Western Red Cedar is a popular wood among woodworkers. It is beautiful, stable, durable, and sweet smelling. Due to its inherent properties and characteristics, woodworkers love to use this wood for fencing, cladding, decking, and even landscaping projects. Nevertheless, if you genuinely consider using this wood, it will be best to know more about its intrinsic properties.
If you are a beginner in woodworking, you might get confused about which wood to use for your initial project. Thus, knowing the different wood types is imperative to select the most suitable one for your project. However, when choosing a wood type, you must consider several factors like the appearance of the wood, its workability, hardness, durability, and many other factors. For example, if you want to use Western Red Cedar, it will help to study its properties and characteristics to ensure it is perfect for your project.
What Is Western Red Cedar?
Western Red Cedar naturally thrives in British Columbia and other western states of the United States. It is a flexible and versatile timber with many applications. Besides, it is famous for its durability and remarkable beauty, with rich colors ranging from sienna brown to mellow ambers. It also features a fine-grained and uniform texture with a distinct satin luster.
The scientific name of Western Red Cedar is Thuja plicata. It is an evergreen conifer belonging to the Cupressaceae family. It is also called Giant Arborvitae, Western Arborvitae, or Pacific Red Cedar.
Western Red Cedar tree has a pyramidal form and can have a maximum height of 200 feet or 60 meters. Moreover, it can have a maximum circumference of 6 meters.
Western Red Cedar Exhibits remarkable durability because its heartwood contains compounds like Phenolics and Thujaplicans, which protect it from fungal attacks. Besides, it shows exceptional resistance to cupping, warping, and twisting, making it perfect for paneling, cladding, and screening. Thus, western red cedar is the most sought-after wood material for any outdoor woodworking project.
Characteristics and Properties of Western Red Cedar Wood
The Western Red Cedar tree produces excellent wood with an elegant reddish-brown tone. It also has a straight grain, ideal for excellent workability and dimensional stability. Its grain also shows no knots.
Moreover, it has outstanding durability, which is one factor you should look for in wood. So, if you are looking for attractive and weather-resistant wood, Western Red Cedar will be the go-to wood.
The heartwood of Western Red Cedar carries a pinkish-brown tone with streaks of darker brown and red. Besides, its sapwood is narrow with a lighter yellowish-white tone. The sapwood is also not sharply delineated from the heartwood.
The natural appeal and attractiveness of Western Red Cedar are remarkable. In fact, this wood is considered a premium wood when it comes to beauty. Thus, it is perfect for traditional as well as contemporary architectural forms and designs.
Besides, its warm color with chocolate and pink salmon streaks creates an excellent finish. Nevertheless, you can never find Western Red Cedar wood with the same qualities and forms.
Woodworkers and designers love Western Red Cedar for its delicate and uniform grain with a knot-free look and appearance. If you don’t sand it, its excellent medium texture manifests itself.
Applications and Uses of Western Red Cedar
Given the abovementioned qualities and properties of Western Red Cedar, it is but apropos that this wood has many applications and uses. It is a perfect timber for many applications, including outdoor projects.
- Western Red Cedar is ideal for fencing, decking, and cladding. It is also perfect for building garden features and furniture. You can also use it for fascia and paneling. Working with this wood using machines and hand tools is easy.
- Nevertheless, it can scratch and dent easily and tends to sand unevenly because of the density difference between latewood and earlywood zones.
- Another distinct characteristic of Western Red Cedar is its unique aroma. Its leaves also have a natural oil utilized as an ingredient for perfume and cosmetic uses. Some manufacturers of musical instruments also use this wood for their guitar soundboards. Additionally, it also gets used as a component for beehives.
- Native people have long used Western Red Cedar for their canoes, clothing, housing, totem, instruments, masks, and poles. So, it has a long history of domestic usage in the United States.
The video below perfectly depicts the most useful applications of Western Red Cedar wood species in woodworking in great details.
Advantages of the Using of Western Red Cedar Wood in Woodworking
If you are a beginner in woodworking, you might be carefully considering using Western Red Cedar for your project. It will help if you know the following advantages of the use of this wood:
One factor you need to consider when choosing wood is its resistance to rot. So, before opting for this wood, you need to ask whether it is highly resistant to decay and moisture. Western Red Cedar is famous for its high level of decay resistance.
Besides, if you would peruse most building codes, you will see that this wood gets classified as durable in most building codes. With this classification, you could use it for exterior applications sans treatment.
As mentioned above, it has natural compounds like Phenolics and Thujaplicins, which naturally repels fungus. Fungi find this substance highly toxic, preventing them from affecting this wood. Besides, this substance builds up on the outer part of this wood which makes the outermost part of the wood durable.
Elegance and Beauty
Western Red Cedar is known for its elegance and beauty. Its natural beauty makes it a favorite of designers and woodworkers. Its tonal properties are remarkable, and you can expect an excellent finish from this wood.
Using this wood, you can create elegant outdoor projects and make traditional decorations with exceptional features and designs. You can use it likewise to produce cutting-edge interior designs.
Western Red Cedar is a versatile wood that you can use for various applications. It is resin-free and pitch-free. As such, it holds well those elegant finishes. It can accept with ease those beautiful dark stains and chic bleaches.
Western Red Cedar also nicely receives those classic semi-transparent finishes and solid colors. Besides, this wood comes in a wide range of dimensions, grades, and textures, allowing you enough options from which to choose.
Durability and Hardness
You might be surprised that the Janka Hardness rating of Western Red Cedar at 350 lbf, which is way below the Janka ratings of other wood types. Compared to Brazilian Cherry (2,350), for example, and Mesquite (2,345), two of the hardest wood types, its hardness level pales. Compared to Black Walnut (1010), and Douglas Fir (660), you will notice that its Janka Hardness rating is way below.
So, you will correctly assume that Western Red Cedar is more susceptible to scratches and dents. Using this wood in areas with heavy traffic and high impact is not advisable. You might as well go for other wood types in such a case.
Western Red Cedar allows for ease of workability, given that it is a softwood. Besides, it accepts finishes well. As mentioned above, it lacks pitch and resin, which facilitates the gluing and working with it.
You can use sawing and cutting machines or manual hand tools on this wood without worrying about blunting the cutting edges. However, you must take extra care not to dent and scratch this wood because it is soft. Its softness also makes it difficult to sand evenly.
If you use fasteners, it will be best not to use iron-based fasteners because they could easily stain this wood. Moreover, when nailing this wood, refrain from using iron-based nails. Instead, use stainless steel nails because this wood’s natural compounds may react and cause blotting and staining on the wood.
Heat Conducting Property
If you’re living in a place with extreme weather, you should consider the thermal conductivity of the wood you will use. Wood, of course, is remarkable for its insulating properties. Hence, you can use wood to insulate your home.
Western Red Cedar comes with high-insulating properties. Its thermal conductivity coefficient is at 12% mc/0.74 BTU inch/square foot °F, and per inch/ thickness, its R-value is 1.35/inch. Thus, if you use this wood as an insulator, you can expect it to provide superior insulation for your home.
Another factor to consider is stability. Western Red Cedar comes with low density. Thus, it has excellent dimensional stability and can retain its shape over time. Its shrinkage and expansion are minimal. It has better dimensional stability compared to other softwoods. It also exhibits high resistance to twisting, warping, and cupping. For this reason, it is a good choice for exterior use.
Commercial Availability and Sustainability
One of the most sustainable wood types is the Western Red Cedar. The Western Red Cedar wood you can find in the market today was cut from managed sources, ensuring this wood’s high sustainability. It is also very much available compared to other wood types.
You can buy this wood in various visual stress grades, lengths, thicknesses, and widths. You can also buy it in knotty or clear grades with a combed or smooth surface. Besides, you got the option of buying it unseasoned or kiln-dried. You can also choose between the vertical and flat grain.
Levels of Difficulty When Working with Western Red Cedar
Aside from knowing the Advantages of using Western Red Cedar wood, it will also help if you are familiar with the level of difficulty involved in working with this wood:
When drying Western Wood Cedar, the difficulty ranges from moderately easy to quite difficult. You can quickly dry thin boards of this wood and expect less degradation of the wood. However, it holds well to its moisture. So, you need to take extra care when drying thick stocks. You also need longer drying sessions for this wood.
Sawing this wood is easy because it features low density. However, the wood’s compounds can easily corrode your cutting blades.
Staining is easy, and you can achieve a smooth texture with this wood. However, you might find it hard to hide this wood’s natural texture in some instances. Besides, as you apply a darker stain, the coloring may obscure some of its grain structure.
You can apply clear coats to this wood with ease. Choose a high-build clear coat for the optimum result if you use wood derived from coastal Western Red Cedar trees. But if you’re using Red Cedar derived from the continent’s interior, you can apply the best clear finish.
Most Common Questions on Western Red Cedar
Many beginners in woodworking are often asking more questions about the Western Red Cedar. If you’re one of them, it will be best to be cognizant of the following FAQs, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:
Does the Western Red Cedar Have the Tendency to Turn Grey?
Western Red Cedar is not UV-light resistant. As such, if you expose it to the elements like UV light, it will turn silvery grey over time. This color might be okay for some. Yet, you can quickly avoid this by applying a finish to this timber.
Would Water Affect Western Red Cedar?
The Western Red Cedar is not totally waterproof. As such, it will be affected by water over time. However, it has intrinsic moisture-resistant properties that could prolong its life outdoors. However, since it is not entirely waterproof, it will be best to apply treatment to it to make it completely waterproof.
Is Western Red Cedar Classified as Hardwood?
As mentioned above, the Janka Hardness rating of Western Red Cedar is 350 lbf which means its hardness rating is too low. This rating also indicates it has very low density. However, since it is from a coniferous tree, it is a softwood.
Is Western Red Cedar Rot-resistant?
Western Red Cedar is not rot-resistant. It is, however, fungal resistant because of the compounds it contains. These compounds are toxic to fungi that causes wood decay. It will eventually rot if left uncared for outdoors. Nevertheless, Western Red Cedar will last longer if you treat it.
Western Red Cedar belongs to the Cupressaceous family of trees, which means it belongs to the Cypress group of trees instead of being a natural Cedar. This tree is long-lived, and the oldest verified tree is aged 1,460 years old. This tree inhabits regions with damp weather where fungi, insects, and microorganisms thrive.
For this reason, this tree has developed remarkable self-protective properties that let it fend off fungi and insects. These properties make Western Red Cedar advantageous for home building in places with humidity and temperature issues.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.