Information on Cedar
This page discusses the almost magical wood - Cedar. You will find a wide range of facts and information about both Western Red Cedar and Northern White Cedar that will inform and maybe even surprise you. Native to western North America, Western Red Cedar is a most remarkable natural product and one of the most highly-prized softwoods, renowned for its natural beauty and outstanding physical properties. Northern White Cedar is native to the U.S. northeast and the adjoining Canadian provinces.
The continuing popularity of cedar is due to its striking natural beauty, durability, and affordable price. Because of its durability in an exterior environment and its extremely low maintenance, cedar is an ideal choice for long-lasting, affordable outdoor patio, deck, and lawn furniture. Cedar furniture has also found popularity as an indoor furniture, desired for its sturdy rustic look. Northern White Cedar is especially well suited for indoor furniture.
Cedar's unique properties and characteristics have been recognized and appreciated throughout history. The Western Red Cedar has great cultural, economic, and spiritual significance to the Native American peoples of the Pacific Northwest. They used every part of the tree in every aspect of their life.
Our cedar furniture and garden products are made from two different cedar species: Western Red Cedar and Northern White Cedar. These cedar species are both evergreen conifers in the cypress family. They share many similar charactersitics, however being different species, also have several differences.
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
Western Red Cedar is found in the coastal forests along the upper Pacific coast of North America, from southern Alaska to northern California. The principal supplying region is the coastal forest area of British Columbia (where the Western Red Cedar is the official tree). Cedar naturally grows in mixed softwood forests intermingled with other species such as Douglas Fir, Pacific Coast Hemlock, and Sitka Spruce. Western Red Cedar forests are largely managed forests. In a managed forest environment, natural regeneration, controlled harvests, and a planned reforestation program try to ensure a perpetual harvest with good forest conservancy practices.
Western Red Cedar grows in low to mid elevations, along the coast and in a wet belt of the interior. It prefers cool, moist locations, and a slightly acidic soil. The tree can be described as large to very large, with a tapering trunk that often spreads widely at the base. A mature tree can attain a height of 180 feet with a trunk diameter of 8 feet. The Western Red Cedar is slow-growing and long-lived. A specimen can live upwards of 1000 years, and has one of the longest lifespans of any North American softwood. Cedar has a low density of 22 lbs. per cubic foot, with a low specific gravity of 0.33. This makes it one of the lightest softwoods available, but also soft, and prone to indentation. The low density also gives cedar it's excellent thermal insulation properties.
The heartwood of Western Red Cedar contains extractives that are toxic to the decay-causing fungi. Two principle agents responsible for this decay resistance are Thujaplicans (taken from the scientific name for Western Red Cedar) and water soluble phenolics. The tree's ability to produce these agents increases with age, making the outer layers of the heartwood the most resistant. (In general, sapwood, in all species, has a low resistance to decay) These naturally occurring substances repel moths, insects, termites, carpenter ants and bees, and ambrosia beetles - the bugs just don't like cedar and prefer to eat elsewhere.
Western Red Cedar has very distinctive heartwood and sapwood. The sapwood is whitish-cream in color, seldom greater than 1" wide in mature trees, and is clearly delineated from the heartwood. The heartwood color varies considerably more, and is not consistent in color at all. Freshly cut Western Red Cedar can vary from a dark chocolate brown color to a salmon pink, and can be variegated. The color ages to the more familiar reddish-brown, and eventually to a silver-gray with exposure to the elements.
Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
Northern White Cedar is an evergreen tree with fan-like branches. Native to the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, Northern White Cedar prefers to grow in wet forests. Although not currently listed as endangered, the species is threatened in some areas with a high deer population, as the deer eat the soft evergreen foliage.
The Northern White Cedar is a much smaller tree than the closely related species, Thuja plicata or Western Red Cedar. The tree grows to a height of 25-65 feet, with a trunk diameter of 1 to 2 feet. The Northern White Cedar is slow-growing and long-lived, with specimens achieving 1000 years or more. Often the tree is found stunted, twisted, or growing prostate on the ground.
Northern White Cedar has a low density of 19 lbs. per cubic foot. This makes it one of the lightest softwoods available, but also soft, and prone to indentation. Strong and lightweight, the low density also gives cedar it's excellent thermal insulation properties. The bark is red-brown, however the wood has a creamy-white color. The Northern White Cedar also contains chemical compounds which make it naturally decay and insect resistant.
Properties of Cedar
Cedar wood is typically straight and even-grained. Because of its height and growth habit he Western Red Cedar tree in particular produces a trunk that is usually free from side branches for many feet up, leaving the outer layers of the tree knot free and clear. This feature makes the timber especially suited for quality joinery and woodworking (such as furniture). Cedar, although lightweight and not dense, has 80% of the strength of oak. It is light, yet strong - a rare combination (An example is the use in ladder poles because of its light weight, strength, straight grain, and freedom from knots)
The low density of cedar accounts for its outstanding dimensional stability. Density is directly related to dimensional stability. The less dense a wood is, the less it tends to shrink and swell in response to changes in moisture content. Cedar's low density allows it to be stable, even in humid environments. This same low density gives cedar a high thermal co-efficient. It is an excellent insulator. For furniture, this means that even on hot summer days the furniture is comfortable to sit upon.
Perhaps the most famous of cedar's properties is its resistance to rot, decay, and insects.
The naturally occurring oils produced by the tree discourage most wood-eating insects. The death rate for termites consuming cedar varies with the source and the termite species - from 100% in several days to 40% in several weeks. Termites prefer other food than cedar, but some species will consume cedar if no other food source is present. If you live in termite-prone areas, and you plan to allow your cedar furniture ground contact, you might wish to treat the furniture with a quality wood preservative. Consult professionals in your area to determine the severity of the problem, and to ascertain what products they recommend. The same chemicals that deter insects from eating cedar are what give it the distinctive cedar aroma that most people find so pleasant, and why cedar is used to line clothes closets and to make cedar chests for clothes storage.
The insect resistant quality of cedar makes it a good choice if you are looking for an alternative to chemically treated wood. Much of the outdoor furniture that you find today achieves it's exterior durability through a toxic chemical treatment. These chemical preservatives require warning labels for those who handle and work the wood. The three major ingredients of some pressure-treated wood are copper, chromium, and arsenic (CCA).
If you have small children or are chemically sensitive yourself - you do not want outdoor or indoor furniture made from these materials.
Cedar is lightweight and easy to work. Most woodworking operations are a pleasure to perform with cedar. You can cut, shape, plane, sand, fasten, glue, and finish cedar with ease. It is available in long lengths of timbers with straight and true grain. It is extremely stable dimensionally, and rarely cracks, splits, warps, twists, or cups - it remains straight and flat.
Among all the softwood species, cedar is considered to have the best finish-retention properties. It has an exceptional ability to retain many types of finishes. This is due primarily to the wood's outstanding dimensional stability. But other factors also contribute, including a fine texture, a growth pattern with narrow bands of summer wood, and freedom from pitch and resin. (See Finish for options on finishing your cedar furniture.)
Cedar is the preferred wood for nearly any purpose where an attractive appearance with resistance to weather and decay is desired. It is one of the most desirable of woods to use for outdoor furniture, and complements a rustic interior perfectly. Beautiful - Light - Strong - Decay & Insect Resistant - Finishes Well - Reasonable in Price. What's not to like?
General Product Info page
Finish Options page
Cushion Info page