Cedar trees are conifers that belong to the genus Cedrus and are native to the western Himalayas and the Mediterranean region. The wood derived from cedar trees, commonly called cedar wood, has been an important natural resource utilized by various cultures and industries for thousands of years. This article will provide a broad overview of cedar wood, including the different types, characteristics, uses, and environmental impact.
Where Does Cedar Wood Come From?
Cedar wood comes from trees in the genus Cedrus, which contains four main species:
- Atlantic cedar (Cedrus atlantica) – Native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco
- Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) – Native to the western Himalayas
- Cyprus cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) – Native to the island of Cyprus
- Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani) – Native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region
These majestic evergreen trees can grow up to 40-50 meters tall and live for thousands of years. The wood has a distinctive spicy, resinous scent and is naturally repellent to moths and insects. Cedar trees are mostly found in mountainous regions with cooler climates and adequate rainfall. The slow-growing nature of cedars combined with logging has made some species, like the Cyprus cedar, quite rare.
Types of Cedar Wood
There are two main types of cedar wood commercially available – red and white.
Red Cedar Wood
Red cedar wood comes from trees in the genus Juniperus such as:
- Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) – Native to eastern North America
- Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) – Native to western North America
Red cedar wood has a reddish-brown heartwood with light sapwood. It has a warm, woodsy fragrance and is lightweight, soft, and easy to work with. Red cedar is naturally rot-resistant but is not as strong and durable as true cedars. It is commonly used for furniture, closets, chests, paneling, fence posts, and outdoor projects.
White Cedar Wood
White cedar, also known as arborvitae, refers to trees in the genus Thuja, such as:
- Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) – Native to northeastern North America
- Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) – Also classified as a white cedar
White cedar wood is light yellow or tan with very little difference between the heartwood and sapwood. It has a mildly fragrant scent and a fine, even texture. White cedar is lightweight, easy to work, and naturally decay-resistant. Common uses include boxes, crates, interior paneling, posts, and garden borders.
Characteristics of Cedar Wood
Some key characteristics that set cedar wood apart from other woods include:
- Lightweight and soft compared to oak or maple
- Generally uniform texture with a straight grain
- Varies from light reddish-brown to pale yellow in color
- Low shrinkage and stable once dried
- It has a moderately high insulation rating
- Warm, rich hues ranging from pink to deep red-brown
- Distinct, spicy-resinous aroma when cut
- Naturally lustrous with a fine, smooth finish when sanded
- Visually appealing growth rings, knots, and grain patterns
- Works easily with hand and power tools
- Good machining qualities
- Takes nails, screws, and glues well
- Polishes to a natural sheen
- Stains and finishes nicely
- Highly resistant to decay fungi and insects
- Holds up well outdoors without chemical treatment
- Does not easily warp or crack with changes in moisture or heat
- Renewable resource when responsibly managed
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified options available
- Reclaimed/recycled cedar lumber also available
How to Identify Cedar Wood
There are a few ways to distinguish genuine cedar wood:
- Look – Heartwood varies from pink, reddish-brown to pale yellow. Sapwood is lighter in color. Distinct growth rings are visible.
- Smell – Freshly cut cedar has a distinctive spicy, woody scent. The aroma is strong and pleasant.
- Density – Cedar is lightweight and soft compared to many other woods.
- Texture – Smooth and uniform grain with few knots. The wood is relatively soft with little resistance when cutting.
- Burn test – Cedar emits a distinctive fragrance when burned. The ash is powdery and grayish.
Consulting an expert can help confirm the authenticity and source of cedar wood. Reclaimed cedar from old furniture or buildings is also highly valued.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Cedar Wood
Cedar wood offers many beneficial qualities but also has some limitations:
- Natural durability – Resists rot, decay, insects, and weathering
- Fragrance – Pleasant aroma repels moths and other pests
- Appearance – Attractive grain and color
- Workability – Easy to cut, shape, and finish
- Sustainability – Renewable and biodegradable
- Softness – Prone to dents and scratches compared to hardwoods
- Shrinkage – Can shrink and warp if not properly dried
- Expense – True cedar lumber is more costly than pressure-treated wood
- Limited sizes – Not available in long lengths or very large dimensions
- Toxicity – Cedar sawdust may cause respiratory irritation
Cedar Wood Furniture
Cedar is exceptionally popular for constructing outdoor garden and porch furnishings as well as indoor furniture including:
- Tables – Durable cedar tables for patios, decks, and lawns. Naturally insect-repellent.
- Chairs – Cedar chairs, benches, and rocking chairs for indoor and outdoor use.
- Chests – Cedar hope chests, jewelry boxes, and cedar-lined closets. Repels moths.
- Beds – Rustic cedar bed frames and headboards. Provides a fresh evergreen scent.
- Cabinets – Kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, and storage cabinets. Water-resistant and attractive.
- Shelving – For pantries, closets, and display shelving. Lightweight yet strong.
Cedar’s natural beauty, pleasant aroma, and weather resistance make it an exceptional choice. It is less prone to cracking than oak and resists swelling and shrinking. Cedar lumber and cedar furniture can be quite expensive compared to pine but are a smart long-term investment.
Is Cedar Good Quality Wood?
Cedar is considered an excellent quality wood due to its appealing appearance, workability, strength, and natural durability. Advantages of cedar wood include:
- Highly valued for furniture, closets, and hope chests
- It does not easily warp, crack or deform
- Aromatic and naturally insect-repelling
- It retains its scent and resists decay for years
- Polishes to a lustrous, silky-smooth finish
- Comparable to mahogany or teak in quality and appearance
- More stable than pine; less shrinking and swelling
- Suitable for fine woodworking when air-dried properly
Cedar is among the most prized wood for crafting furniture, cabinets, paneling, and other decorative pieces. It has been cherished for millennia due to its beauty, longevity, and resistance to pests. Though expensive, cedar wood’s quality and durability justify the cost for many applications.
Cedar Wood for Burning
The aromatic properties and high oil content of cedar wood make it an excellent firewood choice for fireplaces, wood stoves, or outdoor fire pits.
Some key advantages of burning cedar firewood include:
- High heat output – Cedar has above-average heat energy per cord. It burns hot and fast with little ash.
- Easy to light – The natural oils allow cedar to catch fire swiftly. Easy fire starting.
- Pleasant aroma – Gives off a woody, spicy fragrance when burning.
- Minimal sparks – Less spitting and sparking than conifers like pine. Safer for indoor use.
- Long-lasting coals – Forms long-lasting, glowing embers. Good for overnight burns.
- Fewer emissions – Emits less smoke and air pollutants than many woods.
- Renewable resource – Using responsibly harvested cedar supports sustainable forestry.
However, there are some limitations to keep in mind when using cedar for firewood:
- Smolders readily – The oils and resins can cause cedar to smolder, increasing creosote buildup in chimneys.
- Burns quickly – A cedar cord provides less burn time than denser hardwoods like oak. More frequent loading of wood is needed.
- Limited heat – Cedar rates as medium to low on overall heat output compared to hickory or locust.
- Availability – May be more expensive or difficult to source than other firewood types like ash or maple.
- Sparks concerns – Some precaution is still needed when burning indoors due to cedar’s sap and oils.
Cedar firewood is an excellent option for occasional fires where a quick hot fire and pleasant scent are desired. It’s better blended with hardwoods for primary home heating needs. Properly dried cedar is easier to ignite, burns cleaner, and has reduced risk of excessive sparking.
Is Cedar Wood Good for Burning?
Cedar makes an outstanding firewood for periodic fires due to its flammability, fragrance, and beautiful flames. Key advantages include:
- Lights easily due to natural oils
- Burns hot and fast with great coals
- Gives off less smoke than other softwoods
- Pleasant woody aroma when burning
- Produces beautiful crackling fires
- Renewable and sustainable resource
- Lower emissions than traditional firewood
However, cedar has some drawbacks for primary wood heat:
- Not as long-burning as hardwoods
- Prone to buildup of creosote deposits
- Limited heat output over extended periods
- Can be more expensive than other species
In summary, cedar firewood is suitable for kindling, outdoor, and occasional indoor fires but works best when blended with harder, longer-burning wood for primary heating needs. Properly dried cedar will burn cleaner and more efficiently.
Cedar Wood in Construction
Cedar wood has been extensively used in home and building construction applications for centuries. Some of the reasons it has been prized as a construction material include:
- Decay resistance – The natural oils in cedar provide long-lasting protection from rot and fungal damage, even outdoors. This allows cedar to be used without chemical treatments.
- Siding – Cedar is frequently used for shingles and shakes on homes and cabins. It has good dimensional stability and resists warping.
- Outdoor structures – Decks, pergolas, sheds and other outdoor structures are often built from durable cedar lumber.
- Fencing – Cedar retains its strength and resistance to decay when used for fence posts and planks. No preservatives needed.
- Roofing – Shingles and shakes made from cedar withstand weather, wind, and rain while inhibiting moss and algae growth.
- Interior paneling – Tongue and groove cedar provides attractive, natural-looking interior wall covering.
- Closets and storage – Cedar planks repel moths and prevent fabrics from yellowing during storage.
Cedar’s natural qualities like dimensional stability, workability, and pest resistance give it performance advantages over other woods for construction. However, it is more expensive than pressure-treated wood and requires proper installation and sealing for maximum longevity.
Is Cedar Stronger Than Pine?
When comparing the structural strength qualities of cedar versus pine wood, cedar generally performs better in terms of:
- Hardness – Cedar is rated slightly harder than pine on the Janka hardness scale. This makes cedar more resistant to dents and wear.
- Rot resistance – The natural oils in cedar make it highly decay resistant. Pine requires chemical treatment for comparable rot protection.
- Dimensional stability – Cedar experiences less shrinkage, warping, and checking as it ages. It holds its shape well.
- Weather resistance – Cedar is better than pine when exposed to sun, rain, snow, and other outdoor elements.
- Workability – Cedar is easier to cut, shape, and fasten using nails, screws, and adhesives. Less splitting.
- Appearance – Cedar ages gracefully to a silvery-gray patina over time. Pine can look weathered and worn by comparison.
However, pine has some advantages regarding cost, availability in long length boards, and acceptance of paint and stains. Cedar’s superior strength and longevity make it the preferred choice for many structural applications, including siding, decking, fencing, and outdoor furniture.
Cedar Wood Uses
Some of the most common uses for cedar wood include:
- Outdoor furniture – Patio tables, chairs, benches, and lawn decor are often made from cedar for its weather resistance.
- Decking – Cedar deck boards withstand moisture, molds, and decay. Provides a beautiful rich red-brown color.
- Interior paneling – Tongue and groove cedar panels make attractive, natural-looking wall and ceiling coverings.
- Closets and chests – Cedar boards repel moths, so ideal for lining closets, chests, and storage trunks.
- Siding – Cedar shingles and shakes make durable and decorative siding with natural decay resistance.
- Fences and trellises – Cedar retains its strength for posts, rails, pickets, and garden trellises.
- Outdoor structures – Used for garden sheds, pergolas, gazebos and other decorative outdoor structures.
- Shingles and shakes – Roof shingles and shakes made from cedar are attractive and highly weather-resistant.
- Kindling – Splinters of cedar wood catch fire easily making cedar useful for starting fires.
Cedar’s combination of beauty, longevity, and pest resistance make it a cherished wood for countless household uses indoors and out.
Cedar Wood Pricing
Cedar wood costs more than pressure-treated pine but less than exotic imported hardwoods like teak or mahogany. Some factors impacting cedar wood pricing include:
- Species – True cedars are more expensive than woods marketed as red or white cedar.
- Grade – Clear, knot-free boards are graded higher than common boards with more knots.
- Size – Wider boards and thicker dimensional lumber costs more per board foot.
- Preparation – Kiln dried, planed, or pre-cut lumber adds cost over rough-sawn boards.
- Source – Domestic cedar is usually cheaper than imported cedar lumber.
- Quantity – Buying in bulk saves money compared to small hobbyist quantities.
- Market conditions – Prices fluctuate based on supply availability and market demand.
On average, expect to pay $4 to $8 per board foot for domestic cedar lumber, and $300 to $700 per 1,000 board feet. Cedar is considered a premium wood, so is more of an investment than standard treated lumber. But its beauty and longevity make it a worthwhile choice for many applications.
Cedar Wood Value
Cedar is one of the most valuable and coveted woods in the world, renowned for its combination of beauty, durability, and natural pest-resistance:
- It has been used for over 5,000 years in ancient civilizations
- Cherished as a construction wood for temples, palaces and ships
- Valued in the millions for large, reclaimed old-growth cedar logs
- Regarded as a precious resource leading to over-harvesting
- Prized for making long-lasting furniture, chests, closets
- Ideal for siding, decks, fences due to decay resistance
- Used for essential oils and incense due to its aromatic qualities
- Represents wealth, purity, and sustainability in many cultures
- Remains a relatively rare and expensive wood from slow-growth trees
- Symbol of endurance and longevity with life spans over 1,000 years
Few other woods rival the prestige and value attached to cedar’s sturdy, fragrant, and beautiful red-hued lumber. Its historical significance and broad utility make cedar one of the world’s most treasured trees.
Cedar Wood Price
Cedar lumber is generally priced as follows depending on the grade, size and other factors:
- 1×4, 1×6, 1×8 (common) – $3-5 per linear foot
- 5/4×6 Decking (select) – $4-6 per linear foot
- 2×4, 2×6 Studs (construction) – $4-7 per linear foot
- 4×4 Posts (structural) – $10-15 per linear foot
- 1×4 Shiplap Siding (clear) – $6-10 per linear foot
- 6×6 Timbers – $15-25 per linear foot
- 16″ Handsplit (No. 1 Grade) – $85-100 per square
- 18″ Handsplit & Resawn (No. 1 Grade) – $100-120 per square
- 24″ Tapersawn (No. 2 Grade) – $80-110 per square
Cedar Lumber (Kiln Dried, Planed)
- 1x Common Boards – $4-8 per board foot
- 5/4 & 6/4 Decking – $6-10 per board foot
- 4/4 Clear Boards – $7-12 per board foot
- Timbers & Beams – $10-20 per board foot
These prices vary based on the source region, species, volume purchased, and current market conditions. However, cedar remains one of the more expensive lumber options than pine, fir, or pressure-treated woods. Its natural beauty, weather resistance, and durability make cedar a worthwhile investment for many exterior and interior applications.
Health and Healing Properties of Cedar Wood
For centuries, cedar wood has been valued for its purported health and healing benefits:
- Respiratory relief – Cedar steam or sauna vapors helps clear congestion and sinuses.
- Calming effects – Cedar incense, oils, and aromatherapy induce relaxation and sleep.
- Meditation aid – Cedar scents enhance focus, insight, and spiritual rituals.
- Antifungal properties – Natural compounds in cedar inhibit molds, mildew, and fungal growth.
- Insect repellent – The aroma drives away moths, spiders, fleas, roaches, and other bugs.
- Skin clarifier – Historically used in facial steams and baths to cleanse skin.
- Joint relief – Cedar leaf extracts reduce inflammation and arthritis when applied topically.
- Pain reliever – Compounds in cedar wood have mild analgesic effects.
- Heart health – Antioxidants in cedar help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
However, more research is still needed to verify these benefits in humans fully. But, the anecdotal and traditional use of cedar for health and purification persists.
Does Cedar Repel Bugs?
Cedar wood contains compounds called thujones that naturally repel various insects and pests. Some examples include:
- Moths – Cedar repels cloth-eating moths. It’s used in chests and closets.
- Roaches – Roaches dislike cedar’s strong scent. It’s used in repellent sprays.
- Ants – The aroma deters ants. Chips are used to fill ant mounds.
- Ticks – Some research shows cedar oil repels ticks. Used in backyard sprays.
- Mosquitos – Studies suggest cedar extracts deter mosquitos. The smell masks human scent.
- Fleas – Powdered cedar was historically used to kill fleas and animal lice.
- Termites – Cedar mulch and boards deter termites from gardens and homes.
However, cedar oils dissipate over time, so effectiveness diminishes. It works best alongside other integrated pest management strategies for protecting textiles, furnishings, and homes from insects. The natural scent provides a safe, non-toxic repellent option.
Environmental Impact of Cedar Wood
Cedar wood offers sustainable advantages but also raises some environmental concerns:
- Renewable resource when forests are responsibly managed
- Biodegradable and recyclable lumber
- It needs no chemical preservatives to resist decay
- Absorbs and sequesters carbon as it grows
- Slow tree growth means limited availability
- Old-growth cedar logging threatens rare ecosystems
- Popular use leads to overharvesting and poaching
- Can harbor invasive species when transported
- Allergic reactions in some individuals when inhaled
- Support responsible forestry programs and certified wood
- Choose locally sourced cedar to reduce transportation impacts
- Use recycled or reclaimed cedar lumber when possible
- Properly finish and maintain cedar products to maximize lifespan
- Compost unused cedar instead of sending to landfills
Responsible sourcing and manufacturing practices allow cedar to remain an ecologically sound wood choice for generations. Conservation efforts to preserve old-growth cedar forests are crucial for maintaining this precious natural resource.
Cedar trees have been valued worldwide as an important natural resource and cultural symbol for millennia. The wood derived from cedar displays exceptional beauty, durability, and pest resistance, making it a cherished material for crafting furniture, chests, outdoor structures, shingles, and many other useful items that stand the test of time. While overharvesting remains a concern, cedar wood’s renewability, strength, and aroma should ensure it remains an integral part of both natural ecosystems and human societies for centuries. With responsible stewardship and sustainable forestry practices, this ancient, magnificent tree will continue inspiring and enriching lives across generations.