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Hardwood vs. Softwood: Making the Right Choice

When you stroll down the aisles of your local lumberyard or home center, it becomes clear that no two types of wood look exactly alike. What may not be immediately obvious is that, in addition to appearance, some types of wood are more durable and stable than others. So how do you determine which type of wood to select for your project? Should you choose the one thatís the most aesthetically pleasing or the type of wood that requires the least maintenance?

Here are a few guidelines for helping you make an informed decision.

Appearance Appearance First, decide on the look you want. You're going to be living with your project for many years to come, so make sure you choose a wood you love for its looks.

Durability Durability Woods all wear differently. Hardwoods can really take a beating, a quality that may be important to you. However, that added density makes hardwood more difficult to work with. That means you may want to choose hardwoods for smaller projects, like decks, window frames and doors. Good choices include mahogany and teak for furniture and ipe* hardwood for decks.

Dimensional stability Dimensional stability Durability (the amount of “punishment” wood can handle) is not the same thing as stability. A wood is said to be stable when it resists changes in its dimensions and shape due to conditions such as age and fluctuations in temperature and moisture. Therefore, when selecting wood for a timber-frame home, you should choose relatively stable softwood like Western red cedar, Eastern white cedar, West Coast redwood, fir, and pine. These woods combine stability with a natural resistance to insects and rot.

Ask an expert Ask an expert Before you invest your money (and time) in a particular type of wood, speak with the experts at your local lumberyard or home center. Give them the details of your project (i.e., interior or exterior, decorative vs. structural, etc.). These professionals know the various qualities of the wood they stock and will help you choose wisely.

For live help, Cabot experts can be reached by phone 7 days a week
at 1-800-US-STAIN.

For easy reference, you may print this article.

*Among the many common names for ipe wood are: Ipe Brazil, Amapa, cortex, Guayacan, Flor Amarillo, Ironwood™, Pau Lope™, Brazilian Walnut, Greenheart, Madera negra and Tahuari.