Major Types of Hardwoods and Softwoods

More than 100 species of wood are available to consumers in the United States, but not all are likely to be available to every consumer or in every locality. Of significant commercial importance, about 60 native species are utilized while an additional 30 types are imported in the form of logs, cants, lumber, and veneer.  These imported products are typically used for industrial, building, and crafts purposes.

Differences between Hardwoods and Softwoods

Broadly, trees are divided into two classes, hardwoods, and softwoods. These names are not derived from the actual hardness of the wood as some softwoods are harder than some hardwoods, and some hardwoods are softer than some softwoods, but from the way that the seeds are encased.  Softwoods like the longleaf pine and Douglas-fir are typically harder than the hardwoods basswood and aspen.

Botanically, hardwoods are classified as Angiosperms; the seeds are enclosed in the ovary of the flower and the plant is porous having vessels inside it. A vessel element is a wood cell with open ends that, when lined up, form a continuous tube (vessel), which serves as a conduit for transporting water or sap in the tree.  Hardwoods typically have broad leaves that, with few exceptions in the temperate region, lose their leaves in autumn or winter. Most imported tropical woods are hardwoods.

Softwoods are botanically Gymnosperms or conifers; the seeds are naked (not enclosed in the ovary of the flower). Anatomically, softwoods are nonporous and do not contain vessels. Softwoods are usually cone-bearing plants with needle- or scale-like evergreen leaves. Some softwoods, such as larches and bald cypress, lose their needles during autumn or winter.  Except for the Great Plains, where only small forested areas are present, Major resources of softwood species are spread across the United States.


  • Incense-cedar
  • Port-Orford-cedar
  • Balsam fir
  • Bald cypress
  • Douglas-fir
  • Eastern hemlock
  • Fraser fir
  • White firs
  • Fraser fir
  • Southern Pine
  • Western hemlock
  • Jack pine
  • Eastern redcedar
  • Western larch
  • Red pine
  • Lodgepole pine
  • Eastern white pine
  • Ponderosa pine
  • Eastern redcedar
  • Sugar pine
  • Eastern spruces
  • Western white pine
  • Tamarack
  • Western redcedar
  • Redwood
  • Engelmann spruce


  • Basswood
  • Aspen
  • Oregon ash
  • American beech
  • Basswood
  • Butternut
  • Buckeye
  • Black cottonwood
  • Cottonwood
  • California black oak
  • Elm
  • Oregon white oak
  • Hackberry
  • Birch
  • Bigleaf maple
  • Pecan hickory
  • Black cherry
  • Paper birch
  • True hickory
  • American chestnut
  • Tanoak
  • Honey locust
  • Black locust
  • Magnolia
  • Hackberry
  • Soft maple

Sourcing Commercial Wood Products

Softwoods are available usually direct to the consumer from the sawmill, wholesale and retail yards, or even lumber brokers. Softwood lumber and plywood are used in many construction applications such as

  • for forms
  • scaffolding
  • framing
  • sheathing
  • flooring
  • molding
  • paneling

Soft-woods may also appear in the form of shingles, sashes, doors, and other millwork, in addition to some rough products such as timber and round posts.

Hardwoods are used in construction for flooring, architectural woodwork, interior woodwork, and paneling. These items are usually available from lumberyards and building supply dealers. Most hardwood lumber and dimension stock are remanufactured into furniture, flooring, pallets, containers,dunnage, and blocking. Hardwood lumber and dimension stock are available directly from the manufacturer, through wholesalers and brokers, and from some retail yards. Both softwood and hardwood products are distributed throughout the United States. Local preferences and the availability of individual species may influence choice, but a wide selection of woods is generally available for building construction, industrial uses, remanufacturing, and home use.

Use Classes and Trends

The production and consumption levels of some of the many use-classifications for wood are increasing with the overall national economy, and others are holding about the same. The most vigorously growing wood-based industries are those that convert wood to thin slices (veneer), particles(chips, flakes), or fiber pulps and reassemble the elements to produce various types of engineered panels such as plywood, particleboard, strand board, veneer lumber, paper, paperboard, and fiberboard products. Another growing wood industry is the production of laminated wood. For several years, the lumber industry has produced almost the same volume of timber per year.  Modest increases have occurred in the production of railroad crossties, cooperage, shingles, and shakes.

Regardless of how wood is used today, it has a history of being a versatile and renewable resource that will be with us for many years to come.

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