Hardwood Vs. Softwood Cabinets: Basics for Gresham Clients

hardwood softwood cabinets basics

If you’ve decided to go with wood materials for your kitchen cabinet needs, you’ve made a great choice — but your selection process also isn’t finished yet. There will be a few other important areas where you need to make choices, and one of these will be between whether you prefer hardwood or softwood materials for your cabinets. 

At HBI General Contractor, we’re happy to offer the very best kitchen cabinet and cabinet remodeling services in Portland and nearby areas, with wood among the many quality materials we provide depending on our clients’ needs. What are the basic differences between hardwood and softwood cabinets, and which will be best for your kitchen? This two-part blog series will go over everything you need to know.

Not Actually About Hardness

This is one area where terminology can be a bit confusing — it’s natural to assume terms like “hardwood” and “softwood” refer specifically to the density and hardness of the material, but this isn’t actually the case. Rather, these wood classifications are based on the tree the wood is derived from, and the way that tree reproduces.

Hardwoods are taken from angiosperm trees, also known as flowering plants. These trees reproduce using flowers and seeds that are contained within a protective fruit, and they typically have broad leaves. The wood from these trees is generally denser than softwoods.

Coniferous or “needle-bearing” trees, also called gymnosperms, on the other hand, are what we call softwoods. These are the kind of trees that have cones and needles rather than leaves, and they typically reproduce using pollen (rather than flowers). The wood from these trees is less dense than hardwoods, making it lighter and easier to work with.

Types of Trees

Some examples of tree types that produce hardwood:

  • Maple
  • Birch
  • Oak
  • Walnut
  • Beech
  • Poplar
  • Balsa

On the flip side, some trees that produce softwood include:

  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Fir
  • Redwood
  • Cypress
  • Cedar

Telling the Difference

If you’re looking at a given tree, how can you tell whether it’s hardwood or softwood? There are a few key indicators you can look for:

  • Hardwoods typically have smooth, straight grain patterns, while softwoods tend to have more knots and swirls.
  • Hardwoods are generally darker in color than softwoods.
  • The leaves of hardwood trees are usually broad and flat, while those of softwoods are usually needles or scales.
  • Hardwoods tend to be harder and more dense than softwoods, while softwoods are typically lighter and more flexible.

As we noted above, hardness and density aren’t actually what determines whether a given type of wood is hardwood or softwood — but these properties are still important to keep in mind. Hardwoods are more likely to dent or scratch than softwoods, while softwoods are more likely to warp or bow over time.

In part two of our series, we’ll go over some further pros and cons of each type, plus how to choose between them for your cabinet needs. For more on this, or to learn about any of our kitchen cabinet services in Portland or nearby areas, speak to the team at HBI General Contractor today.