The term softwood is used for wood coming from conifers trees that stay green all year round. Therefore it has nothing to do with the wood being soft or not. In fact you can find some softwoods that are harder than hardwood 🙂
More than 80% of the world’s timber production is softwood. This timber is mainly produced in Scandinavia, Baltic, Russia and North America.
Below you will find a shore description of the most used softwoods in boat building. These woods are pine, fir, spruce and cedar.
Pine has a uniform texture and is very easy to work with. It finishes well and resists shrinkage, swelling and warping. It is widely used in paneling, decks, bulwark and for spares. Pine has a strong core and is therefore really good to laminated spares.
Fir is uniformly textured and has low resistance to decay. It is nonresinous, works easy and finishes well. Fir is used for making plywood, veneer, paneling, interior trim and spares. Fir has a relatively weak core and is strongest at the rim. This means that if it is used for spares the bark should just be removed from the trunk and as little as possible machining of the wood.
Spruce is a strong wood that finishes well and has low resistance to decay. It possesses moderate shrinkage and is light. It is also fine for spars, crates, boxes, general millwork and ladders.
Cedar is a reddish wood with sweet odor. It is very easy to work with, uniform in texture and is resistant to decay. Cedar is extensively used for interior decorating, closet lining, deck planks and strip plank boat hulls.
For the pine, fir and spruce it is normal to see some local quality variations where the wood from trees growing slow in cold places get a special nickname. This give the signal that this is a special superb variant where there is close between the rings. Some of the special designations are Oregon pine and Kalmar pine.
Happy boat building,
Morten Olesen, Naval Architect