Cedar and redwood are the most popular softwoods, alongside pine and Douglas fir. This is because they fit pretty much every application indoors and outdoors.

For instance, both are exceptional fencing and patio materials but equally good for furniture. So, assuming you can only pick one, which should it be?

We’ve created this guide to help you make an informed choice.

Cedar vs Redwood

Both cedar and redwood are evergreen conifers. Also, both are lightweight but strong and durable. However, redwood is stronger and more durable. Additionally, redwood is more beautiful and resistant to weather elements. That said, cedar is easier to find and more cost-effective.

What is Cedar Wood?

Cedar is a coniferous softwood from the Cedrus genus and Pinaceae family. The trees primarily grow in the western Himalayas and areas around the Mediterranean Sea.

They grow best in altitudes between 1,000m and 1500m. Cedar trees grow to 35m and are characterized by thick backs, broad branches, and a natural spicy scent. The needle-like leaves grow to 6cm.

There are more than a dozen cedar wood species. However, the most common are eastern red cedar, western red cedar, eastern white cedar, Spanish cedar, and Alaskan yellow cedar.

Cedar wood pros and cons

Pros

  • High compressive and bending strength
  • Exceptional dimensional stability
  • Affordable and readily available
  • Resists cracking and warping 
  • Highly durable 

Cons

  • Fades over time
  • It’s a high-maintenance softwood
  • It’s flammable

What is Redwood?

Redwoods, also known as sequoia, are slightly harder softwoods. They are also bigger than standard softwoods.

Indeed, giant redwoods grow to a massive 81m tall and up to 11m wide. This makes them among the largest trees today. 

The coniferous softwood produces plenty of timber. Often, a single mature tree produces enough timber to build a dozen wooden houses.

The lumber is characterized by reddish-brown heartwood and creamy white or yellowish tone. Left unfinished, it gracefully weathers to a silver-gray color. 

Redwoods can live for 2,000+ years but are often harvested at around 50 years. So, again, they’re among the oldest trees. 

Redwood pros and cons

Pros

  • It’s elegant 
  • Highly durable
  • Strong but lightweight
  • Highly weather resistant
  • Resists pests and insects

Cons

  • It’s rare (even endangered)
  • Redwood is a high-maintenance wood
  • It’s more expensive than standard softwoods

Western Red Cedar vs. Redwood: Head-to-Head Comparison

Now we know a little about each wood species. So, let’s compare them head-to-head to determine the key similarities and differences.

1. Janka rating

The Janka rating measures the wood’s strength and is a standard used across the industry. It determines the force (in pounds) required to dent a standard wooden board with a metal ball.

Thus the higher the Janka rating, the stronger the wood. Unsurprisingly, redwood and cedar are very soft, scoring below 500 lbf on the Janka scale.

However, the redwood (450 lbf) is slightly stronger than the western red cedar (350 lbf). This means it’s more scratch-resistant and less likely to break under force.

2. Appearance 

Overall western red cedar has a yellow tone that makes it suited for modern decors. However, most boards are heavily knotted.

Therefore, many people instead use it for farm-style and rustic decors. But it’s easier to paint than redwood, thus the better choice if you plan to paint the project.

On the other hand, redwood is brown or reddish brown, with a smoother texture and typically fewer knots. So, it’s perfect for classic decors.

That’s why redwood office furniture fetches a premium. Also, redwood contains more natural oils for self-preservation, thus requiring less maintenance. Both woods age to a silver-grey hue.

3. Grades and options

A key consideration when shopping for cedar lumber is whether you can find the right quality and appearance. For instance, although softer, with a finer grain pattern, some redwood grades contain knots and even burls.

Similarly, you may find clean cedar planks with few or no visible knots. Redwood offers more diversity and options if you’re interested.

Specifically, it comes in 30 grades compared to 10 cedar wood grades, allowing you to perfect your project. Moreover, highly specialized grades, such as deck heart, target specific applications. 

4. Pest and insect resistance 

Pest and insect resistance is important for outdoor woodworking projects. For instance, you need highly pest-resistant wood for a wood fence.

Otherwise, borers and termites will chew away the posts in a few years. The same applies to garden benches and construction applications, such as roofing.

Fortunately, both redwood and western red cedar are highly wood insect resistant. Redwood contains tannin acid that naturally repels pests. Meanwhile, western red cedar contains thujic fungicide, a natural insecticide.

Therefore, both are suited for exterior applications, including construction. However, we strongly recommend treating the wood for extra pest resistance. 

5. Durability

Durability is concerned with the wood’s ability to withstand the natural forces of decay. In other words, it determines the wood’s resistance to rot.

Therefore, it includes the resistance to weather elements such as UV and moisture and how long the wood can withstand attacks by rot-causing fungi. For instance, wood species that easily check due to temperature fluctuations are deemed perishable. 

Fortunately, both redwood and western red cedar are very durable. Both are decay-resistant, capable of living outdoors for decades with good maintenance.

However, redwood is slightly more durable thanks to a higher concentration of natural oils. Cedar or redwood seedlings take upto 50 years to be harvested.

6. Maintenance

Maintaining wooden items is a challenge. So, it’s understandable that we often prefer low-maintenance wood types to minimize the burden. 

For instance, it’s much easier to wipe your chairs once a week with soap and water than refinish them with expensive oils every few months. Similarly, no one enjoys bringing patio chairs inside every time it rains. 

So, you’ll be happy that redwood and western red cedar are low-maintenance woods. The high natural oil content protects them from external elements, meaning an occasional wipe with soap and water is sufficient.

Use an oxalic-based product for color restoration. 

7. Cost/value

The cost of cedar and redwood varies from one location to the next, depending on the availability of each wood species. However, in the US and Europe, redwood is about 15% more expensive than cedar wood because it’s rare.

Strangely, the opposite is true in New Zealand, where cedar wood costs almost twice as much as comparable redwood grades. 

Besides the price, always consider the wood species and grade that adds the most value to your project. For instance, a beautiful, more durable deck is more valuable than an expensive one. 

8. Sustainability/availability

Both redwood and cedar wood are sourced within the US, making them sustainable. For instance, the western red cedar grows abundantly along the west coast, especially in California.

Moreover, although it grows slowly, the government ensures that the replacement rate is higher than the harvesting rate. Therefore, the species are not under threat of extinction. 

Similarly, redwood isn’t under immediate threat of extinction as existing laws control the depletion rate. However, the strong demand for redwood lumber means it’s more difficult to source.

Moreover, redwood is only abundant in the northwest but rare everywhere else. 

9. Applications 

Redwood and western red cedar applications overlap. For instance, both are popular construction materials. For cedar, specifically western red cedar makes durable shingles, shakes, and exterior finishing. It also makes strong fence posts. Meanwhile, redwood tea makes strong beams, trim, and posts.

Beyond construction, cedar and redwood are outstanding furniture wood. Cedarwood patio chairs are highly revered, while redwood makes stunning office furniture.

The only difference is that cedar is more suitable for rustic/farm-style decors, while redwood fits traditional decors. 

Other redwood lumber applications include interior paneling, decking, cladding, framing, and siding. Meanwhile, other cedar wood applications include cabinetry, cladding, clothes storage, railing, and staircases.

Cedar vs Redwood for Selected Applications 

Suppose you’re shopping for lumber for a specific job. In that case, here’s how cedar and redwood compare for common projects

Cedar vs. Redwood fence

Either wood type is a good choice for a wooden fence. However, each boasts a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Redwood fences are gorgeous and essentially weatherproof.

They won’t twist, shrink, or warp, no matter how much the weather swings. Unfortunately, redwood demands a higher initial capital 

On the other hand, western red cedar fences are slightly more affordable, thus, a lower initial capital. It’s also more readily available if working on a large project.

However, it’s not as weather resistant as redwood, requiring regular staining or painting to preserve its color and structural integrity. 

Cedar vs. Redwood decking

Again, cedar and redwood are equally good for decking. Both are strong and resistant to insects and decay.

Also, both are relatively low-maintenance woods. Therefore, the “best” choice is often a personal preference. 

Cedar deck boards lovers are excited by the bright yellow color and knotty appearance, which provides a more natural feel. Moreover, it’s easier to paint cedar due to its lighter color.

Also, cedar decks are more affordable. Meanwhile, redwood decks are more beautiful and blend better with modern decors. Also, it’s more weather resistant. 

Cedar vs. Redwood swing set

Similar to fencing and decking, a swing set requires wood that effortlessly stands up to extreme weather. Also, it should be beautiful wood that adds to the exterior decor and blends with your home.

This makes choosing between cedar and redwood easy or difficult, depending on circumstances. For instance, although cedar and redwood are weather-resistant, redwood swing sets last longer when completely exposed to the weather (no shade).

Redwood also boasts a finer texture, producing softer, more refined swing sets with few or no splinters. Meanwhile, cedar mainly stands out for its low initial capital. Also, it’s a better choice for garden furniture. 

FAQs

Is Redwood better than Cedar?

Redwood is 23% harder than cedar and, thus, more durable. Moreover, redwood trees are much older. While the trees reach maturity in 10-20 years, most redwood lumber is harvested at 50+ years. Of course, redwood also comes in the coveted reddish-brown tone. So, yes, it’s overall better than cedar wood. 

What does redwood look like?

Redwood is identifiable by its reddish-brown heartwood. Mature trees have little sapwood. So, the whole trunk is often reddish brown. It’s reddest when freshly cut but weathers to a dark brown hue after a while. The sapwood is white or yellow where present, while the barks are dull chocolate brown, fibrous, and spongy. 

Is redwood expensive?

Redwood is relatively more expensive than cedar and other common softwoods. For instance, it’s twice as expensive as pine, with old-growth redwood costing twice as much. It’s also about 20% more expensive than cedar. But it’s not very expensive compared to premium furniture woods like walnut. 

Is redwood cedar?

No. Redwood and cedar are different tree species. The western red cedar and California redwood can be confusing as they are from the same genus, with multiple similarities. However, California redwood is denser. Also, redwood is darker and rarer. But the two are used interchangeably. 

What is the difference between redwood and cedar?

The main difference between redwood and cedar is density. At 450 lbs on the Janka scale, redwood is 23% denser than cedar, rated 350 lbs on the Janka scale. Also, redwood contains more protective oils than cedar. So, although both are durable and resistant to elements, redwood is more durable 

What color is cedar wood

Cedar wood is generally pinkish-red, though most species feature purple undertones. The exact color varies depending on multiple factors, including the species, age, and where it grows. Nonetheless, the colors range from brown to reddish brown, transforming to silver-grey with age. 

Verdict

It’s difficult to choose between redwood and western red cedar as the two have nearly identical physical properties besides color. But given the choice, many woodworkers choose redwood over cedar as it’s more beautiful and valuable.

When to Use Western Red Cedar: We recommend western red cedar for construction and outdoor applications. For instance, it makes excellent shingles, exterior siding, weatherboarding, ships, and boats. 

When to Use Redwood: Redwood is one of the best woods for flooring and cabinetry. It also makes beautiful doors and frames, outdoor furniture, fencing, garden boxes, patios, and patio covers.

Interesting read: Douglas fir vs cedar.

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