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How to Treat Hardwood and Softwood

How to Treat Hardwood and Softwood

Treating wood can be a minefield with so many products to choose from - not to mention the array of characteristics found in different types of timber. So, with this in mind, we've created two how-to video guides to help you treat both hardwood and softwood for the very best results. To kick off, our resident woodcare expert Chris Wingrove answers some commonly asked questions on the subject.

Why is it important to treat hardwoods and softwoods differently?

The actual finish is the same, but weaknesses like knots, splits, lack of durability, blue stain, etc, do mean that more care is needed with softwoods rather than hardwoods. The tendency with hardwoods is to retain the natural grain appearance, often resulting in under-application of coating, and subsequent earlier breakdown.

How often does softwood need to be treated compared to hardwood?

The actual coating finish is identical regardless of the timber used, so in theory there should be no difference to time it lasts - however - softwoods usually need more preparation, such as dealing with knots, blue stain or merely preservation against rot. As well as being (in most cases) more resistant to rot, hardwoods are less prone to movement (i.e. swelling and shrinking), so this retains the stability of the coating and therefore coated hardwoods usually need about 20% less treatment (i.e. the treatments last five years compared to four for softwoods).

Are there any types of wood that are notoriously difficult to treat? Are there any tricks to combat these difficulties?

Yes, a number of timbers have natural components which can create difficulties. There are answers, but not tricks. Taking shortcuts almost always leads to disappointment!

Knots and resins

Found in softwoods such as Pine, Spruce and Larch. Knock out dead knots and fill them with a woodfiller. Also try using a heat gun on live knots and removing liquid resin with methylated spirits (not white spirit).

Woods prone to rot or decay

This includes most softwoods, so make sure you use a preservative pre-treatment.

Prone to tannin bleed

Coloured timbers such as oak, Western red cedar and idigbo are prone to tannin bleed. Degrease with methylated spirits and ensure the timber is thoroughly coated all round (with particular attention to end grains).

Contains acidic tannins which discolour with metal fixings

Hardwoods including Oak, Western Red Cedar and Idigbo. Degrease with methylated spirits and avoid use of steel (ferrous) fixings.

Contain oils/gums/extractives (slow drying and poor adhesion)

Hardwoods including Teak, Iroko and Keruing. Degrease with methylated spirits and allow extra drying time.

For more information on treating different types of wood, watch our video guides on treating hardwoods (top) and softwoods (below).

Watch more woodcare videos on our You Tube channel.