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Though there are many imitators out there with similar names and second-rate qualities, beautiful Western Red Cedar gives you durable, versatile, and sustainable wood. Let's break down the facts as to why Western Red Cedar might be the perfect choice for your next project.
Contrary to its name, Western Red Cedar is not actually cedar at all! It is a softwood coniferous tree grown in the Pacific Northwest in responsibly managed forests. It is considered the most sustainable wood in production.
Western Red Cedar's varying shades of reddish-brown heartwood and creamy white sapwood make its lumber exceptionally beautiful. It would probably be in high demand even if this were its only benefit. But there's a lot more to it.
The oils produced by the tree make it naturally resistant to rot, decay, and insects. It is even water repellent. These factors mean that it will last a long time with little maintenance when you use it outdoors. It doesn't even have to be stained or sealed for longevity but can be easily painted or stained for a different look.
Cedar is incredibly porous, meaning the grains aren't tightly compacted. It has a higher air content than less porous woods like pine or oak, making it incredibly lightweight compared to other woods. The air content also prevents it from warping and gives it excellent insulative qualities. Even in direct sun, cedar stays relatively cool to the touch, making it an ideal choice for decking or playscapes.
Most lumber is graded on appearance, with the rating often based on the board's number of knots or defects. However, Western Red Cedar is graded on two factors: use and appearance.
Because cedar lumber is such a soft wood, it is graded first by use based on its dimensions. Any cedar board less than 2" thick is graded as "appearance" because the wood wouldn't be strong enough to provide structural support.
"Structural" cedar boards are 2" or thicker in width. Structural cedar may be used as support beams, framing lumber, joists, or in other heavy-duty applications. Appearance grade cedar lumber is often used for applications like cedar shingles, trim, and siding.
Clear and knotty grading on cedar references the lumber's natural characteristics like the number or size of knots and the number of color variations. Clear cedar has a minimal number of knots in it, and the knots it has are very tight, meaning they won't move or fall out and blend in well with the surrounding surface.
When cedar is cut, the color can vary quite a bit based on the location of the lumber inside the tree and other factors. Clear cedar boards have minimal color variation on each board, giving them a clean and crisp look. Knotty cedar has a rustic look, with more apparent knots. The boards can vary quite a bit in color, providing a natural look.
The last grading in Western Red Cedar lumber is the texture of the finish.
Rough-sawn Western Red Cedar lumber is not sanded to a smooth finish. It has a raised grain that gives it a rustic look. Rough-sawn Western Red Cedar is the most common option and includes posts, beams, siding, and more. Due to its exposed wood grain, rough-sawn Western Red Cedar readily accepts stains and sealants.
Surfaced Western Red Cedar lumber is sanded down to a smooth finish and doesn't have any raised wood grain, giving it a refined, finished look. Select Western Red Cedar lumber has been surfaced on just one side. Since it isn't as refined, it's more cost-effective than cedar surfaced on all sides. It's great for trim, birdhouses, or other applications that only require a single side with a smooth finish.
When deciding on which type of lumber to use for your next project, you may be wondering how Western Red Cedar and treated lumber compare. There are a few things to consider when choosing which lumber is perfect for your project.
The difference in hardness between Western Red Cedar lumber and treated lumber is quite drastic. Western Red Cedar is a very soft wood, prone to denting and scratches. This helps give it a rustic charm but does have drawbacks.
Western Red Cedar is easy to work with power tools like saws and drills because of its soft nature. Be careful, though! The dense metal from these tools can cause discolorations on the cedar. Striking it with a hammer may cause dents.
The softness of the lumber also affects its stability in ground-contact situations. You'll need to treat it before using it as fence or deck posts.
Treated lumber, on the other hand, is very hard. This makes it much more challenging to work with when using power tools. However, it has greater structural integrity than Western Red Cedar. It may be more appropriate in areas with heavy traffic or when stability is the most important consideration.
Western Red Cedar lumber is very low maintenance. The natural oil in the wood acts as a preservative and protects the lumber from rot, bugs, and water damage. This oil helps Western Red Cedar lumber last for up to 30 years without the aid of chemical preservatives.
The combination of the wood's oil and the density means that it isn't necessary to stain or seal the lumber. Unsealed cedar lumber will eventually age to a silver color so many people use a stain or transparent sealant to preserve its rich red tones.
Pressure-treated yellow pine lumber is not naturally decay-resistant, so it is infused with a chemical treatment to increase its longevity. Treated lumber is available in several treatment levels, allowing the lumber to be used in all sorts of situations, from salt-water immersion to above-ground use. It can last up to 20 years when maintained properly. Due to the chemical treatment, it can have an unnatural coloring, so many people prefer to stain or paint treated lumber, which adds to the lumber's required maintenance.
Because of its natural decay-resistance and longevity, Western Red Cedar lumber generally has a higher upfront cost than pressure-treated lumber. Its overall low-maintenance qualities help even out the price over time. Treated lumber may not last as long and will need more long-term care to maintain its integrity.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to choosing lumber for your projects. However, Western Red Cedar's rustic charm and natural rot-resistance make it perfect for outdoor projects like playgrounds, pergolas, and decks. Check out the video below for a sample project and see how beautiful this sustainable wood truly is.