Cedar wood is one of the most beautiful woods. Its gorgeous color and straight wood grain easily stand out. Additionally, cedar is strong, naturally rot resistant, and easy to stain or paint.
Unfortunately, cedar wood is a gymnosperm or “softwood.” Therefore, it’s naturally softer than the average hardwood. Moreover, softwoods are not as durable as hardwoods and tend to succumb more readily to external elements, including weather and pests.
So, given these properties, is cedar wood good for outdoor use? Can you make high-quality patio chairs and benches from cedar? Let’s find out.
Is Cedar Good for Outdoor Use?
Yes. Cedar wood is widely viewed as a good choice for outdoor projects. First, it’s a strong softwood that is more durable than popular hardwoods. Additionally, cedar wood is naturally rot-resistant and highly resistant to weather. Above all, cedar is less expensive than oak and more lightweight than teak wood, two of the most common outdoor furniture woods.
Why Cedar Wood is Good for Outdoor Use
Cedarwood, especially the western red cedar, makes a good choice for outdoor applications for many reasons;
Cedar wood is beautiful
Outdoor furniture must be beautiful as they help with first impressions. This is especially true for patio furniture. Fortunately, cedar is a very beautiful wood species.
The western red cedar exhibits a faint reddish tinge that draws compliments. Meanwhile, the white cedar has a creamy appearance that stands out easily. Furthermore, both species feature a straight wood grain pattern that homeowners adore.
Naturally rot resistant
Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to humid nights and other outdoor conditions predispose outdoor furniture to rot and decay. Therefore, you want naturally rot and decay-resistant wood for your outdoor furniture. Otherwise, you must heavily treat the furniture against rot.
Cedarwood is naturally resistant to rot and decay-causing microorganisms. Indeed, cedar, alongside redwood and cypress, is considered the premier choice for building outdoor projects because it requires no treatment to shrug off rot and decay.
Naturally repels bugs and insects
Outdoor structures are constantly exposed to pests and bugs that can chew on the wood and bore holes into the structures, weakening the items and shortening their life. Therefore, cedar’s natural resistance to pests and bugs is a big plus.
But how does it repel bugs and insects? It all has to do with the natural oils. Cedar boasts natural oils that most pests and bugs cannot withstand. In fact, cedar natural oils are used in pesticides and essential oils to repel fleas, ticks, and moths.
Resists weather elements
Outdoor elements, including direct exposure to sunshine, humid climates, rain, and ultraviolet (UV) light, can take a toll on your furniture. For instance, direct sunlight easily causes fading, and rain can cause warping and rotting.
Cedar is naturally resistant to many of these elements. For instance, the plant’s natural UV-protectant chemicals guard cedar furniture from fading. Additionally, tiny air pockets contained in cedar wood provide ingrained insulation, protecting the furniture from excessive heating even in scorching hot summers.
Finally, the best outdoor structures are low-maintenance, whether it’s your favorite Adirondack chair or fence posts. For instance, you don’t want to refinish the structure after every summer season or constantly worry about the wind toppling over your chairs.
Fortunately, that’s what you get with cedar wood structures. The highly wear-resistant wood retains its natural colors for a long time thanks to the natural resins. Additionally, cedar wood resists dents and splits even under substantial stress.
Disadvantages of Outdoor Cedar Furniture
Despite the long list of advantages, outdoor cedar wood furniture pieces aren’t without downsides. The following are a few potential challenges to watch out for;
Cedarwood isn’t as strong as hardwoods
You may have noticed that most outdoor wood structures are made from hardwoods, such as teak and oak. The main reason is strength. These woods are extremely hardy and highly resistant to abuse. So, they can last several decades, even in extreme conditions.
Cedarwood is strong and hardy too – but not to the level of top hardwoods. For instance, although it resists dents, hardwoods like ipe and mahogany are much better in this regard.
As a result, cedar outdoor furniture items typically last 10-20 years, whereas some hardwoods, such as ipe, can last 70+ years outdoors.
Cedar wood is expensive
A major question when buying outdoor furniture is whether you’re getting value for money. So, does cedar give you value for money?
Unfortunately, not always. First, let’s compare cedar against cheaper alternatives like cypress. Untreated cypress is more durable than untreated cedar and offers higher resistance to rotting – at a much lower cost. The same applies to pine. It’s much more resistant to wear and dents while costing a fraction of the price of cedar.
Another option is treated wood. Is it worthwhile to pay more for untreated cedar or get treated pine for half the price? It may not be financially wise, given treated pine better withstands outdoor environments.
Do You Need to Treat Cedar for Outdoor Use?
The short answer is – NO. You don’t necessarily need to treat cedar wood for outdoor use as it can withstand exterior conditions without extra help.
However, if you’re wondering whether treatment improves the wood’s qualities and suitability for outdoor projects, the answer is a big – YES! Here’s why;
- Treated cedar wood is more resistant to weather elements.
- Treated cedar wood is more resistant to rot and decay.
- Treated cedar wood is more resistant to pests and insects.
- Treated cedar wood is more resistant to bending and warping.
Consequences of Leaving Outdoor Cedar Structures Untreated
If you’re unconvinced, consider the following consequences of leaving cedar structures untreated.
- Faster fading due to oxidization: Untreated western red cedar gradually fades to silver-grey in a few years. While it’s usually a beautiful grey tone, it’s a far cry from the stunning pinkish-red color. Treating the wood slows down the aging process.
- Splitting and cracking: Cedar is naturally resistant to cracking and splitting. However, no wood is completely split-proof. Unfortunately, repeated contractions and expansions due to seasonal changes can increase the risk of warping and, consequently, cracking. Treating the wood reduces the risk of cracking by reducing weather damage.
- Limited durability: Though highly durable, untreated cedar can only last 20 years outdoors, beyond which it begins to show signs of degradation. Treating the wood can prolong its lifespan by another 20 years or more.
How to Treat Cedar Wood for Outdoor Projects
Cedar wood takes to paint, stain, and sealers very well. Moreover, you can use oil-based or water-based finishes. You have a few options; opaque/solid-color finishes, semi-transparent solutions, and clear cedar finishes, transparent preservatives and oils.
Opaque/solid-color finishes (last 8-12 years)
Opaque and solid-color finishes offer the highest protection of all finishes, shielding the timber from moisture and weather elements. Unfortunately, they completely conceal the wood’s natural properties, including the color and grain pattern, though some stains retain the wood’s texture.
So, we recommend this category of finishes if you want to take full control of the project’s appearance or add a little charm and excitement. Make sure to choose the right color.
Semi-transparent finishes allow you to make subtle changes to the wood’s appearance without completely blocking the natural color or texture. Additionally, the knots remain visible. Meanwhile, they offer excellent surface protection.
You have two broad options here – oil-based finishes and water-based solutions. Oil-based stains deeply penetrate the wood, providing a substantial color change. Meanwhile, water-based finishes only penetrate a few micrometers into the wood but are more environmentally friendly.
Transparent preservatives and oils
Finally, a coat of bleaching oil or water-repellent preservative offers modest surface protection without altering the wood’s appearance. For instance, they slow down the greying process.
However, remember that modest preservatives don’t offer long-lasting protection. You need to reseal the wood every year or so.
How to Stain Cedar Outdoor Furniture
We recommend a semi-transparent oil-based stain to protect outdoor cedar furniture. Here’s how to stain the project;
- Wood stain
- Pre-stain conditioner
- 220-grit sandpaper
- Clean rags/old cloths
Staining Cedar Furniture: Step by Step Guide
Step 1: Clean and sand the wood surface: Use a few rags to wipe down the surface to remove dirt and debris. Then use 220-grit sandpaper to sand down the entire surface and wipe away the sanding dust using more rags.
Step 2: Apply the pre-stain conditioner: A pre-stain conditioner prepares the surface for staining, enabling better adhesion and spread. Additionally, cedar is a highly porous wood. So, a pre-stain reduces the absorption rate and limits the appearance of bubbles, blotches, and streaks. Allow the conditioner to dry for 30 minutes.
Step 3: Apply the first coat: Dip the brush end into the can of stain and apply a thin layer to the wood. Always stain in the direction of the grain to prevent the brush strokes from crossing each other. Then wipe off the excess stain with a dry rag.
Step 4: Allow to dry, then apply the second coat: Although most stains dry within eight hours, it’s best to let it dry overnight for the best results. Then apply the second coat and allow it to dry for another 24 hours.
Cedar Outdoor Applications
- Outdoor cedar furniture
- Garden furniture
- Cedar benches
- Wood carving
Additional Outdoor Cedar Wood Project Tips
- Off-season storage: Move the furniture to a covered area during the off-season. Alternatively, cover it with off-season covers.
- Don’t use cedar for structural projects: Cedar wood is an excellent choice for exterior cladding, pergolas, corbels, exterior trim, shingles, and decking. However, it’s not great for beams and truss construction. Douglas fir is a good alternative for structural projects.
- Don’t go cheap on fasteners: For instance, electroplated nails produce black streaks as the wood’s natural tannins react with the nails. So, high-quality stainless steel fasteners are the best. Alternatively, go for hot-dipped galvanized fasteners.
How long does cedar last outdoors?
Cedar wood is naturally durable and resistant to rot, decay, and insect attacks. It also resists moisture, requires minimal maintenance, and doesn’t warp readily. So, outdoor cedar projects can last many years. For instance, depending on maintenance, a cedar deck lasts 15-20 years. Some can last longer.
What happens if cedar gets wet?
Cedar belongs to a special category of tree species containing natural wood preservatives that protect the lumber from water and moisture. However, that doesn’t mean cedar is 100% waterproof. For instance, the wood will expand and develop tiny cracks if it soaks in water for too long.
Cedar wood is an excellent choice for outdoor projects, including indoor furniture, garden furniture, and benches. It’s hard, strong, and naturally resistant to rot, decay, and moisture.
Moreover, cedar is a beautiful wood with a gorgeous grain pattern. However, you want to stain the wood to amplify its beauty and prolong its life. Above all, only use cedar for appropriate outdoor projects.