There are two main types of wooden garden furniture – hardwood and softwood. Both have their own unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, but in this article we’ll be focusing on softwood.
What’s the difference?
The difference between softwood and hardwood has less to do with how hard or soft it is, and more to do with the type of tree it comes from. Hardwood comes from slow-growing, deciduous trees (trees that shed their leaves in the winter). Hardwood species include oak, elm and teak. Softwood on the other hand comes from faster-growing, evergreen trees. Popular types of softwood include pine and spruce.
Hardwood, especially teak, is a popular material for making outdoor furniture. It’s hard-wearing and naturally weather resistant. Softwood is less durable in it’s natural state, but can be pressure treated, which greatly increases its weather resistance and lifespan.
Let’s look at some of the other benefits of pressure treated garden furniture.
This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of buying softwood furniture – it costs a lot less than hardwood. This is for a couple of reasons. First, hardwood takes longer to grow and is therefore less plentiful than softwood. It is also heaver, which makes it costlier to transport. Finally, many hardwood species are grown in tropical parts of the world which again means greater shipping costs. Softwood is commonly grown in northern Europe and North America.
Due to its lighter weight and lower density, softwood is a lot easier to cut and machine into interesting shapes. Softwood garden furniture is characterised by its thick, chunky appearance and soft edges. Its relatively easy for manufacturers to make comfortable shapes and curves with it. Hardwood tends to be cut into thinner sections.
Admittedly, hardwood is extremely durable and can last for years, even decades if looked after properly. It’s the material traditionally used in things like ship building and barrel making. Softwood can however, if treated and looked after properly, last for well over a decade.
We must stress that softwood has to be treated in order to survive outdoors. Pressure treatment is superior to dip treatment, as the preserving agents are forced deep into the structure of the timber using a vacuum tank. Doing this protects the wood from rot and decay. Companies like Garden Furniture Land use pressure treated timber and back many of their products with a 10 year guarantee against rot.
Softwood furniture weighs less than hardwood furniture. That means it’s easer to transport, easier to assemble and easier to move!
In our opinion, softwood is better for the planet than hardwood. Because it grows faster, it’s easier for suppliers to keep up with demand and replenish their supplies. Its light weight also means that it requires less energy to transport. Hardwood takes longer to grow and needs more time (and energy) to dry. Whichever type of timber you choose, make sure it’s FSC certified. This ensures that it was grown in a controlled and responsible manner.
Both softwood and hardwood can be used to make beautiful, long lasting garden furniture. Hardwood has a rich dark colour and traditional styling. Softwood has a lighter colour that can be painted or stained, and often has a pleasing, chunky appearance. Although hardwood has its natural weather resistance, we think softwood (as long as it is pressure treated) beats it in just bout every other department.