List of Softwoods & Hardness Ratings | North American Species
Want to know the hardness rating of a particular softwood? You’ve come to the right place. We created an easy-to-reference chart that lists the Janka hardness ratings for different North American softwoods. From Douglas fir & redwood to different varieties of cedar & pine, our chart will cover most softwoods you’ll encounter in DIY projects. Similar to our other home improvement infographics, the Hardness Ratings for Softwoods chart is mobile friendly. Thus, you can reference it straight from your phone when you’re on the job.
Moving back over to the chart, let’s take a more granular look at our different softwood species. Woodworkers measure the hardness of a wood species by using the Janka hardness test. The Janka test measures the necessary force to embed a .44″ diameter steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. Generally speaking, softwoods tend to be softer than their hardwood counterparts. However, there are plenty exceptions to that. Aromatic Cedar & Yellow Pine both qualify as medium density wood species on the Janka scale.
Breaking Down the Hardness of Different Softwoods
As the softest wood species on our chart, white cedar is also one of the least dense woods. This makes it easy to transport in both its raw and finished forms. And given that white cedar is resistant to rotting, it’s an ideal candidate for fence posts, outdoor benches, and roofing materials.
Also known as baldcypress, this softwood shares the same resistance to decaying as many cedar species do. Though it’s a bit heavier than white cedar, cypress offers a proportionate increase in strength. Thus, cypress is often used in outdoor applications.
With a decent hardness rating and impressive bending strength, Douglas Fir is often found in structural framing. It’s more immune to abrasive wear & tear than other softwoods, and it offers some resistance to decay. As a result, this is a common material found in large buildings and bridge trestles.
Hemlock offers a decent amount of strength for its density and hardness. However, it’s quite prone to decaying and is known for being difficult to work. Consequently, this nearly threatened species is best left for rough products like pallets and plywood. However, there are alternatives for those as well.
Abundant throughout Western North America, Ponderosa Pine is used for wood trim, doors, panels, & even cabinets. It works well with both hand tools and power tools, and is easy to craft. Though it’s fairly inexpensive, the heartwood offers a clean appearance that finishes well. Lastly, Knotty Ponderosa Pine is available too.
Found throughout the Pacific Northwest, this giant species of pine is known for its dimensional stability. That is, the wood maintains its size when exposed to different temperatures and humility levels. Thus, Sugar Pine is frequently found in millwork, wood stencils, and templates.
Though this is one of the softest wood species on our list, it packs one of the highest strength to hardness ratios. Also, white pine handles well with both hand tools & power tools. Though it’s quite abundant in the northeast, it’s minimal rot resistance makes it best suited for indoor projects.
Hard and strong are the words that best describe yellow pine. It has the highest bending strength & compression strength of any wood on our list. And it’s high strength-to-weight ratio makes it popular for building trusses and joists. When shopping for yellow pine, be mindful that the Longleaf species is endangered while the Slash, Shortleaf, and Loblolly pines are abundant.
Aromatic Red Cedar
As the softwood with the hardest Janka rating, aromatic cedar is known for its natural resistance to rotting. It’s strong scent repels bugs like moths & termites, which makes it a good candidate for lining a closet or building a deck. Though aromatic cedar is easy to handle, the boards come in limited widths and tend to be quite knotty.
Western Red Cedar
Native to the Pacific Northwest, Western Cedar is a staple for home exteriors. It’s strong resistance to decay makes it a good candidate for roof shingles and siding. While being easy to work, Western Red Cedar requires a delicate touch as it’s prone to scratches and dents.
With less abundance than Western Cedar, Redwood stands as another rot-resistant softwood. Thus, we recommend reserving this species for outdoor furniture, fencing, & decking. The wood’s appearance is characterized by a curly grain with old-growth having a deeper red color.
As one of the less cooperative softwoods, Sitka Spruce is known for not taking well to stains. Also, the presence of knots in the wood will dull your saw blades more quickly. However, it’s wide abundance and excellent weight-to-strength ratio make it appealing to construction projects.
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