Is Spruce Wood a Hardwood or Softwood?

Spruce is a well-known and widely used material in the woodworking world. It’s sturdy, lightweight, and has great workability, making it a popular choice for most woodworking projects, from musical instruments to furniture. But with these qualities, Is Spruce Wood a Hardwood or Softwood?

Spruce is a softwood. It is not considered a hardwood due to its relatively low hardness. However, its lightweight nature and ease of use with both hand and power tools make it a popular choice for many woodworking projects. 

In addition, it is relatively soft and less durable than many hardwoods since it has poor decay and weather resistance.

The above is just a highlight on spruce. For this and many more, keep reading.

What Is Spruce?

Spruce is a lightweight, stable, and affordable softwood. Moreover, it is versatile and thus suitable for various building projects. This lumber is lightweight with low hardness, making it easy to work with tools.

Additionally, spruce is commonly used as an alternative to pine since they share the same strength characteristics, and density.

Types of Spruce

Spruce is also known as Picea. It is a genus of coniferous trees with 35 species commonly found in the northern temperate regions. Some popular species include Norway spruce, black spruce, Sitka spruce, white spruce, blue spruce, red spruce, Engelmann spruce, oriental spruce, and brewer spruce.

Note; these species may differ in price, weight, and hardness. But their grain pattern and color are comparable.

White Spruce (Picea Glauca)

Is Spruce Wood a Hardwood or Softwood?
A White Spruce Wood

White spruce has a whitish waxy coating on the needles, thus the name. This spruce type is usually grown commercially as a Christmas tree. But you can also use it as a windbreaker or landscape specimen.

The white spruce grows well in well-draining soils, in full sunlight with partial shade. Even though spruce is a very hard tree when established, it is also sensitive to urban pollution.

  • Durability: White spruce is stable, and durable, with minimal rot resistance.
  • Color: It has creamy white sapwood and is yellow or white colored at the heartwood. Black knots may exist.
  • Grain: It has an even texture with a straight grain.
  • Hardness and Strength: Its Janka scale is 480 lbf and an average dried weight of 425 kg/m3. This means the wood has a moderate weight.
  • Trees: Their trees are about 34 meters tall (110 feet) and have a 6-10 trunk diameter. Their origin is North Northern America and Canada.
  • Workability: It finishes, glues well, and is generally easy to work with any tool.

Black Spruce Wood (Picea Mariana)

This type of spruce grows in the Boreal forest or Taiga region and grows well in wet areas with sun exposure.

  • Color: It has a fine even texture with a straight grain.
  • Durability: It has moderate resistance to decay
  • Strength and Hardness: Janka scale is 520 lbf and 450 kg/m3, meaning the wood is not heavy and hard.
  • Trees: They have a height of 10-15 meters and a 3-5m trunk diameter. The black spruce is native to northern North America.
  • Workability and Uses:  It’s easy to work with and thus used commonly for construction lumber, crates, paper pulp, and millwork.

Sitka Spruce ( Picea Sitchensis)

Sitka is the tallest among the spruce species. The largest Sitka spruce found was 318 in height. Moreover, it’s the state tree of Alaska.

Picea sitchensis needles are flattened in cross-section, sharp, with two blue-white bands below. It grows well in moist areas with wet and cool soil, under full sun exposure.

Also, the Sitka spruce has dense foliage that creates a shelter for wild animals like coal tit, and siskin that protects them from harsh weather.

When young, the cones have toothed tips with a purple-red color.

  • Color: Sitka spruce has a creamy white but is not distinguishable. It sometimes has a fine pinkish-red color or a white-to-yellow, creamy heartwood.
  • Grain: It has a straight grain and even texture.
  • Trees: They are primarily from northwestern North America, and about 40-50 meters tall with a trunk diameter of 1.2-1.8m.
  • Durability: They have a relatively low resistance to decay, which means low durability.
  • Hardness and Strength: Janka’s rating is 510 lbf and 425kg/m3 meaning the wood is neither heavy nor hard.
  • Workability and Uses: The Lumber is easy to work with, glues, and finishes well. The woods produced from old trees are expensive, while the normal ones are affordable and easy to find. It is also used for crates, boxes, construction lumber, furniture, millwork, masts, aircraft components, wind turbines, and many more.

Norway Spruce (Picea Abies)

Norway spruce is a fast-growing tree that originates from Northern and Central Europe. It has dark green needles and creamy white sapwood with a creamy white color in general. Also, it has hanging cones that resemble a weeping tree.

They prefer drought areas and different types of soil.

  • Grain: It has a fine even texture with a straight grain.
  • Trees: They are originally from Northern and Central Europe. They are about 35-55 meters tall with a diameter of 1-1.5m.
  • Durability: It has poor resistance to decay.
  • Strength and Hardness: Janka scale is 380 lbf, and the average weight is 405 kg/m3. It’s neither hard nor heavy.

Workability and Uses: The wood works well with various tools since it’s a softwood. Apply double coats of pre-conditioner to avoid a blotchy surface when working with Norway spruce.

  • Further, it is used in making Christmas trees, crates, millwork, construction lumber, paper, and musical instruments soundboards.

Red Spruce (Picea Rubens) 

Also known as eastern spruce, yellow spruce originates from eastern North America.  The needles have sharp tips with green-yellow color. They have a red color from new twigs, and bark, to the cones, hence the name red spruce.

It adapts well in shady, moist habitats and grows moderately when young. But, they show maximum growth when exposed to sunlight.

This spruce species serves as a food source for wild animals like red squirrels and white-tailed deer.

  • Strength and Hardness: Janka’s rating is 490 lbf and the average dried weight is 235 kg/m3, meaning the wood is neither heavy nor hard.
  • Trees: They have a trunk diameter of 6-1.4 m and are about 24-34 m tall.
  • Grain: It has a straight grain and a fine uniform texture.
  • Workability and Uses: With no knots present, the wood is very easy to work with since it finishes and glues well.  It’s commonly used for construction lumber, Christmas trees, crates, millwork, and musical instruments.

Engelmann’s Spruce ( Picea Engelmannii)

This Spruce variety is named after the physician and botanist George Engelmann. Further, it is considered a subspecies of white spruce and grows to a height of 70-100 feet. It also has a natural adaptation in high-altitude locations, such as the Rocky Mountains.

Furthermore, the tree has blue-green needles with pointy tips, while its sharp conical crowns give the tree a slender look. Engelmann spruce lives for decades in well-draining soil with full sun exposure.

This wood is often used for making furniture and stringed musical instruments.

  • Native Area: Western North America.

Blue Spruce( Picea Pungen F. Glauca)

It is also known as Colorado blue spruce. It is among the most popular softwoods, with silver-gray needles. Blue spruce prefers various kinds of draining soil with full sun exposure. Moreover, it grows very fast when young and can grow up to 50 feet and above.

The Spruce also needs heavy regular pruning to maintain its structure and shape.

  • Oriental Spruce (Picea Orientalis)

If you are looking for a spruce tree that requires less pruning and grows at a regular pace, consider oriental spruce. The branches are close to the ground and can grow up to 40-50 meters.

Also, the glossy green needles give a strong look to the tree. It prefers well-draining soils and full sunlight: thus a perfect fit for parks.

  • Brewer Spruce ( Picea Breweriana)

William Henry Brewer was the first botanist to collect a brewer spruce specimen. Brewer spruce has pointed needles that are triangular in cross-section and dropping branches.

It has pendant branches that give the tree a cascading look: thus the name weeping tree. Brewer spruce can grow up to 12m or more in well-draining soil and under full sun.

Spruce Wood Uses

Below are some uses of spruce.

  • Building and Construction

Spruce is perfect for building and construction due to its stiffness and straightness. Even better, it is easily accessible and affordable compared to various softwoods and hardwoods.

In addition, spruce is flexible and can be crafted into a structure and shape of your choice. For instance, it’s available in different round logs like veneers and as glued structural elements.

  • Paper (Pulp Wood)

This lumber is commonly used for paper production because it contains long cellulose fibers, an important parameter in making quality paper.

  • Boats and Aircraft

This lumber is durable and strong enough to manufacture boats and aircraft. Additionally, treated spruce can be an excellent choice for aircraft and boats since it finishes easily and delivers moderate resistance to decay.

  • Musical Instruments

Spruce has closed growth rings that produce a great sound. Moreover, this distinctive sound texture makes it different from other types of wood. And for this reason, it’s widely used for musical instruments and their parts, such as piano soundboards, guitar tops, and violin tops.

  • Framing 

Spruce is a strong wood capable of holding your roof and wall frames, while also providing a secure hold for nails, screws, and other fasteners. More importantly, spruce is known for its ability to hold nails better than other types of wood.

  • Furniture 

Spruce is an excellent choice for furniture due to its various benefits. Firstly, it offers the option to stain, or paint, allowing a woodworker to match any desired aesthetics. Also, it’s known for its ease of movement, making it a practical option for furniture that needs to be moved or frequently arranged.

Lastly, its lightweight nature makes it suitable for furniture that needs to be transported or shipped.

  • Molding and Trim

Spruce is an excellent choice for ceilings and walls due to its wide variety of colors that add a nice touch to any room. Besides, since it’s versatile, it takes in paint and stains well, providing a beautiful finish for door frames, window frames, or room trim.

  • Crates 

Spruce is the best choice for making crates, whether it’s for decorative storage or your business. This is because spruce is lightweight, making it easy to move. Also, the wood is strong enough to protect whatever is inside..

  • Tools

Spruce is lightweight and affordable, making it the best choice for toolmaking, particularly in applications where strength is not a primary concern. Common objects made from spruce include ladders, tool handles, and boat oars.

  • Shipping Containers 

Spruce is mostly used in constructing packing cases, grades, and pallets since it is lightweight and affordable. Further, Sitka spruce creates various containers and casks. It is free from damage and remains unchanged during shipping.

Below are some pros and cons of spruce wood.

Pros of Spruce

  • Affordability

Spruce is readily available in many locations at an affordable price. Moreover, it is free of knots and has clear quarter-sawn pieces, providing maximum value for your money.

  • Appearance 

Spruce has a consistently straight grain and fine, uniform texture, giving it a smooth, uniform appearance. Furthermore, it has a bright color that turns into a darker yellowish-brown or a reddish-white, resinous hue.

  • Workability 

In general, spruce is easy to work with both power tools and by hand.  They are light, thus easy to lift during woodworking. As a result, woodworkers prefer them since they save resources and time.

  • Strength 

Spruce is popular for its high strength-to-weight ratio, making it the best choice for construction materials, especially where you need a strong durable material.

  • Acceptance of Finishes And Stains

Spruce is known for its ability to accept finishes and stains, which makes it an ideal choice for woodworking projects. The lumber has a nice texture and smooth grain. So, it absorbs paint and stains well and is great for gluing applications.

  • Resistance to Warping And Splitting 

Spruce has great stability, and is less prone to splitting and warping than other types of wood, making it a good choice for outdoor applications like decking, fencing, and siding.

Cons of Spruce Wood

  • Rot Resistant

The central part of the spruce has a low to medium rot resistance, while the sapwood has relatively low rot resistance and rots easily. However, you can treat wood to be more resistant than ordinary wood.

On the downside, treated spruce is expensive.

  • Low Durability

Spruce’s durability is not comparable to hardwoods since it’s a softwood. In addition, it’s the worst choice for outdoor projects and requires it to be maintained regularly for a longer lifespan.

  • Insect Attacks

Spruce is soft, which makes it susceptible to diseases and insect attacks. For instance, a spruce beetle damages the wood and may kill large trees if not checked.

Similarly, this lumber attracts insects and fungus: thus unsuitable for exterior projects. And for this reason, spruce cannot be used for flooring.

  • Maintenance 

Spruce needs to be treated for exterior applications to reduce decay. Without treatment, the wood can only last up to two years. However, the treatment process varies depending on the location and environmental conditions. Further, it needs high maintenance and constant care.

  • Limited Strength 

Although spruce is lightweight, it lacks the strength of other woods, such as maple or oak. This makes it less suitable for heavy construction or load-bearing.

What Is a Hardwood?

Hardwood refers to wood obtained from deciduous trees, which shed their leaves annually. These types of trees are usually slower growing and produce dense wood.

Some popular types of hardwood include:

  • Walnut

Walnut has a dark mustard color that turns black or a rich-chocolate brown within a few days. It also has magnificent open-grained hardwood. Even better, the surface’s beautiful lustier mixed with a sap seam has a cat’s eye effect.

  • Oak

Oak has been a reliable wood choice for centuries, dating back to the Viking long boats and Europe’s men of war. This popularity is due to its many qualities, such as hardness, strength, and durability.

In addition, the lumber boasts an attractive appearance that makes it a popular choice for furniture makers. Its distinctive grain patterns and warm tones lend a timeless elegance to any piece.

Moreover, it’s treated and finished in hardwood flooring to perform and mimic most hardwoods for a cheaper price.

  • Mahogany 

Mahogany is indigenous to Central and South America.  It has a straight grain with a reddish-brown color. Also, a shiny coating can be applied to emulate burnished gold.

Earlier, this wood was a favorite of cabinetmakers due to its color, beauty, and durability. But nowadays, it has been reduced to the extent that harvesting too much of it is illegal.

  • Ash 

This wood has an attractive pale honey color that ranges from pale to creamy brown. Further, it is famous due to its durability and strength: thus an ideal choice for offices and shops.

  • Maple 

Maple wood is native to Canada. It has a light subtle grain that is barely visible in the evenness of its color. With time, it mellows to a warm golden color. The lumber is also suitable for residential homes and often used for indoor sports floors due to its resilience, color, and texture.

  • Beech 

Beech is a type of wood closely related to Oak in terms of its characteristics. However, it has a straighter grain and a more uniform texture. One of the distinctive features of Beech is its signature fleck which adds to its unique appeal.

In terms of color, beech has a pinkish hue, which can range from fawn to brown. When steamed, the lumber assumes an attractive reddish-brown color loved by most woodworkers.

Below are some of the uses of hardwoods.

Uses Of Hardwoods

  • Making furniture is the most common use of hardwoods, offering a variety of styles from modern to traditional.
  • Hardwoods are preferred for flooring due to their durability and tough finish. Hardwoods such as oak, maple, and cherry are popular choices for hardwood flooring.
  • They are used to make musical items, such as acoustic guitars. Oak and mahogany are the best for this.
  • Hardwoods are perfect for designing kitchen cabinets. The best spruce species for this are maple, oak, and mahogany due to their durability and attractive appearance.

How Hard Is Spruce?

Spruce is softer than most softwoods and hardwoods. This is supported by its Janka hardness rating of 510 lbf, which is relatively lower when compared to other wood types.

As discussed earlier, all types of spruce species possess similar hardness values. Generally, all spruce species are considered softwoods due to their relatively lower hardness.

In addition, the fiber structure of spruce lacks pores and contains small, space resin canals.  These resin canals heal wounds, and when cut, they harden the lumber. Moreover, the stiffened resin canals are both lightweight and resistant to damage.

Similarly, spruce comes from evergreen conifers (gymnosperm) trees. They have cones and needles. And when viewed through a microscope, you won’t see any pores in the structure.

However, despite being classified as a softwood, it has an impressive density with great qualities that are better than hardwoods. Spruce has a lower density than most hardwoods, with an average of 400 kg/m3.

Lastly, woods with higher scores in Janka hardness ratings have great resistance to dent and wear. Therefore, protect spruce projects from harsh environmental conditions and scratches to maintain their quality.

What Are the Characteristics of Spruce Wood?

Here are the key Spruce characteristics.

  • Light Color and Grain

Spruce has a cream white to yellow color with an even texture and straight grain structure. This grain structure helps to increase its strength.

  • High Workability 

Spruce has a significantly high workability as it is free from knots. It’s easy to learn woodworking techniques with spruce as a beginner since it’s user-friendly. In addition, it finishes and glues well, making it easy to add extra protection to your outdoor spruce projects.

  • Lightweight

Spruce wood is popular for its lightweight and strength-to-weight ratio. As such, it is preferred for certain applications over heavier hardwoods. Further, its lightweight nature makes it easy to work with and transport.

  • Moderate  Weather Resistance

Even though spruce is not naturally resistant to decay and moisture as compared to cedar, it has excellent weather resistance. Further, its durability can be improved by pressure treatment or applying a protective finish.

  • Great Strength 

It has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio: thus ideal for musical instruments. It has a comprehensive strength of 5,610 psi and a bending strength of 10,200 psi, which is almost the same for most spruce species.

  • Hardness 

Spruce trees are famous for their hardness and can withstand harsh winters and other adverse growing conditions. They are often found in colder northern climates and at high elevations.

  • Conical Shape 

Spruce is conical with a pointed top and branches that slope downwards. This shape helps the tree shed snow: thus popular for Christmas trees.

  • Evergreen 

Spruce keep their leaves year-round. Unlike deciduous trees, they remain green throughout the year.

  • Resinous Wood

Spruce has a high resin content that makes it durable and strong. Thus, it is suitable for construction, musical instruments, and paper construction.

  • Needle-Like Leaves

Spruces have a needle-like shape that is attached individually to the branches. The needles are 0.5 to 1 inch long and are dark green to blue-green.

Is Spruce Harder Than Cedar?

The hardness of the wood can be measured in various ways, but one common way is the Janka hardness test. The higher the rating, the harder the wood.

With this test, red cedar is harder than spruce with 900 lbf, while white cedar is softer than spruce with 480 lbf. So, some cedar species are harder than spruce, while others are softer.

It is worth knowing that the hardness of the wood varies depending on the growth rate, age, and the growing condition of the tree.

Still, hardness is not the only factor determining the suitability of a wood species for certain applications. There are other factors like workability, durability, and appearance.

Is Spruce Harder Than Pine?

Generally, most spruce species are harder than pine. And for this reason, spruce can easily replace pine wood. This can be shown below, according to the Janka hardness ratings.

    • Black spruce: 520 lbf (2,313 N)
    • Sitka spruce: 510 lbf (2,268 N)
    • Red spruce: 490 lbf (2,180)
    • White spruce: 480 lbf (2,135 N)
  • White pine: 420 lbf (1,868 N)
    • Engelmann spruce: 390 lbf (1,735 N)
  • Sugar pine: 380 lbf (1,690)

As you can see from the ratings above, most spruce woods are harder than pine.

Lastly, whether pine or spruce is harder depends on the growing condition and the type of species.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Spruce Waterproof?

No, spruce soaks in water and starts rotting when exposed to soil or moisture. It is a low-density wood with an open grain that absorbs moisture. But some spruce species perform well in high moisture areas: thus ideal for boat building.

Additionally, both painted and treated can be the best for exterior projects. It’s worth knowing that no wood is 100% waterproof. They only perform better for a while.

  • Is Spruce Wood Allergic?

So far, no severe allergy problems have been associated with spruce wood. However, be careful when working with wood since every type of wood can be a problem for skin-sensitive and asthmatic patients.

  • Is Spruce Good For Firewood?

Spruce is not commonly used for firewood since it does not burn quickly and generates high heat.  But being a softwood, it is easy to split and burn. It is also easily available at a reasonable price.

  • How Long Will Spruce Last Outside?

With proper sealing and finishing, it can last outdoors for ten years or more. But finish or seal your spruce projects annually and maintain them from harsh weather conditions.

On the contrary, untreated spruce workpieces experience moisture damage faster outdoors and can last for only two to three months.

  • Is Spruce Wood Rot Resistant?

Spruce has no resistance to rot, and even the heartwood of spruce only offers moderate resistance to rotting. Even worse, water, UV lights, and insect attacks can easily damage it.

To prevent this from happening, apply a sealant or proper finisher following the correct procedure.

  • Why Use Spruce for Framing?

Spruce is stable, has a moderate twist, and has warp resistance when wet. Further, it has a straight grain and is flexible to accommodate various framing applications.

Even better, construction framing involves setting the frames on concrete with no direct ground contact and thus increases the spruce’s lifespan. In addition, without contact with moisture or ground soil, spruce can last for decades.

  • How Do I Differentiate Spruce From Other Wood Types?

Firstly, you can recognize spruce by its resinous smell. Additionally, it has a light color, white to yellowish white, which darkens to brownish yellow with time.

The wood also has visible, narrow, extensive annual rings, and its longitudinal section resembles a typical softwood.

  • Is Spruce Harder than Oak?

Oak and spruce differ greatly in terms of hardness, with oak being considerably harder than spruce. This is because oak is classified as a hardwood while spruce is a softwood. Furthermore, this is supported by the Janka hardness rating.

Final Thoughts

The wood’s classification as either softwood or hardwood does not depend on its actual hardness, but on the tree’s structure from which it is derived. Usually, hardwoods come from deciduous trees, while softwoods come from coniferous trees.

Hardwoods and softwoods perform well within their limitations and thus can be utilized for various applications. But the remaining question is:

Is Spruce Wood a Hardwood or Softwood?

No, spruce is a coniferous tree species, making it a softwood. However, some species of spruce have a relatively high density and strength, making them suitable for certain applications that typically require hardwoods. This creates confusion about whether spruce is a hardwood or a softwood.

Thank you for reading this far, and I hope it has cleared up the confusion about spruce.

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