Heartwood OR Sapwood – What’s Better (and More Useful)

Difference between Heartwood and Sapwood

Heartwood and Sapwood are basically the two parts of the same tree or a tree trunk.

While the heartwood (also referred to as Duramen) is the central core, sapwood is the outer part of the tree trunk.

To be more specific, the heartwood is the dead inner part of the wood, while the sapwood is the living outermost part of any woody stem, branch, or trunk.

Since the sapwood helps in transporting the water and essential minerals (to the leaves, branches, and other parts of the tree) it’s the part that contributes more to the overall growth of any tree.

Heartwood, on the other hand, acts as a supportive spine of a tree which helps in making them stand for long – no matter how adverse the external conditions are.

With that said, heartwood is more useful for woodworking and construction because of its excellent strength and non-shrinkable properties.

Sapwood is not that hard and strong. Also, it’s prone to rot soon and is, therefore, considered less usable for interior or exterior projects.

What is Heartwood Used for?

Heartwood naturally has less moisture content and can be easily kiln dried.

Because it’s very dense, dry, and strong it is also naturally protected from fungi and insects.  

Heartwood is hence primarily used for various kinds of home building projects (both structural as well as non-structural) by home builders and experienced woodworkers.  

Most furniture, floors, and roofs that you see are generally made from heartwood rather than sapwood.

What is Sapwood of a Tree Used for?

Sapwood is not as strong, and beautiful as heartwood.  But that does not mean it’s not at all useful.

Sapwood is many times used in combination with heartwood, especially for beginners to practice making cuts and to work on projects like carving.

You can also use the sapwood of a tree for projects that require beautiful patterns or two-tone colors.

The drawback however of using sapwood is it’s susceptible to getting damaged due to fungal growth and insects that love to thrive on wood.

Is Heartwood stronger than sapwood

Why is Heartwood Better Than Sapwood?

The key difference that makes the heartwood of the tree log much better than sapwood is its excellent workability, strength, rich color, and decay-resistant properties.

Due to the added strength and low moisture content, the heartwood is a great choice for cabinets, furniture, floor, fence, roof, decks, and various other outdoor projects.

Also, due to its ability to withstand moisture, rots, and pests you need less maintenance for heartwood.  

Sapwood on the other hand is not so great when it comes to workability. 

This means, if you use it incorrectly it will start to rot and smell within a few months of exposure to moisture.

The Considerations

While the heartwood offers more benefits due to its hardness, keep in mind that more hardness can sometimes also bring lots of trouble for woodworkers.

Simply put, there are some species of heartwood that come with so high Janka hardness – that it becomes very difficult to work with them.

Wood varieties like Red Mahogany, Red Oak, and Ebony, are few to name – where using machines can be difficult for cutting and shaping their heartwood.  

Whereas the heartwood of species like Red Maple, Douglas Fir, and many more that come with Janka hardness less than 1,000 lbs. are relatively easy to work.

Should You Discard Sapwood of the Tree?

The sapwood of the species, with high Janka hardness, is also relatively hard and can be used for woodworking and other furniture projects.

Rather than completely removing and discarding the trimmed portion, you can allow them to dry and use as firewood.

Alternatively, you can use them for practicing and making DIY items like toys and indoor furniture items.

If it turns out to be a great project, simply seal it with some paint, stain, or polyurethane that will help them to last for a long.

Why is heartwood better than sapwood?

How to Distinguish Heartwood from Sapwood?

Generally, you can tell sapwood from heartwood by the difference in its colors, grains, and many times aroma.

In most cases, you will find that the color of heartwood is always on the darker side of the spectrum than the sapwood of the same tree.

This is due to the fact that as trees grow their sapwood changes to heartwood.

The heartwood that is developed (from the “retired” sapwood) stops the transportation of water, and nutrients to the leaves of the tree.

Also, their cells die and begin to dry – making the color of heartwood darker which usually becomes, even more, darker with time like in mahogany and cherry wood.  

The color of the sapwood in the tree also darkens with the age, but never as much as heartwood.

Heartwood vs sapwood colors

Depending on the wood species you will often find the color of heartwood to be rich red, brown to dark chocolate brown due to tannins.

While the sapwood is mostly light yellow, cream to pale white in color due to the presence of the high amount of moisture and open cells in the wood part.

Like in cherry trees the color of sapwood is light yellow and the heartwood is rich red to reddish-brown.

In cedarwood, the heartwood is reddish to pinkish brown while the sapwood is pale yellowish-white to whitish-cream.

While the color may vary depending on different species of cedarwood but they are almost close to each other.

Walnut trees have a wider heartwood part than others which makes them better for woodworkers.

The color tone of walnut heartwood varies from brown, dark brown to gray, purple, or reddish.

The sapwood of walnut is not too wide and is mostly white in color. Although it may vary from gray to dark yellow in a few walnut species.

Final Thoughts

For a tree itself, sapwood as well heartwood is equally important.

Where the former helps in the growth by conducting water, the latter helps in providing better support to the larger trees by their strength.

But for DIYers, woodworkers, and constructors, heartwood is more important because it’s stronger and more durable.

While most wood experts majorly use heartwood for exterior applications, there are manufacturers who consider using sapwood along with heartwood for making home furniture as well as various other indoor applications.

Whats More on Wood Thrive:
Cork Flooring: The Pros and Cons
cork-flooring

Cork is the material taken from the bark of cork oak trees and turned into a number of products like Read more

What is Wenge Wood – What Can You Use it For?

Wenge wood is one of the more popular types of wood used for the creation of furniture, paneling, and veneer. Read more

Pear Tree Wood – Characteristics and Common Uses

The pear tree is a rather common tree that is mostly found in central and eastern Europe. Although its popularity Read more

Brazilian Tulipwood – Characteristics and Common Uses

Tulipwood is a popular wood used for building materials. In addition to Brazil, the wood can be found in the Read more

error: Content is protected !!