Hardwood or softwood, which one would you choose?

Sleepers are hugely popular in the gardening world due to their vast array of uses and benefits. From their beautiful looks to their extremely high durability and lifespan, sleepers have the potential and the versatility to play a huge role in your garden design.

Hardwood or softwood, which one would you choose? This question is commonly asked in the gardening world - and for a good reason, too! There are obvious similarities between hard and soft wood but there are also differences that need to be addressed, this is what we will be focusing on in this section of the guide.

Firstly, the actual physical 'hardness" and softness" of the wood has no correlation to its name. In other words, hardwood is not necessarily hard just like softwood is not particular soft. Instead, the name derives from the type of seed from which the particular tree has grown. If a tree's seed has some form of covering over it, for instance a fleshy coating or nutty shell, then it is described as a hardwood. If the seed does not have any sort of coat or cover, and is therefore bare, it is known as a softwood. Evergreen trees - trees that keep their leaves all year round - are another strong indicator of a softwood.

Unfortunately, without any treatment or staining, a lot of these woods (mainly softwood) will struggle to last a reasonable amount of time outside before turning a dull grey colour. When new, though, their colours differ profusely. For instance, a brand new hardwood would usually be either a golden or red-brown colour. On the other hand, a treated softwood begins as a yellowish-brown but gets darker and more honey-like after one or two weeks outside.

Which is Better?
Hardwood could be seen as the 'go-to" wood for garden decoration like furniture and decking but should this always be the case? Possibly. But hardwood is not better nor worse than softwood so either of them will be perfect for the right cause. Hardwood is merely different to softwood, that is all.

On the whole, it is slightly more difficult to deal with hardwood. This is because it usually requires a little bit more woodworking skill to be produced effectively. Where you may be able to risk using nails with softwood, it is very important that nails are not used for hardwood. Even screwing into hardwood without any pre-drilled pilot holes would be a bad idea. This is because, due to the strength and density of the wood, it's liable to crack or split.

Choosing the wood is the easy part, after that it needs to be maintained. Without proper maintenance it will not last half as long as it's supposed to. Regardless of whether it is hard or softwood, it needs to be treated properly to become a worthwhile investment. With correct treatment, for example, softwoods can last for more than 20 years! according to Ex Ground Force presenter Charlie Dimmock.

Environmental Impact
If you are still undecided on which type of wood you'd prefer your sleeper to be, then the only other major difference between these two types of wood is the impact they have on the environment. This is a key factor to take into consideration if you, like many others, are concerned about the condition of our environment.

In general, trees that grow very slowly produce hardwood. This is because by taking a longer time to grow, more natural oils can be absorbed and produced making the wood denser and so forth. Softwood, on the other hand, is produced from trees that grow a lot quicker - coniferous trees, for example - hence why they are not usually as dense as hardwood.

Most of the trees that produce hardwood grow in the tropics, a long distance away from us. A knock on effect of this is cost of production and shipping is it is more expensive. For every tree that is cut down a new one is planted in its place, however, but nonetheless, it is still an important environmental factor to take into consideration.

Coniferous trees, the main tree that grows softwood, grows within the northern hemisphere rather than the tropics, this allows shipping and production to drastically drop in price compared to the tropical trees. Another positive aspect of softwood is that, in many cases, multiple trees are planted in replace of every singular tree that is cut down. This is a brilliant way to keep the environment happy. As they grow a lot faster, too, they are definitely the more economical choice of wood.

Due to the denseness of hardwood and the amount of natural oils it contains, it takes a lot longer for the drying process to be completed. This requires more energy and because of the nature of the wood, it is commonly used for higher grade timber, insinuating it is dried to a lower moisture content than many softwoods. All of this energy consumption does not have a positive impact on the environment.

Softwoods grow a lot faster than hardwoods and are grown much closer to where they are sold. The energy used in the processes of drying and cutting is also less for softwoods as it's quicker so the effects on the environment are further reduced.

Not sure on what type of sleeper you need for your garden project? Give us a call! Ace Reclamation stock a range of soft and hardwoods sleepers - and our friendly staff will be happy to help you with any queries you have.

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