Lumber can be grouped into two broad categories – softwoods and hardwoods – based on a botanical distinction. Hardwoods are those species that come from leaf-bearing trees that produce flowers, fruits or nuts. Common North American hardwood lumber includes maple, oak, ash, walnut, cherry, beech, birch and poplar.
There are many less common Western hardwoods as well, like butternut, mesquite, holly, pear, and sycamore. Other countries log innumerable hardwood species as well. Some of these exotics include teak, mahogany, ebony, rosewood, bubinga, purpleheart, and pear. These exotic woods can be purchased through the Internet or specialty catalogs; however, they are pricey and may only come in a limited size.
Softwoods come from the large family of cone-bearing trees that bear needles rather than leaves. Firs and pines of all sorts, redwood, cedar, and cypress are typically North American softwoods made into board lumber. Because these species are well suited for construction purposes, all lumber used for framing and roughing construction comes from softwood trees.
They are sufficiently strong for structural applications, yet are easy to work with common hand or power tools. Another advantage is that cone-bearing trees grow rapidly and develop straighter trunks and branches than the hardwoods. And finally, more softwood trees can be planted per acre than hardwood trees so they produce a higher lumber yield in less time.