Cedar is one of the most popular woods in the US. It’s used to make quality furniture thanks to its great appearance and durability. Additionally, cedar has a pleasant characteristic smell that makes it a good choice for household items.
Even better, cedarwood is highly resistant to rotting, making it a good candidate for outdoor furniture, such as patio chairs and tables. It’s also readily available and inexpensive.
Given its wide range of applications, many people often wonder whether cedar is hardwood or softwood. How hard is it? How strong is the wood?
How durable is cedar furniture? Most importantly, how come it’s usable in early all softwood and hardwood applications? We have all the answers – in a bit.
Is Cedar a Hardwood or Softwood?
Cedar is a softwood. Although many people believe it’s a hardwood, possibly because it’s very hard and strong, cedarwood is obtained from gymnosperm trees which are conifers. The common term for gymnosperms is softwoods. Other popular softwoods are pine and fir trees.
What is Cedarwood?
Cedarwood refers to lumber obtained from cedar trees. The cedar tree is an evergreen tree originally from central and south America.
There are many cedar species, with at least 30 well-known species. These trees are divided into three main categories – Pinaceae, Cupressaceae, and Meliaceae.
The trees grow to between 98 and 131 feet tall and eight feet in diameter. They are characterized by dark-gray or brown barks with square-shaped cracks or thick ridges.
Cedars are monoecious trees. Monoecious trees produce male and female cones on the same tree. Cedarwood is characterized by a straight grain pattern with lots of knots.
However, a few have beautiful, figured grains. The pinkish-red or reddish-brown heartwood sometimes has traces of purple tones. However, the color gradually changes to silver or gray as the wood ages.
Types of Cedar Wood
Although most people only come across one or two species in their lifetime, cedarwood comes in several varieties, each with unique characteristics. The most notable species are;
- Eastern red cedar: The eastern red cedar is also known as Aromatic Red Cedar. It has straight grains, often with knots, and is found in colors ranging from reddish or violet-brown to yellow.
- Western red cedar: The western red cedar is pinkish-brown to yellowish-white in color and boasts beautiful straight grains with a medium to coarse texture. It’s a great choice for outdoor applications.
- White cedar: White cedar is a cedar species native to Canada. The two main subspecies are the Eastern white cedar and Northern white cedar. They are commonly used in fencing, house siding, decking, outdoor showers, and saunas.
- Spanish cedar: The Spanish cedar has a light pinkish to reddish-brown color that often darkens with age. Although the grain pattern is typically straight, interlocked grains aren’t uncommon.
- Alaskan yellow cedar: The Alaskan yellow cedar has a light yellow heartwood, as the name suggests. However, the color darkens gradually after the wood is exposed to light. It has straight grains with a medium to a uniform texture. It’s rot-resistant and extremely durable.
- Atlas cedar: Cedrus Atlantica, or Atlas cedar, is a cedar species native to the Atlas mountains of Morocco. It is an evergreen tree with eye-catching silvery-blue to bluish-green needles.
- Lebanon cedar: Lebanon cedars, or Cedars of Lebanon, are named because they primarily come from Lebanon. They feature a reddish-brown heartwood with a light-yellow or whitish sapwood. Lebanon cedars have an irregular grain pattern and are very durable.
Cedar Characteristics: What Type of Wood is Cedar?
Cedar characteristics vary from one cedar species to the next. However, the trees share a few general properties as follows;
Cedar is very durable. It lasts decades or even centuries with good maintenance thanks to a natural resistance to deterioration.
This resistance to deterioration is thanks to natural compounds known as thujaplicin found in cedar fibers. These compounds are natural preservatives that make the wood extremely long-lasting.
Cedarwood is generally lightweight. The open-cell structure gives it a lower density (21 kg/ cubic foot) than hardwoods and heavier softwoods.
This quality makes it the perfect choice for portable woodworking projects, such as portable cabinets, chairs, and tables.
3. Workability and Finishing
Its low density and consistency make cedar easy to work with. You can cut, saw, nail, or glue the wood with utmost ease, whether using hand or power tools.
It also plains and sands cleanly and takes a variety of wood finishes, especially paints and stains, when dried and properly primed.
4. Natural Resistance to Rot/Decay
Cedarwood, especially red cedar, has a high decay resistance. It’s in the Class 2 durability in Europe and Australia, the highest category for softwoods.
This natural decay resistance is attributed to extractives in the wood. Extractives are tiny molecules found in wood that are extractable with solvents and often associated with antifungal and anti-rot characteristics.
5. It has a Sweet Aroma
Cedar is one of the most aromatic woods. This is a significant advantage over comparable wood types that produce unpleasant smells, such as teak, laurel, and polar.
The Eastern Red Cedar, in particular, gets its name, Aromatic Red Cedar, because it has a sweet aroma.
Is Cedar a Hard or Softwood?
Cedar is a softwood. Many people wrongly believe it’s hardwood because of its high Janka hardness rating. However, the wood comes from thin-leaved gymnosperm trees, referred to as softwoods.
If you’re feeling a little lost, plants are broadly categorized into two groups – gymnosperms and angiosperms. Both are seed-bearing plants and share many similarities. However, they are different in many ways.
Generally, angiosperm trees are flowering plants with broad leaves and seeds enclosed within their fruits. They form flowers that carry reproductive organs and fruits. Angiosperm trees are typically hardwoods.
On the other hand, gymnosperm trees have thin/narrow leaves and no flowers or fruits. Instead, they bear seeds directly on the surface of the leaves without any cover (the seeds are naked).
The seeds are often configured as cones. Gymnosperms are typically softwood trees. Cedar belongs to a category of gymnosperms known as conifers.
Coniferous trees are plants with needle-like or scale-like leaves that bear cones. Cedar is an evergreen conifer, meaning it remains green throughout the year, unlike perennial trees that shed their leaves seasonally.
How Strong is Cedarwood?
Cedar wood is very strong. Sometimes we’re misled to think that all softwoods are very soft. But that’s not always the case. Although softwoods are generally (on average) softer than hardwoods, some are very hard.
Indeed, a few softwoods are harder than some hardwoods. Cedar is one of them. The two main ways to evaluate the hardness of wood is to measure the compressive strength and Janka hardness rating.
The compressive strength is the amount of weight the wood can hold before cracking or breaking. Meanwhile, the Janka hardness rating measures how well the wood resists scratching or denting.
Additionally, you can evaluate the bending strength and density of the wood as these too affect hardness. Bending strength, also known as the modulus of rupture, is the load the wood can withstand perpendicular to the grain.
Meanwhile, wood density is the ratio of the oven-dried mass of the wood sample to the mass of water displaced by its green volume. In short, it’s the proportion of solid mass in the wood (after discounting the wood pores).
Cedar scores excellently in all four areas. Here’s how western red cedar scores in each category;
- Compressive strength: 6,000
- Bending strength: 7,500
- Red cedar wood hardness: 900
- Density (air dry): 339 kg/m-3
Cedar Hardness vs. Alternative Wood Types
If you’re wondering how cedars compare with other popular hardwoods and softwoods, the following is a brief comparison.
- Douglas fir vs. Cedar: Cedar is harder than Douglas fir, scoring 660 on the Janka hardness scale.
- Yellow birch vs. Cedar: Yellow birch is harder than cedar. While cedar scores 900 on the Janka hardness scale, Yellow birch scores 1260.
- White birch vs. Cedar: White birch, also popular as paper birch, is rated 910 on the Janka hardness scale. So, it’s about as hard as cedar.
- Red oak vs. Cedar: At 1290 on the Janka hardness scale, the northern red oak is also harder than cedar. Remember that white oak is even harder at 1360 Janka.
- Red alder vs. Cedar: Red alder is significantly harder than cedarwood. It scores 2620 on the Janka hardness scale.
- Redwood vs. Cedar: Redwoods are much harder than cedar. For instance, Brazilian redwood scores 3190 on the Janka hardness scale.
In short, cedar is comparable to black walnut (1010 Janka), black cherry (950 Janka), paper birch (910 Janka), and the southern yellow pine (870 Janka) hardness-wise.
Interestingly, cedar is softer than some cypress trees, such as the Australian cypress (1375 Janka) and eucalyptus (1125 Janka).
Uses of Cedar Wood
Cedarwood has applications in various industries because of its natural properties. However, the most common uses of cedar wood are as follows;
- Roofing/making wood shingles
- Making fences
- Making musical instruments, e.g., Spanish classical guitars
- Making Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
- Making high-quality furniture
How to Maintain Cedarwood
Like other softwoods, cedarwood and cedar furniture require proper maintenance for long life. The following are a few maintenance tips to consider.
Paint it with an opaque or solid color
A coat or two of acrylic-based paint is the most effective finish for cedarwood items. It shields the timber from moisture and weathering and completely seals the wood’s color and grains.
Alternatively, consider a solid-color stain finish. Solid-color stains provide an opaque finish while retaining some of the wood’s original texture.
They also provide excellent wood protection against weather elements. Whichever option, your cedarwood items will be protected for 8-12 years.
If you don’t want to block the wood’s natural color completely, a semi-transparent stain would be a very good choice. Semi-transparent stains only pronounce the grains and knots but change the wood’s original color very little.
However, they offer excellent surface protection. You have two options – an oil-based or natural stain. Oil-based stains penetrate deeper into the wood, thus offering better protection from elements such as moisture.
However, it also changes the wood color more. Meanwhile, natural, water-based stains offer excellent protection without penetrating the wood deeply.
In addition, they contain fungicides to inhibit mildew growth. Whichever the choice, you’re guaranteed two years of wood protection.
Transparent Preservatives and Oils
Finally, you can choose a fully transparent finish for your cedarwood projects. Water-repellent preservatives and bleaching oil are two of the best choices.
These products maintain the wood’s charming tones for longer by slowing down the weathering process. Typically, transparent cedarwood finishes last two years.
Is Cedar Waterproof?
Yes, cedarwood is highly waterproof, making it rot and decay-resistant. However, don’t hesitate to waterproof it further to prolong its life. We recommend using a recognized waterproofing material.
What is Cedar Wood Good for?
Cedarwood is good for a lot of applications. First off, it’s an excellent choice for indoor furniture and cabinets, given its strength and sweet smell. Additionally, you can use it in many outdoor applications, including siding, decking, greenhouses, arbors, and fences, because it’s highly waterproof and rot/decay-resistant.
Is Cedar Wood Strong?
Yes, cedarwood is very strong and durable. For instance, the aromatic red cedar has a Janka hardness rating of 900 and compressive strength of 6,000. This makes it almost as strong as the American black walnut rated 1010 Janka, and black cherry rated 950 Janka – two of the most popular hardwoods for woodworking.
Is Eastern Red Cedar a Hardwood or Softwood?
The eastern red cedar, like all cedar species, is a softwood. It’s a coniferous tree that belongs to the gymnosperm family of plants. All gymnosperms are softwoods. That said, though, it’s a very strong tree.
Is Red Cedar a Hardwood?
No, cedars are softwoods. Although the red cedar is very strong at 900 Janka, it’s a gymnosperm derived from coniferous forests. Hardwoods are broad-leaved angiosperms, such as maple and walnut trees.
What Does Cedar Wood Look Like?
Generally, cedarwood has a reddish-brown or pinkish-red color with traces of purple hues, depending on the species. However, it gradually loses the pinkish/reddish color, weathering into a silver or gray tone..
What are the Disadvantages of Cedar Wood?
The main drawback of cedarwood is cost. First, cedarwood is significantly pricier than comparable softwoods and even a few hardwoods. Secondly, cedar fades to a weathered gray color over the years.
Is Cedar Good for Furniture?
Yes. Although it’s softwood, its durability, beautiful colors, and natural resistance to rot and decay make cedarwood a very good choice for making furniture – both indoor and outdoor. It also has a sweet smell.
Is Cedar Wood Expensive?
Unfortunately, yes. Cedar is more expensive than comparable woods. For instance, cedar decking boards range from $4 to $9 per linear foot. By comparison, the Australian cypress, a softwood harder than cedar, costs from $2 per board foot.
What Color is Cedar Wood?
Most cedar species are pinkish-red in color, often with purple tones. However, the wood gradually loses the reddish/pinking tones and fades into a gray or silver color as it weathers over time.
Cedar is softwood, though with a high Janka rating of 900. It also has excellent bending strength and wood density.
These qualities make it one of the most desirable woods among woodworkers. They also make cedar usable in many indoor and outdoor applications. Contact us for more information.