Softwood timber is wood which comes from the fast growing coniferous trees that grow in the northern hemisphere. Most of these trees are evergreen with only a few exceptions, like bald cypress and larch.
The fast growth means that it is significantly more economical to grow than hardwood and therefore softwood timber is cheaper to buy. Approximately 80% of the world’s timber production is from softwood trees.
Softwoods do not have the vessels that are inherent in hardwoods. This means that it is easier to work with and, as a result, cheaper. Softwoods can be less durable than hardwoods and can start to decay quickly in areas where there is high moisture content. Due to this undesirable property of softwood timber, it needs to be industrially pressure treated with wood preservative before you can consider it for outdoor use.
Where is it from?
Typically manufacturers will farm softwood in one of the large temperate coniferous forests in Northern Europe or North America. Traditionally the production centres were in the Baltic region (Scandinavia and Russia) and North America (USA and Canada). Growing the trees in Northern Europe means that it is easier and cheaper to import the timber into the UK than most hardwood timber that comes from farther afield. This also greatly reduces the materials carbon footprint.
Uses of Softwoods
Softwoods are generally easy to work with and make up the majority of wood used for construction. Over 90% of all decking comes from pressure treated softwoods because of the availability, ease of working and inexpensive pricing. Softwoods are also commonly used as building materials and also for furniture, paper and cardboard.
Common Softwood Species
Pine is one of the most common softwoods that are used for timber. It is native to the northern hemisphere and there are around 115 species that are spread from North Africa upwards to Scandinavia and across to the Himalayas. Pine was introduced into the southern hemisphere where it is grown as a timber source. Unfortunately, some of these pine species are invasive and can threaten the native ecology.
Some of the other popular tree species that people use for softwood decking include spruce, hemlock, fir, red cedar and redwood. Many wood companies grow these species commercially for use in timber.
Most softwood timber comes from sustainable forests in Northern Europe. These forests are harvested and replanted on a regular basis. In general softwoods have less environmental problems than hardwoods.