Hardwood vs Softwood | Understanding wood Properties for CNC Routing Projects

The tool selection and feed rate of routing wood with a CNC machine differs depending on the type of wood requirement for your project. Apart from the general specifications of any wood, every type of wood has its exceptions in terms of durability, weakness, and resistance  against environmental factors. So, before starting a project, it is imperative to know what wood type would fit in and what would be the ultimate output.

Nowadays, woodworking has become a top choice for CNC machinists because of the increasing demand for wood-specific furniture, signage, cabinetry, etc. in the market. So, CNC woodworking is no exception these days. However, your wood selection decides how best you complete an ordered project. 

To give you a deep insight into how hardwoods and softwoods differ from each other, I have vividly differentiated both the categories along with their respective examples. This insight will certainly help you launch your forthcoming CNC routing projects better than before.  

How Hardwoods Vary From Softwoods?

Softwood varieties come widely from coniferous trees, whose leaves are like needles and have seed-bearing cone fruits. Timbers used in CNC routing are mostly collected from these softwood trees. These types of woods are typically used to make doors and windows, cabinets and furniture, and even for paper products.

However, note that some softwoods are sturdier than hardwoods. Conversely, if you consider the most part of hardwoods, then those are relatively harder than softwoods. You can build high-quality cum durable furniture, flooring, decks, and construction modules out of hardwoods. However, unlike software, hardwood is not used to prepare paper products.

Hardwoods have a slow growth rate and so, those are generally more expensive than softwoods.

Note: Both hardwood and softwood catch fire, however, the former type has greater resistance to catching fire. 

Hardwood

Hardwoods are the timbers typically collected from deciduous trees (trees that annually shed their leaves). Most of these hardwoods are dark, harder, and studier than softwood. If your project involves preparing a wooden piece with detailed and intricate cutting works on it,  then hardwood is the best for that job. However, before starting the cutting process, you must check the RPM value of your CNC router bit. If the value is higher than needed, it can damage the hardwood burning the piece right on the routing table.

As I mentioned above, hardwood grows slower than softwood. So, they naturally cost more than softwood. This is the reason that hardwood is generally used in high-quality crafting projects, building decks, furniture, etc., and is also used for flooring. Check out the below list of hardwoods (mentioned with their respective characteristics) used predominantly by the CNC router professionals: 

  • Ash: It is a light colored, heavy wood with its grain having numerous rings in it
  • Beech: It is a stiff and strong wood with shock-resistance characteristics. The small pores of this wood means that it has a lesser tendency to splinter than the other porous alternatives
  • Birch: It is yet another very light colored stiff wood with wavy grain in it
  • Elm: It is a tough wood bearing light brown color, albeit it has low resistance to decay 
  • Cherry: It is a light reddish-brown colored strong wood with warping resistance which makes this hardwood a top choice for CNC sculpting/routing 
  • Maple: It is one of the highly durable cum toughest hardwoods in the market. The wood features resistance to electric shock and has smooth pores and grain 
  • Mahogany: It is a reddish-brown colored strong wood with indistinct rings and even pores. This wood works fantastically in carving projects
  • Oak: It is a hard and heavy wood that hardly breaks. The wood has prominent ring grain, making it suitable for creating visually aesthetic projects 
  • Walnut: It is yet another hard and long-lasting brown colored hardwood.  Its trunk has a straight grain that gradually grows to be more wavy toward its roots

Softwood

Softwood timbers are commonly collected from the coniferous trees (trees with needle-like leaves that  shed in winter) and are mostly light colored. In CNC routing, a greater part of the timber is derived from the softwood trees because those are easy to cut. However, if your router bit is of poor quality or too dull, then the wood will tend to splinter.  

Some softwoods are tougher while some are not. So, you must be careful while choosing a project that should be the right one. Unlike hardwood, you can use softwood to make paper products alongside doors and windows, furniture, etc. 

Check out the below list of softwoods you must try using for your CNC routing projects: 

  • Cedar: It is mostly noted for its reddish-brown color and refreshingly distinct aroma. However, this softwood is sometimes very testing to work with because of its many knots
  • Cypress: It is yet another type of softwood with knots and fair resistance to decay. 
  • Fir: This softwood has a uniform consistent pattern and is quite simple to work with
  • Pine: It is a lighter pale colored, lightweight wood with shrink resistant characteristic
  • Redwood: It is another noted softwood with decay resistance from sunlight and has a red shade appearance 
  • Spruce: It is a relatively lightweight yet harder softwood, however, not resistant to decay 
  • Yew: It is one of those softwoods that is tougher than many hardwoods. However, it’s straight grain makes the wood surprisingly easy to work with. The wood has low stiffness and medium strength followed by fair decay resistance 

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