By Jeff Bradley
Manager, Forestry & Wood Products Policy
Sometimes it can be easy to tell if something has wood or wood fiber in it. Firewood? Yes. Printer paper? Yep. 2x4? Oh yeah. Shampoo? Likely. LCD TV? Also yes. Different types of trees and their derivative products can be used for a multitude of things in our everyday life.
When it comes to the products that most people think of – paper, boxes, 2x4s, and furniture – different types of wood are used based on their characteristics, and there are two main groupings of trees that end up in different products: hardwoods and softwoods. Softwood trees tend to be conifers – trees like pine, spruce, and fir – while the hardwoods tend to be deciduous – like oaks, birches, and maples. As their names infer, the softwood species tend to be softer. It will be much easier to drive that nail through the pine than the oak board, and you probably want that cutting board to be made out of an oak or hickory to hold up to everyday use slicing up your veggies! That’s why we see flooring, cabinets, and furniture being predominantly hardwoods, while framing lumber for building homes and businesses comes from softwood species.
When it comes to paper, the pulp from softwoods has longer fibers, while pulp from hardwoods has much shorter fibers. This results in paper from softwoods being stronger and hardwoods weaker, though in reality these two types can be blended to achieve the characteristics that are needed for the end product. That box that brought you a shiny new toy in the mail? Probably more on the softwood side; however, hardwoods get the advantage when it comes to writing papers and printer paper, and make your tissue paper oh so soft!
Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to some of the less conventional products like LCD screens and shampoo…it starts to get more into the conversion of the wood to fiber. And research is continuing on how wood fibers might be used in everything from construction to computers. Heck, someday the chips in your phone might be made of wood