There are different varieties of softwoods out there. Each one has its own hardness rating. The hardness rating is calculated based on the amount of force required to drive down a 0.444-inch steel ball midway through wood planks. The Janka hardness test or scale is used to measure the hardness of wood. It follows a simple rule: the higher the Janka rating of a type of wood, the harder that wood is.
We can use the Janka rating to measure the hardness of the different species of softwoods. Some common examples of softwoods species are Douglas fir, redwood, cedar, pine, cypress and hemlock.
If you want to know the hardness ratings of different species of softwoods, you are in the right place. We’ll take you through it in this article as we have compiled a comprehensive list of the Janka ratings of softwoods found in North America.
Let’s dive right into it.
12 Types of Softwoods & Their Hardness Ratings
There are different types of softwoods. Each one has different hardness ratings. We have listed them in no particular order.
- White Cedar – 320 lbf
- Cypress – 510 lbf
- Douglas fir – 710 lbf
- Hemlock – 540 lbf
- Ponderosa pine – 460 lbf
- Sugar pine – 380 lbf
- White pine – 380 lbf
- Yellow pine 470 lbf
- Aromatic red Cedar – 900 lbf
- Western red Cedar – 350 lbf
- Redwood – 420 lbf
- Sitka spruce – 510 lbf
For further details; let’s look into them briefly one after another
1. White Cedar
The White Cedar is the softest wood species, according to the Janka scale. It is one of the least dense woods out there. Because of its lightweight feature, the White Cedar is easy to transport from one place to another whether in its raw or finished forms. Another amazing feature of the White Cedar is that is rot-resistant. This softwood hardly rots, which makes it perfect for outdoor benches, fence posts and roofing material. The White Cedar has a hardness rating of 320lbf (pound force).
Also known as bald cypress, this softwood share similar qualities as the White Cedar. Like the White Cedar, they are rot-resistant. But the Cypress is a little heavier than the White Cedar. It offers a good amount of strength and is also used in outdoor applications. The Cypress has a hardness rating of 510lbf.
3. Douglas Fir
The Douglas fir or simply, fir, is a type of softwood that has straight, pronounced grain, with a shade of reddish brown in the mix. The Douglas fir is inexpensive and is used in many building applications.
Amongst the family of softwoods, the Douglas fir doesn’t have the most impressive grain pattern and doesn’t absorb paint finishes well. But it does make of that lack in its strength. It is one of the hardest softwoods on the Janka scale. The Douglas fir has impressive bending abilities, which makes it ideal for structural framing.
In addition, the Douglas fir handles wear and tear better than other softwoods. Even better, the fir offers some resistance to decay. The Douglas fir is used in large buildings and bridges trestles. The Douglas fir has a hardness rating of 710lbf.
Like the Cypress, the hemlock offers a decent amount of strength due to its density and hardness. But unlike the Cypress, the hemlock is not rot-resistant. It decays easily and is difficult to work with. The hemlock is best suited for making rough materials like plywood and pallets. The hemlock has a hardness rating of 540lbf.
5. Ponderosa Pine
The Ponderosa pine is one of the most abundant softwood in Western North America. The pine is so popular that it is used in a wide range of applications. This species of softwood is used for wood trims, doors, panels, and even cabinets. In addition, the Ponderosa can be used to make hand tools and power tools. They are very easy to craft, fairly inexpensive, and one of the best part — the heartwood offers a neat appearance that finishes well. The Ponderosa pine has a hardness rating of 460lbf.
6. Sugar Pine
Commonly found in the Pacific Northwest, this giant species of pine is widely known for its dimensional stability. That is, the Sugar pine hardly changes it shapes over different seasons. It maintains its size when exposed to different temperatures and humidity levels. As a result, the Sugar pine is best suited for making materials in millwork, wood stencils and templates. The sugar pine has a hardness rating of 380lbf.
7. White Pine
Like the White Cedar, the White Pine is one of the softest woods in the world. But that’s not to say it breaks easily. In fact, the White pine packs one of the highest strength to hardness ratios of softwoods. The White pine handles wells with hand tools and power tools. You’ll find the White pine in the Northeast of North America. Due to it’s minimal rot-resistant capabilities, the White pine is best suited for indoor applications. The White pine has a hardness rating of 380lbf.
8. Yellow Pine
The best way to describe the Yellow pine is two words — hard and strong. The Yellow pine has the highest bending and compression strengths of any wood in our list. In addition, it’s high strength-to-weight ratio makes it popular for building trusses and joists. Out there in the woods, there is you will find two kinds of Yellow pine. One is the Longleaf species, which is endangered, while the other is the Slash, Shortleaf, and Loblolly pines that’s abundant. The Yellow pine has a hardness rating of 870lbf.
9. Aromatic Red Cedar
The Aromatic red cedar is found in the southern portions of the Appalachian Mountains. The Aromatic red cedar is known for its natural resistance to rot. It has a strong and powerful scent that repels wood bugs like termites and moths. This remarkable feature makes it the ideal wood for lining a closet or building a deck. Also, they are used to construct chests.
The Aromatic red cedar is easy to handle, but the boards come in limited widths and are often knotty. The Aromatic red cedar has a hardness rating of 900lbf.
10. Western Red Cedar
This cedar species is commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. It is a homeowner’s favourite for home exteriors. The Western Red Cedar has strong rot-resistance abilities, which makes it a perfect choice for constructing wood shingles and sidings. Adding to this, they are very easy to shape and cut, and are great to work with. One downside of the Western Red Cedar is that they are prone to scratches and dents. Therefore, anyone working with them must handle them carefully. The Western Red Cedar has a hardness rating of 350lbf.
This particular type of softwood is excellent for outdoor furniture. Although it is less abundant than the Western Red Cedar, the Red Wood is high resistance to rot. Redwood has a very distinct appearance. It is marked by a curly grain with old growth, and has a deeper red colour. The redwood is perfect for outdoor furniture, fencing and decking. If you need to make a wooden fence round your garden or farm to prevent people from trespassing, we recommend this species. The Redwood has a hardness rating of 420lbf.
12. Sitka Spruce
Perhaps not a name that rings as familiar species in the softwood family, the Sitka Spruce is famous for badly handling stains. Name after Sitka, Alaska, the Sitka is by far the largest species of spruce in the world and the fifth-largest conifer in world too. This softwood will give your saw blade a hard time. They are extremely knotty and will blunt your saw blade quickly. Nonetheless, because they are abundant in nature and have an excellent weight-to-strength ratio, they are very appealing to construction projects. The Sitka Spruce has a hardness rating of 510lbf.
Softwoods are easier, softer, and easier to work it, making them a popular choice in building and wood construction. In addition, because of their various hardness ratings, flexibility, lightweight feature and less dense structure, softwoods are frequently used in interior mouldings, the manufacturing of windows, as well as exterior applications like fencing (due to their high resistance to decay).
Generally, softwoods have a shorter service life than hardwoods, they can still last a long time with good care and maintenance.