Few wood species are more common than cypress. Though not the strongest or most charming, it has applications in nearly every industry that uses timber, from canoe and boatmaking to flooring and construction.
Moreover, cypress’ many cultural and health applications make it highly respected in many communities. But for today, we’re only concerned with its physical properties.
We will look at how strong it is and some of the common uses of cypress lumber. So, is cypress a hardwood or a softwood? Let’s find out.
Is Cypress a Hardwood or a Softwood?
No, cypress is not a hardwood. It is a softwood with a Janka hardness rating of 510 lbf. This puts it in the same range as spruce and below Douglas fir. However, many wood grading associations group cypress with other hardwoods because of its hardwood-like durability and not resistance.
What is Cypress Wood?
Scientifically known as Callitris Calumelaris, cypress is a softwood native to the Mediterranean region, Asia, and North America. In the US, cypress trees grow naturally along the Atlantic coastal plain and Mexican border up to the Mississippi River Valley.
It naturally grows alongside hardwoods, often in wet swampy areas. The tree is from the wider Cupressaseae family, a group of conifers that shed foliage in the fall. Other famous trees in the Cupressaseae family are pines and cedars.
Cypress trees are mainly characterized by needle-like leaves, light-yellow to medium-brown heartwood, and white sapwood.
The timber has a straight grain pattern with a uniform, medium texture. However, sometimes you may notice tiny attractive holes in the grain caused by fungus. Boards with such holes are known as pecky cypress.
It’s a fairly lightweight wood with a density of 510 kg/m3, equivalent to 32 lbs/cubic foot. This makes it denser than the southern yellow soft pine, poplar wood, and western red cedar. However, it’s below ashwood, Douglas fir or Oregon pine.
Cypress has many uses and applications, ranging from outdoor furniture, garden furniture, siding, boat making, and construction.
See also: Is Beech a hardwood?
Types of Cypress Trees
There are dozens of cypress wood species, from Italian cypresses to Monterey cypress. But we’ll only look at the most common species;
- Bald cypress: Bald cypress trees are native to Florida and thrive in pondy areas. They are characterized by a waterlogged root system that wounds around the knees. Bald cypress is also known as swamp cypress.
- Yellow cypress: Nookta cypress, also known as Alaskan cypress or yellow cypress, is native to the American west coast. It produces near-uniform yellow timber.
- Chinese weeping cypress: The Chinese weeping cypress is characterized by pale green leaves. The drooping limbs earned it the name “mourning” cypress.
- Southern cypress: The southern cypress is native to Australia. For instance, it’s widely spread in southern Australia, where the forests grow naturally.
- Red cypress: Red cypress gets its name from its red hue. It starts out as amber, somewhere between yellow and orange, then progresses to a reddish hue as the wood matures.
- Dwarf cypress: The dwarf cypress is a fragile cypress species native to the southeast of the US. It’s called a “dwarf” because it rarely exceeds 30 feet, whereas other cypresses easily reach 70+ feet tall.
- Others: Other common cypress varieties are the Arizona cypress, Hinoki cypress, lemon cypress, and Leyland cypress.
Cypress Wood Characteristics
Although there are many cypress varieties, they share several characteristics. The following are standard cypress wood properties.
- Appearance: Cypress is a desirable wood with a light yellowish-brown or rich golden color. Meanwhile, the sapwood is white. Old growth cypress is a darker brown, while younger trees are light-colored.
- Grain pattern: Cypress has a straight, compact grain pattern and a medium to rough texture. Occasionally, you may notice attractive pockets in the grain resulting from fungus attacks. These are known as pecky cypress and are in high demand for farm-style decors.
- Durability: Cypress wood is very durable, making it suited for building and construction projects. Its natural oils protect the wood from weather elements, physical damage, and UV. Thus, it lasts a lifetime outdoors without treatment and 100+ years with good maintenance.
- Decay resistance: Cypress is highly resistant to wood decay. The exceptional decay-resistant traits are thanks to an oily resin that makes cypress wood out of reach for decay-causing fungi.
- Natural water resistance: Cypress is highly resistant to water and moisture. Indeed, a few people call it waterproof, though this is an exaggeration as no wood is waterproof. Nonetheless, its high water resistance makes it perfect for wooden flooring, siding, and outdoor benches.
- Insect resistance: Cypress is highly insect resistant, again thanks to the oily resins. This is the main reason it makes an exceptional fencing material. It puts off termites, borers, and booths that ravage most outdoor wood projects.
Is Cypress a Hardwood or a Softwood?
Cypress is a softwood. There’s great confusion around this topic because cypress is often graded as hardwood by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. But no, it’s not hardwood. Instead, it’s a softwood from the same family as pines and cedars.
How strong is cypress?
Cypress has a Janka rating of 510 bf. This means you need about 510 pounds of force, equivalent to 2269 Newtons, to drive a round steel ball halfway through a standard cypress wood board.
Cypress wood compressive strength
The southern yellow cypress has a compressive strength of 24.61 MPA, equivalent to 3490 PSI. This value tells you the amount of load the wood can bear parallel to the grain without breaking. So, it’s very important for end-grain surfaces.
Thus, cypress has a lower compressive strength than popular hardwoods like cherry and maple but higher than common softwoods like poplar, elm, and chestnut.
Cypress wood tensile strength
Southern yellow cypresses have a tensile strength of 1.93 MPa, equivalent to 289 PSI. Again, this is within the range of desirable softwoods.
For instance, pine has a tensile strength of 2.10 MPa, while Douglas fir is rated at 3.24 MPa. As the name suggests, tensile strength tells us how far the wood can stretch without breaking.
You might also want to look at the difference between Douglas fir and cedar wood.
Janka rating for common cypress species
Perhaps you’re wondering how the various cypress species compare in strength and hardness. Here’s a brief Janka test comparison.
- Australian cypress – 1360 lbf
- Mediterranean cypress – 560 lbf
- Nootka cypress – 580 lbf
- Leyland cypress – 430 lbf
Read also: Is birch a hardwood?
What is Cypress Used for?
Cypress is a versatile wood with endless applications in construction, woodworking, and many other industries. The following are common ways professionals use cypress poles and boards.
- Exterior siding
- Outdoor furniture
- Fence posts
- Boat docks
- Wall coverings
- Interior paneling
Cypress Flooring Pros and Cons
The main advantage of cypress wood floors and furniture is decay resistance. Most wood types are susceptible to rot, requiring extensive treatment to last more than a few years outdoors.
Moreover, decay-prone wood cannot be used below or in contact with the ground. For instance, maple fences are not practical because the wood easily decays when installed below the ground surface.
Cypress is the complete opposite. Although you can treat it for extra longevity, cypress posts and furniture can live outdoors for a lifetime without treatment. This is why cypress makes the perfect material for fences and decks. (Read our article on the best redwood sealant to discover more about the optimal protection for redwood projects )
Its natural oils keep out moisture and water while protecting the wood from rot and decay-causing fungi. Meanwhile, the biggest drawback of cypress wood is its rough texture.
Although a beautiful wood with a golden yellow or light brown color, the texture makes it very difficult to work with, especially for interior applications. That’s why it works best outdoors.
Other pros and cons of cypress floors are as follows;
Cypress floor pros
- High rot resistance
- High water resistance
- Highly workable
- It’s hard and strong
- It’s affordable
- Readily available
Cypress floor cons
- Distinctive odor
- Poor wood density
Cypress Compared to Popular Alternatives
The good news when wood shopping is you always have plenty of options. So, let’s see how cypress stacks up against popular alternatives.
Is cypress harder than cedar wood?
It depends on the type of cedar wood, red cedar or white cedar. For instance, the standard cypress (510 lbf) is harder and stronger than the Western red cedar (380 lbf). However, it’s not as strong as the aromatic cedar (900 lbf).
That said, cypress is overall more resistant to dents and scratches than cedar. It’s also more resistant to decay, rot, and insects.
Is Cypress harder than pine wood?
Cypress is stronger than sugar pine and white pine as both pine species score 380 lbf on the Janka scale. However, it’s softer than yellow pine (870 lbf).
More importantly, cypress, including yellow pine, is more durable than all pine species. Its natural oils provide exceptional protection from weather elements, decay, and rot-causing agents. However, sealing pine for outdoor use can improve its strength and durability.
But, according to the ash Janka hardness rating, cypress is not harder than ash.
Is cypress harder than oak wood?
No, cypress is softer than oak wood. The main reason is that oak is a hardwood while cypress is a softwood. For instance, the American red oak has a Janka rating of 1290 lbf, while white oak has a Janka rating of 1320.
However, you’ll be excited to know that cypress outdoor wood fences are more durable than oak fences.
Is cypress harder than teak wood?
No, cypress is softer than teak. However, the exact difference in strength comes down to specific tree species. For instance, the Brazilian oak, rated 3300 lbf on the Janka scale, is 6x stronger than cypress.
Meanwhile, the Burmese teak, 1050 lbf, is only about twice as strong as cypress wood. Note that teak is one of the few wood species more durable than cypress.
Is cypress harder than redwood?
Cypress is usually harder than redwood. While both woods have different levels of hardness, cypress tends to be denser and more durable.
Redwood hardness might be lower in comparison. This makes cypress a favored choice for outdoor projects like decking and siding due to its resilience against decay and insects.
You might want to explore the topic of “Is redwood hard or soft?” to gather additional insights about the hardness of redwood.
Is cypress wood valuable?
Yes, cypress is one of the most valuable softwoods thanks to its superior physical properties and endless applications. For instance, pine is more rot-resistant than nearly all other softwoods and a few hardwoods. Also, it’s highly moisture-resistant. Therefore, it’s highly sought-after for wooden fences, exterior siding, and roofing shingles.
Is cypress wood good for anything?
Yes, cypress is good for many applications. For instance, its durability, structural stability, and rot-resistant qualities make it a popular choice for building and heavy construction. In addition, cypress is good for bridges, caskets, doors, posts, and railroad ties. Generally, it’s perfect for any application where the wood contacts the ground.
Is cypress good for furniture?
Yes, cypress is good for outdoor furniture. It’s a moderately hard and strong wood that’s highly resistant to outdoor elements, including harsh weather and rain. Moreover, cypress is highly rot and moisture-resistant. So, it makes durable patio and garden furniture. Unfortunately, it’s not the best choice for indoor furniture.
How long does cypress wood last?
Cypress wood easily lasts a lifetime with good maintenance. However, the durability depends on other factors like the climate and type of application. For instance, in-ground cypress lasts 25+ years with good maintenance. Meanwhile, cypress decks last 50+ years, and cypress patio chairs last 100+ years if properly sealed.
What does cypress wood look like?
Cypress is ordinarily light, yellowish-brown wood with a straight grain pattern and medium to coarse texture. Meanwhile, the sapwood is very light, typically off-white. However, the color varies slightly depending on the cypress species, age, and health. For instance, the old-growth cypress is a darker brown shade, while younger trees are light yellow.
Is cypress wood good for outdoors?
Yes, cypress wood is perfect for the outdoors, particularly old-growth trees. The trees contain an oily substance known as cypressene which functions as a preservative, shielding the wood from insect attacks and rot-causing fungi. As such, cypress projects can last a lifetime outdoors untreated and 100+ years when treated. This makes it one of the most durable woods for outdoor use.
Is cypress wood expensive?
Yes, cypress is expensive compared to other wood types in its class. For instance, it’s significantly more expensive than pine and almost at par with western red cedar. However, it’s cheaper than Douglas fir and most hardwoods. Also, the prices depend on the lumber grade. Finish grades (also known as select grades) are very expensive as they are of the highest quality.
Recommended read: Is cedar a hard or softwood?
Cypress is a softwood with a Janka rating of 510 lbf. However, many wood grading associations group it with hardwoods due to its physical properties.
It’s an exceptionally strong and durable wood with unmatched rot and decay resistance qualities.