There are tens of thousands of different species of trees, with new ones being discovered. The use to which we put them is vast. The terms 'softwood' and 'hardwood' are in fact misnomers as they bear no relation to the physical hardness of the timber. They simply determine the type of tree: softwoods are cone bearing, while hardwoods are broad leaved. Trees that produce softwoods are conifers, evergreens with tough needle-like leaves.
Hardwoods are the timber of broad-leaved deciduous trees and range from the extremely hard, such as ebony, to a lightweight, soft species such as tulipwood. Durability varies greatly in hardwoods, for example Keruing can be used untreated in many external applications, whereas Beech would deteriorate quickly if exposed to the elements.
After felling and cutting at the sawnmill, timber that is to be used for construction or furnishings must be seasoned, dried and hardened to minimise movement. Freshly cut wood is thick with sap and moisture. Today, most commercial wood is kiln dried. In past centuries timber was air dried and left stacked under cover, sometimes for years before it was ready to be worked.