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All Different Types Of Wood – Part II: What are Softwood and Plywood?

All different types of wood that are classified as softwood come from a conifer tree. Conifer trees are easily identifiable by their needles and cones. And, of all softwood types, pine lumber is the most widely used type of softwood in North America, in almost every commercial and residential building construction project. 

In this, the 2nd part of All Different Types of Wood, learn what makes softwood unique from hardwood, and where it comes from. Find out what benefits softwood offers that hardwood does not. And, discover how plywood fits into the family of solid wood used in cabinetry, millwork, and construction.

Softwood – Trees with Needles: Common for Indoor and Structural Work 

When it comes to the trees that produce soft or hardwood, and how softwood is used in residential and commercial projects, the classification can be confusing. Lumber from some softwood trees can be harder than that of some hardwood trees – or vise versa. So, don’t get confused when you find out that balsa wood is actually a hardwood – though the tree produces extremely softwood material.

If you have not yet, check out Part 1 of All Different Types of Wood to learn about hardwood.  

By-and-large, hardwoods are harder than softwood, but the classification is indicative of the type of tree from which the wood is derived. Hardwood comes from deciduous trees, whereas softwood comes from conifers, with pine needles, like pine, cedar, and fir trees. Conifer trees grow much more quickly than their deciduous counterparts, producing wood that is straight and soft.    

The speed and special efficiency of growing conifers result in a greater supply of lumber at a lower price. Softwood is, however, more prone to damage and decay than that of hardwood, since the wood fiber is less dense. That being said, many different types of softwood are perfect for indoor applications and, when finished, offer many comparable aesthetic benefits as that of hardwood.

Western Red Cedar

In North America, you find red cedar in almost any hardware store. Along with pine, red cedar is one of the most widely used types of softwood in the Country. And, despite its name, red cedar does not always live up to its namesake. 

The most recognizable element of cedar is the pine-scented aromatic qualities of the wood – not the color. Go to your local hardware store and you find red cedar boards of every shape and size. The color of the boards, however, might take on a reddish hue, a light-tan, or pale grayish-green color.

But, similar to most hardwood varieties, cedar takes very well to finishing work that exposes the intricate grain structure of the wood. And, since red cedar has a softness level of 1 out of 5, it takes well to stain and finish. Given the wood’s availability and versatility, red cedar is commonly used for many applications, from outdoor decking, siding, and patio furniture to indoor shelving and kitchen cabinetry.  

Pine Varieties: Ponderosa, Yellow, Sugar, and White Pine

Of the different types of wood from conifer trees, pine is the most abundantly available across North America. A standard 2×4 piece of lumber you find at any hardware store or lumberyard is pine. Unlike cedar, pine varieties are not naturally water and pest resistant, which is why lumber yards and hardware stores commonly carry treated and untreated pine lumber.

Untreated pine lumber is free of any unnatural chemicals, which makes it only suitable for indoor use, and is the most common material for constructing a building’s frame. Treated pine undergoes a soaking process, by which it is made to be resistant to the natural elements. The chemicals used to treat the lumber, however, cannot be used for indoor applications due to health safety risks.  

Plywood – Manufactured Wood: Common for Both Indoor and Outdoor Applications

There are many types and grades of plywood, which can make it confusing to understand, but all different types of plywood go through the same manufacturing process. Manufactured wood or plywood consists of wood chips and off-fall that gets mixed with a strong adhesive, and pressure-molded into a sheet of material. 

The most common thickness is ΒΎ inch plywood. Baltic birch is the most popular type of plywood for residential furniture and casework. Plywood is durable and cost-effective, but the aesthetic quality of the finished product cannot be reliant on the natural wood, as much as how it is finished. Plywood might not look like much at the lumberyard, but it makes up the first layer of skin on every construction project because of its strength and durability.

From these three categories of solid wood material, you can get infinitely more specific as to the sub-categorical nature of the wood. Hardwood, softwood, and plywood are, however, the three different types of wood used for almost any project, by every carpenter. Talk to a professional carpenter today to find out what different types of wood will serve best for your project.