Hardwood timber comes from angiosperm trees – seed-producing trees that grow flowers, seeds and fruits. In temperate latitudes these are mostly deciduous trees and evergreens in the tropics and sub-tropics. Hardwoods are the most common and diverse type of trees.
The term hardwood does not necessarily refer to the hardness of the wood. The hardest woods are from this group but they also contain, at the other extreme, the softest type of wood which is balsa.
Where are hardwoods from?
The majority of hardwood decking comes from trees that grow in the tropical rainforests. These trees generally have a slow growth rate and hence it costs more to produce the wood than with faster growing softwood trees.
Hardwoods are in common use for building materials. The structure is more complex than softwoods, and the wood often has pores, or vessels, that mark the wood. These vessels make solid hardwood joinery more difficult, and therefore expensive, than the softwood equivalent.
Common Hardwood Trees
One of the most common hardwoods is Oak, a native tree of the northern hemisphere with about 600 species. People often see oak wood as exclusive and desirable but it can be expensive. It can make great looking decking that really suits older properties.
Other common hardwood species include cherry, teak, mahogany, ebony and lauan. Luaun often sells as Philippine mahogany and is a hardwood with very favourable properties which make it suitable for decking. It is not as good as mahogany, but is the most commonly traded tropical hardwood.
Teak and mahogany were very popular in the past, but over-farming caused them becoming endangered in nature. Some plantations, mainly in Asia, grow these trees for commercial purposes so the population can recover in the wild.
Hardwood decking often comes from rainforest areas and until recently the supply of hardwood led to environmental concerns. Now, the hardwood timber that people use for decking comes from responsible tree farmers and re-planted to ensure that there will be another crop. Legislation prevents the import of hardwoods that are not sustainably farmed, but due to the financial situation of many foresters try to circumvent these laws.
Hardwood timber can make great decking, but the price and properties of the wood can make it appear a less attractive option than the softwoods. One of the most common uses of hardwood timber for decking is for commercial applications where the hard wearing properties make it suitable for area of heavy use.
Given the poor environmental credibility of hardwoods many people opt for softwood or man made alternatives. However these materials do not have the beauty, durability or stability of hardwoods. Luckily there are natural alternatives with all the benefits of hardwood; modified softwoods.
Several of these processes use chemicals however Accoya use a form of vinegar to change the chemical structure of softwoods making them resistant to rot and shape changes. The result is a sustainably grown softwood that has the life and stability of hardwood comparatives – there is no down side. Indeed the performance of this wood is so high it is used in tricky in-ground structural applications as well as exterior cladding and waterside projects.