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Softwood is a general term for wood from coniferous trees - needle leaved trees, or commonly Christmas trees!

In the English language the term softwood is a misnomer, as many softwoods can be 'harder' than hardwoods, such as yew or pitch pine.

Coniferous forests are spread throughout the world, notably North America, Northern Europe/Russia/Siberia, and in the Southern Hemisphere such as New Zealand, South Africa and South America. While generally associated with colder climates and poor soils, they can be grown as plantation timbers in warmer climates, although a lot of forestry support is required in maintenance and disease control.

The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland has some very large plantation forests that contribute significantly to our timber, paper and panel industries as well as providing amenities and recreation for the public.

During the growth of the forest, thinnings are removed that provide feedstock for paper manufacture as well as panels such as chipboard, OSB and MDF board. In utilising softwoods there is virtually no waste. All residues such as bark, offcuts, chips and sawdust can be feedstock for other products or provide fuel for energy.

More well known species within the softwood grouping are:

  • Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Hemlock from Western USA and Western Canada
  • Spruce (aka Whitewood) from Canada, Central and Northern Europe
  • Pine (aka Redwood) from Northern Europe
  • Larch from Siberia

For a full listing of softwood species consult the HMSO Handbook of Softwoods.

Softwood larch forest

Softwood is all around us, hidden or visible, and has many uses, for example:

  • buildings, roofs, floors, and walls
  • windows and doors
  • kitchen sofas and beds, and many other items of furniture both indoors and outdoors
  • decking, fencing
  • mouldings
  • scaffolding on building sites
  • pallets
  • packaging, for export goods, and agricultural foodstuffs such as potatoes
  • paper

Softwood is used structurally where high strengths are required, through joinery, to diy.

Softwood boards are also further manufactured into composite products such as glu-laminated (GLULAM) beams and cross laminated timber (CLT) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL), that enable very large and complex structures to be fabricated.

Generally coniferous trees maintain their needles throughout the year, but larch is an exception.  The photograph above, taken in winter of a mixed coniferous forest, shows larch trees having shed their needles.


Contributor:  Andrew True FIMMM

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