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  • Working with Hardwoods and Softwoods

Working with Hardwoods and Softwoods

Working with Hardwoods and Softwoods on Woodworking Machinery

As a general rule of thumb, softwoods tend to be less dense and easier to cut than hardwoods. Obviously, this is a guide only as there are some exceptions to the rule, most notably with Balsa wood, one of the lightest and least dense wood available, classified as a hardwood.

The same features of strength and durability that make hardwoods popular also happen to be the reasons why working with hardwoods can be harder than working with softwoods. Softwood is a lot easier to cut and shape, enabling the use of smaller woodworking machines and motors. (That said resinous softwoods can also be challenging to work with.)

The harder and thicker the wood, the greater the pressure that will be applied to any woodworking machine. Most machines can work on both hardwood and softwood, but it is important to ensure that;

  1. You’re using the right machine for the job. A small scroll saw will not cut through a thick piece of hardwood with the same speed and efficiency as a bandsaw.
  2. Sizing the motor for the job. A machine with a smaller motor will have to work harder to cut through the timber than a larger motor will.
  3. Listen to the tool and react accordingly.  The noise produced by a sharp blade vs a dull blade is obvious; listen and react by changing the blade when its required, not waiting until you've completed the job at hand. The same can be said for a motor that is being over taxed; if you hear the motor labouring (or stalling) under the load, react by reducing the load. Reduce your feed rate and let the blade do the work or (in the case of thicknesser/sanders etc) don’t take as big a cut per pass and reap the rewards of a superior finish.
  4. You’re using the right blade for the job. The reason why there are so many different blade options available is because each is designed for a specific function; Blade quality, size, type, number of teeth etc all play a critical role in delivering the best cut for your chosen timber and project.

At the end of the day, most woodworking machines will work with both hardwoods and softwoods, but taking into account the above considerations (along with appropriate dust extraction) will help increase the longevity of your chosen machine, blades & consumables, as well as the joy derived from using that machine.