. 

Softwood comes from Gymnosperm trees which have exposed seeds and needles but no leaves. These are known as coniferous trees and keep foliage all year round, for this reason they are often referred to as 'evergreen'. They have a rapid growth rate which leads to a tall, straight structures which are ideal for timber processing. Around 80% of the worlds timber is produced from softwood due to its low cost and sustainability potential

Hardwood comes from Angiosperm tress which have broad leaved seasonal foliage that falls off in Autumn/Winter annually and reproduce through flowers. These are known as deciduous, meaning 'falling off at maturity'. They tend to be less porous than softwoods and therefore hard wearing due a to a greater resistance to rot. However, not all hardwoods are dense, some can be lightweight and fragile like Balsa


Hardwoods come in a range of colours and physical properties to suit many applications. Due to the longer growing time of deciduous trees, they generally are more expensive and considered less sustainable as a material source, compared to softwoods. Their use has led to irrepairable damage to rainforests through deforestation across the world and illegal logging due to its high value

  • Ash - has a pale brown/cream appearance and is from the white ash tree. It is one of the cheapest of the hardwoods and is used for its flexible, tough and shock resistant properties. Commonly it is used in sports equipment and tool handles for this reason, although its attractive aesthetic allows it to be used for furniture. It also laminates very well with other materials

  • Beech - has a light brown dense grain with an attractive pink hue. It is a tough and durable material making it resistant to denting and ideal for use in childrens toys, furniture, flooring and veneers. Through the use of steam, Beech can be bent and shaped for different applications and it is commonly laminated for use as plywood 

  • Mahogany - has a distinctive rich reddish brown grain and is one of the more expensive of the hardwoods. It is easily worked, very durable, resistant to rot and finishes well. Typically it is used in high end furniture, joinery and veneers. Mahogany is a slow growing tree that can survive over 350 yrs in the wild growing to 150 - 200ft in height 

  • Oak - has a light brown open grain which cans often quite variable. It is incredibly tough, hard and durable as a material but easy to work with. It has a very attractive grain, particularly when quartersawn, and is commonly found in; flooring, furniture, interior panelling and veneers. However, it can be prone to corroding steel which causes damage to nails and screws over time

  • Balsa - has a pale cream/white open grain and is from the Ochroma pyramidale tree. It is unusually fast growing for a hardwood and as a result has a very low density and hardness in comparison. It is therefore very easy to cut and shape making it ideal for modelling where its is used for it's excellent strength-weight ratio.