It’s amazing how beautiful the Western Red Cedar looks—the tone and coloring are just super, especially after it has weathered to a soft gray, without the dark stains!

Okay, it is resistant to rot and insects, it can be left without any treatment, so then, why does cedar need to be sealed?

No doubt, cedar wood is the real deal and remains the go-to wood for decks and fences for many woodworkers. It can stay aesthetically attractive and structurally sturdy for longer if only you commit to properly maintaining it.

However, if left alone, it deteriorates and fades due to exposure to elements meaning you can only protect cedar wood by sealing it.

There’s more about sealing cedar wood. Read on to find out.

Does Cedar Need to be Sealed?

Yes. Often used in outdoor wood projects like cedar fence and siding, cedar is a tough material that needs to be sealed for a couple of reasons. By sealing, you prolong the life of cedar making it sturdy enough to withstand weather elements. Sealing also safeguards cedar against weathering, graying, cracking, fading, excessive moisture and Ultra Violet (UV) radiation.

What is Cedar Wood?

Cedar wood is an incredible, highly durable wood that contains special natural oils that make it naturally resistant to rot or decay. Compared to other wood species, cedar is quite solid hence less likely to crack and split.

So why should it be sealed? It’s because when exposed to excess moisture and direct sunlight, cedar fades and hence it can’t last long. As such, a protective finish becomes an option.

How to Seal Interior Cedar

When you aren’t interested in retaining the aromatic qualities of cedar wood’s surface for your interior décor, sealing will make your cedar wood easy to clean.

If you desire a hard silky surface for your window edge or tabletop, then a thinned or gloss sanding sealer can seamlessly smoothen your cedar and make it ready for one or two coats of lacquer.

The best thing about cedar wood is that interior cedar finishes penetrate it really well and this includes penetrating oils like the tung oils and linseed oil.

These oils are effective when sealing wood grain while leaving the cedar in its raw and natural state. Just like in exterior cedar applications, any interior sealing project should start with cleaning the cedar wood.

For proper ventilation, open the door and windows of the room. Roll or brush the right sealant onto your cedar wood surface and allow the coat to dry completely before adding another coat.

Sealing Cedar for Painting

So, can sealed cedar woods accept paint? Yes, though it requires a coat of primer before getting painted. Cedar woods are naturally beautiful when bare and not many woodcarvers consider painting it. But if you plan to paint it, then you will need to seal the wood.

Unlike other wood species, cedar is a building material that comes with natural oils that ooze through the latex and oil paints if not properly sealed, leaving dark stains and oily sap lines that can taint the cedar’s appealing look.

These can be prevented using alkyd oil based primer, a high solid primer that safeguards against discoloration. When you prime your cedar with a varnish with a high level of pigments, it helps to prevent oozing through.

It also increases the coverage of the top coat but reduces the duration for application. Primer can be applied on cedar wood using a roller or brush. The steps for preparing the cedar wood surface are the same as for sealing exterior cedar.

Start by cleaning the cedar thoroughly before applying the primer. If you had painted your cedar before, then you might have to sand it down to the wood to remove any loose paint or peeling before applying premier.

Sand off a thin layer, clean the dust and then apply the primer for the best results. Ensure the cedar is completely covered with the premier before you can apply your paint.

How to Seal Exterior Cedar

Given its strength and ability to resist rot, cedar is commonly used in making durable outdoor projects like cedar fences, siding, furniture and play structures that need no varnish.

However, direct sunshine can cause cedar wood to lose its natural color within months. To protect the wood from turning gray, you may use a high-quality clear cedar sealer to protect it from the direct UV rays that break down its wood fibers.

If you’re using the satin as weather resistant and not for color, a water-sealer would be perfect for the job. Most stains for sealing cedar contain paraffin, creating a light coating within the grain while shedding water.

Steps for sealing exterior cedar:

  1. Apply the stain or sealer to clean and dry the cedar wood. If you’re looking for impressive results, dry the cedar to make the coat work perfect. Any dirt or grime on the cedar wood should be removed to ensure an excellent finish.
  2. Wash the cedar wood first. We recommend hand washing it since a pressure washer can easily damage the wood. Allow it to dry completely before applying the sealer.
  3. Use a roller or brush to apply the right sealer. Pay close attention to edges, joints and board ends as they’re susceptible to excess moisture. Repeat this process every one or 2 years.

Pros of sealing your cedar

  • Still wonder why it’s so expensive? Well, the natural oils in cedar make it resistant to decay making it an ideal building material for exterior projects.
  • Remarkably, cedar wood is harder yet lightweight in comparison to other woods like fir and pine. Structurally, cedar woods are stronger than other wood species, meaning cedar wood is less likely to split or crack.
  • Again, the natural oils in types of cedar wood like incense cedar and Western red cedar are extremely aromatic and effective as an insect repellent, protecting cedar against harm.
  • The Western red cedar is highly thermal coefficient in that its projects remain cool during summer.

Can Cedar be Left Untreated?

One of the glories of cedar wood is its durability and the many resins that make it naturally resistant to rot, so they perform well without varnish.

When left untreated, cedar wood is exposed to the oxidizing UV light that cause the timber to fade and bleach to a stunning silvery-grey lacquer.

Unless you really want to work with fresh, untreated cedar for that unique weathered cladding, you won’t have to treat your wood. Otherwise, we recommend that you treat your cedar.

For a cedar fence, be sure to treat them at least once a year. While the natural oils in cedar protect the wood, it’s only for a finite time. Ultimately, the cedar will start decaying.

In addition, when your cedar fence is left untreated, individual planks will start discoloring before softening; and possibly rot within a period of five years or less, depending on climatic conditions.

Cedar can be treated in several ways, including staining with a semi-transparent stain, painting, or using a clear treatment.

When Should You Seal Cedar?

If you’re out to preserve the rich wood grain of let’s say, your cedar deck, we advise that you seal the cedar deck with a deeply penetrating translucent stain within one or two weeks of making a cedar wood project.

This ensures minimal if any, UV damage to the cedar and prevents a buildup of dirt and grime hence leaves a naturally-looking deck.

What are the Best Finishes for Sealing Cedar?

Red cedar boasts excellent exterior finish-retention capabilities particularly when it has been sanded smooth. As such, if you’re looking for durability, be sure to use a polished cedar wood.

Notably, opaque paints and solid color stains provide more protection but obscure the wood’s natural beauty.

A transparent or semi-transparent stain, water repellent preservative, or oxygen bleach deliver moderate protection against elements but preserve the cedar’s natural appearance.

We know that finding the right finish for sealer can be tough. There are lots of options out there, and we sifted through them to help you choose the best.

So, what’s the best finish for sealing your cedar? Let’s find out below.

1. Opaque or solid-colour

A meticulous coat or two of acrylic-based paints will excellently seal your cedar. This paint will protect cedar from moisture and weathering and completely conceal the wood’s grain and color.

The next time you want to add a bit of charm, excitement and color to your cedar project, this is it—though not the best if you’re the indecisive type. Last longer, from 8 to twelve years.

2. Semi-transparent stains

If you’re looking to seal cedar wood and bring out its natural glow while protecting it, the semi transparent stain is the best option.

This stain can work magic on your wood and deliver some delicate changes to its color, knots and grains. These finishes can either be natural or oil-based.

Oil-based stains penetrate more deeply into the cedar, providing a radical change of color; hence offer better protection against elements.

Natural finishes are water-based and don’t penetrate deeply, but give your wood a great deal of protection. The fungicides present in the stains inhibit the growth of mold. They’re also environmentally friendly.

With the countless semi-transparent stains out there, we found Watrol Textol HES as the most powerful, oil-based finish for cedar. It safeguards against UV and weathering while enhancing your cedar’s grain. Consider it for your softwood decking.

For the natural, water-based cedar wood finish, choose Owatrol Aquadecks (Honey) if you want to keep your cedar in perfect condition while giving it an excellent finish.

3. Transparent preservatives and oils

Without a doubt, a transparent finish can preserve your cedar and keep its natural tones for a longer period of time. We recommend the Owatrol H4 Wood, a great weather protector with no UV filters. Allows your cedar to gray naturally.

When you want to stain cedar wood, be sure to apply in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions.

How Do You Seal Cedar without Changing Color?

What you’ll need:

  • Water-based polyurethane / Acrylic lacquer
  • Natural bristle paint brush
  • Scrap pieces of wood
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Container/ Paint tray

Steps of sealing cedar without changing color

Step 1: Ensure the final layer of stain or paint dries well before applying the sealer.

Step 2: Wait for the first coat of sealant to dry completely before applying another coat if necessary.

Pro Tips:

A water-based polyurethane finish or acrylic varnish is specially made to seal wood without changing the color. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preferences but whatever you choose; always go for the white-watered stains which are usually translucent.

Keep in mind that white-water sealants are particularly designed for improving the appearance of a natural grain wood.   

How to Treat Cedar Wood

After choosing the right treatment, the next step would be to apply it. Before this, ensure the cedar wood isn’t wet as this may make the coat not to take in the treatment.

If the cedar is weathered due to aging, you can use a heavy-duty machine like a power washer to thoroughly clean and restore the wood. To treat cedar, we recommend using a quality soft-brush that helps in delivering a more even coat.

Does Cedar Need To Be Sealed? – Summary!

We hope this guide has been helpful and you can now seal cedar wood seamlessly. Sealing wood—whether fresh wood, cedar fence or red cedar wood, is not labor intensive.

In fact, the process of brushing or rolling the sealant over the cedar can be fun. All you have to do is choose the right sealer for your wood.

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