Hardwood vs. Softwood: Which is best for Wood CNC Machining?


Timber can be classified into two main categories of wood, i.e., softwood and hardwood. Both types of woods are widely used in different projects to manufacture various products. They are also used in CNC machining to produce accurate and complex wooden components. In this article, we will discuss which one is best for wood CNC machining.

What is Hardwood?

Hardwood is a darker wood of the angiosperms plants or trees that mainly produce covered seeds. Their seeds, such as nuts or fruits, are enclosed in an ovule, and their leaves are broad. They reproduce by forming flowers fertilized by insects and birds through pollen. They are found in tropical and temperate forests.

Harwood is deciduous, which means that its leaves fall off annually. Their growth is usually slower as compared to softwood. The most common hardwood trees include:

  • Hickory
  • Teak
  • Mahogany
  • Oak
  • Beech
  • Maple
  • Walnut

Hardwood is usually scratch-resistant and thus greatly used for construction purposes for making paneling, beams, flooring, decks, and different kinds of furniture.

Properties of Hardwood

Here are some common properties of hardwood.

  1. Structure of cell
    Hardwood contains vessels or visible pores that transport nutrients and water and can be seen under a microscope.
  2. Durability
    Hardwood shows high durability because of its condensed and complicated structure. Hardwood also shows greater resistance to fire.
  3. Workability
    Because of the complex structure, they take greater time for machining. Hardwood also shows the difficulty in treatments, including painting and finishing. Therefore special tools are required for their machining.
  4. Strength
    The density of the hardwood is very high because of its condensed structure, which increases strength.
  5. Cost
    The low abundance, slower growth, and less availability of hardwood make it more expensive than softwood.

What is Softwood?

The softwood belongs to the gymnosperm trees like conifer trees and usually has cones and needles. Their seeds are not enclosed in ovules and are thus also referred to as naked seeds.

These trees show reproduction by forming cones, and the pollen is moved to the other trees with the help of wind. They show much faster growth as compared to softwood. The most common examples of softwood trees include:

  • Larch
  • Cypress
  • Redwood
  • Juniper
  • Douglas fir
  • Cedar

Properties of Softwood

The following are the main properties of softwood.

  1. Structure of cell
    Softwood lacks vessels and thus possesses a simple cellular structure. The water movement is done through the cells called medullary rays and longitudinal tracheids. These cells produce sap and lack visible pores.
  2. Durability
    Softwood timber is less durable because of its low density. However, some softwoods such as Yew and Juniper show high density, resulting in high durability.
  3. Workability
    Softwood shows easy workability because it’s easy to machine. It is easy to do paint, finishing, and other treatments on the softwood.
  4. Strength
    Softwood does not have a complex structure and shows lower strength than softwood. Softwood also has less density.
  5. Cost
    Softwood is cheaper because of its abundance, easy availability, and faster growth.

When to use Hardwood for Wood CNC Machining?

It is compulsory to choose the right wood for wood CNC machining. Hardwood is commonly used when you need high-quality, durable products. You can also choose it when you want intricate and detailed carving work. It is tough exotic wood compared to softwood because of its tight grains. Ash, Cherry, Walnut, and Maple are best for making products through wood CNC machining.

Hardwood is suitable for the CNC projects like hockey sticks, tables and stools because of its exceptional mechanical properties such as hardness and toughness. You can use different types of hardwoods for different CN projects.

To make baseball bats through a CNC lathe, you can use Ashwood because of its shock-resistant and stiffness properties. It can quickly wear your cutters and also use for making frames and furniture. Because of its higher strength and easy milling, you can machine beech wood in case of making goblets, tables, chairs, plates, and spoons. But, it is not suitable for carving.

Birchwood is the perfect plywood for CNC routing. It is a good choice for the bracing of structural parts of furniture through a CNC router due to its good strength and screw-holding ability.

Cherry wood is the most recommended and easiest wood for CNC wood routing for carving, turning, and cutting because of its versatility. You can use it for making musical instruments and furniture etc.

When to Use Softwood for Wood CNC Machining?

Similar to hardwood, softwood is also used for various wood CNC machining projects. In fact, it is the most recommended option because softwood can easily mill on CNC routers and is also found at lower rates than hardwood. You can easily machine them without any tool blunting during the CNC process. You can use it for making various useful wood products through CNC machining.

You can use Cedarwood to make weather-resistant products such as boats and outdoor furniture through CNC machining because it is weather-resistant. But, it is challenging to mill because of the presence of knots.

Similarly, you can use Cypress wood to make decay-resistant wood products such as windows, paneling, etc., and CNC machining. To attain good detailing through carving, you must give priority to the redwood because the softness of the redwood makes machining and carving much easier.

You can use Spruce for wood CNC machining if you want to make cost-friendly decay-resistant furniture at a cheaper rate. You can easily machine it because of its lightweight.
You can use Firwood to make flooring and furniture whose durability is compatible with the products made of hardwood. Moreover, it is easy to work with Firwood because of its consistent pattern.

More Wood CNC Machining Tips

Besides choosing the right wood for CNC machining, you must also learn the proper machining process. These few tips can help prevent any loss during wood CNC machining.

  • Select the Correct Wood CNC Machine
    It would be helpful if you had a complete idea about the machine you use for the wood machining process. You must also know the accurate usage of machines.
  • Add a Dust Collector
    Wood machining can produce a lot of dust during the process. Dust can affect CNC machines by reducing their efficiency and lifespan. So you must add a dust collector to remove the dust.
  • Use Easy-to-Use Software
    You can use easy-to-use CNC software during wood CNC machining. It caneasily
    translate your design language to get a desirable product design.
  • Sharpens the Blades
    The blades of a wood CNC machine may become dull with time. So it would help if you regularly sharpened them.
  • Use a Moisture Meter
    High moisture contents of wood can give low-quality products. So, you must measure the moisture level of wood through the moisture meter.


Selecting the rightwood for CNC machining is not an easy task. With all of the different factors to consider, how do you know which patience is best for your part? The team at WorthyHardware has put together this guide to help walk you through the process of selecting the proper wood for your next project.