What is a Hardwood?
A hardwood tree is any tree that is an angiosperm or a monocotyledon, and not a conifer. Hardwood trees generally produce flowers and fruit and are deciduous, or lose their leaves in winter. Hardwood trees produce wood of varying "hardness," though in general wood from these trees is physically "harder" than the wood derived from softwood, or conifer, trees. Hardwood trees produce wood that is dense and heavy, making not only structurally strong but exceptionally beautiful as well.
Hardwood vs. Softwood
In general, hardwood is heavier and stronger than softwoods. Because of its physical properties, hardwood is more resistant to termites, weathering, rot and decay. Softwoods are used more commonly than hardwoods in everyday projects because they are less expensive and easier to work with. Softwoods are the primary wood used in framing wooden homes and buildings, and make up the majority of the wood found in plywood and less expensive furniture.
Hardwood is used to make high-quality wood flooring, furniture, finished construction materials and wooden cooking utensils. Most wooden chairs, tables, cabinets and beds are built using hardwood to increase the durability and sturdiness of these heavily used items. Hardwood is useful for projects in which you want to take full advantage of the strength of hardwood as well as the beauty of the wood's grain. Hardwood is versatile and durable, lending itself to a wide variety of applications.
In general, hardwood is much stronger than softwood, making it the ideal wood for making furniture that must withstand high levels of use. Hardwood retains its strength and is less likely to split when worked, so it is invaluable in furniture manufacturing. The unique grain patterns found in hardwoods not only make them strong and durable, but also make them aesthetically pleasing. A simple application of wood stain and clear varnish help accent the natural beauty of the wood and protect the surface from premature wear and tear.
Woods Considered "Hardwoods"
Hardwood trees come from all around the world. Some common hardwoods include: walnut, birch, maple, ash, beech, cherry, teak, mahogany and oak. Some less common hardwoods include: buckeye, chestnut, elm, hickory, rosewood, sandalwood and eucalyptus. Not all "hardwoods" are physically hard, however. An example of a 'soft' hardwood is balsa, a wood commonly used in hobby and craft projects. Balsa is considered a hardwood because of its scientific classification, not because of the physical properties of the wood. If you are unsure if a wood is a hardwood or softwood, consult a local expert.
Are All Oaks Hardwoods?
All members of the oak, or Quercus, family are considered hardwood trees. This includes all white oaks, English oaks and red oaks. Although each species of oak might have slightly different appearance and grain texture, they are all considered hardwoods. Oaks are prized for their strength, durability and beauty. Oak is one of the most common hardwoods available and has become a popular choice for all types of applications.