Types of Cedar
Many types of cedar wood are only available in a limited and regional capacity. Your range of choices will likely be determined by the region you live in. Western Red Cedar is the most widely available cedar type across the U.S. Unless you live in the region where other types of cedar are harvested and milled it may be difficult to find a source. Check with your local lumberyards to see what they can offer you.
Western Red Cedar – The most common type of cedar you are likely to find at your local lumberyard. Western Red Cedar is more rot resistant than Eastern varieties. It also comes from a significantly larger tree so it can yield a larger variety of dimensional lumber. It is native to the Pacific Northwest. WRC is moderately soft and light weight, and its heartwood is extremely decay resistant and exhibits little shrinkage. The wood is generally straight grained and has a uniform but rather coarse texture. The heartwood of western red cedar is fragrant reddish or pinkish brown to dull brown and the sapwood is nearly white.
Eastern White Cedar – Not nearly as common to find in most parts of the United States as WRC. It is also somewhat less desirable than its larger cousin. These trees are native to Eastern Canada and the North Central and Eastern parts of the United States. Most of the large trees were harvested in the late 1800’s. It is light weight, moderately soft and naturally resistant to rot and insect infestation. The heartwood of Eastern white pine is a light brown, sometimes with a reddish tinge, turning darker on exposure. The sapwood is white, tinged with yellow. It has a uniform texture, is easily worked with tools, shrinks little, is straight grained and has a high nail holding ability to stay in place. It has medium strength values and accepts stains, glue and finishes well.
Atlantic Cedar - Atlantic White Cedar is native to the Coastal Plain of the Eastern US. The wood has a characteristic aromatic odor when freshly cut and has a faint bitter taste. The sapwood of Atlantic White Cedar is narrow and white, while the heartwood is light brown with a reddish or pinkish tinge. It is light weight and has a fine texture and a straight grain. It is moderately soft, low in shock resistance and is weak in bending and endwise compression. It is very resistant to decay, works easily with tools, shrinks little, finishes smoothly, holds paint well and splits easily.
Incense Cedar – These trees can reach ages up to 500 years old. Incense Cedar is native to the mountains from western Oregon to southern California and the northern Baja Peninsula of Mexico. The sapwood of Incense Cedar is a creamy white, while the heartwood is light brown to light reddish brown. The heartwood has an aromatic, spicy odor, and is highly resistant to decay, even in the wettest of conditions. It holds paint extremely well, has an unusually straight grain, and has high dimensional stability. It also works well in structures that are subjected to considerable temperature fluctuations. It works well with hand tools and machines well, forming smooth surfaces. It glues and nails well, but blunt nails should be used to avoid splintering the wood. It is rated as moderately-low to low in strength, shock resistance, stiffness and hardness.
Northern White Cedar – Native to Eastern Canada and the North Central and Eastern parts of the U.S. It has an even grain, fine texture, and the lowest density of any commercial domestic wood. Because of this it is often also used for building canoes. It is soft and has low mechanical properties (bending and compressive strength, hardness, stiffness, shock and splitting resistance and nail and screw holding ability). The sapwood of Northern White Cedar is thin and white, while the heartwood is a light brown. The wood has an aromatic spicy ‘cedary or pencil-like’ odor. The heartwood is resistant to decay and subterranean termites. It is easy to work with hand tools. It is dimensionally stable and holds paint well.
Port Orford Cedar - Port-Orford-Cedar is native to a narrow zone near the Pacific Coast from southwest Oregon to northwest California. The sapwood of Port Orford Cedar varies from nearly white to a pale yellowish brown and is 1 to 3 inches wide. The heartwood is yellowish white to pale yellowish brown. It weathers to a light gray, with a silvery sheen, without checks. The wood has a fine, even texture and the grain is even and straight. It has a characteristic odor described as "gingerlike" and a bitter, spicy taste. It is moderately light in weight and is stiff, strong, hard and somewhat shock resistant. It shrinks slightly when dried, with little tendency to warp. It works well with tools and holds paint and polishes well. The heartwood is highly resistant to decay. It has been used for mine timbers and to make match sticks.
Southern Red Cedar - Southern Red Cedar is native to the Coastal Plain of the Eastern United States, from northeast North Carolina south to central Florida and west to southeast Texas. The heartwood of southern Red Cedar is a dull red. The wood is straight grained, light weight, soft and weak. It works and finishes well. It is extremely aromatic and repels insects.