How Strong Is Cedar Wood?

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Most of us are familiar with cedar wood and its various uses.  Perhaps we use aromatic red cedar to build a clothes closet or put a cedar block or a bag of cedar chips in the closet both for its scent and its ability to repel moths.

Perhaps, too, we’ve used cedar to build a deck in the backyard, or some outdoor furniture, or fencing in the yard.  

It has a number of desirable qualities, and those qualities are taken advantage of in these common uses.  In fact, we choose cedar for those qualities (we’ll get to them in a moment) first and consider other aspects of cedar second.

Key Points:

  • Cedar is a strong wood that is capable of supporting heavy weight.  Its compressive and shear strength is listed in charts below.
  • Cedar wood’s color variations from red to pink to purple tones make it a popular choice for woodworkers, and most choose to use a transparent or semi-transparent stain so as not to hide its natural beauty.  It is prized, too, as an aromatic wood in uses such as clothes closets and clothes drawers to repel moths.
  • It will change color over time as it is weathered but is naturally resistant to rot, decay, and insect infestation.  Regular maintenance, especially for exterior projects, will prolong its useful life and keep it looking fresh and new.

We’ve written about cedar in the past, answering common questions about using it in our shop and home, including whether it’s a good choice for a kitchen cutting board, whether cedar stains well, and for how long cedar will repel bugs.  

Today we want to examine its strength and determine whether that should be among the first reasons to use it.

About Cedar

Cedar wood is a type of softwood that comes from cedar trees. We’re most familiar with and most commonly use Eastern red cedar and Western red cedar in our woodworking projects. Cedar wood is prized for its natural weather and insect resistance, its pleasing scent, and its attractive appearance.

Here are some of the key properties of cedar wood:

  • Weather resistance: Cedar is naturally resistant to rot, decay, and moisture. This makes it a good choice for use in outdoor applications, such as siding, shingles, and fencing.
  • Insect resistance: Cedar contains natural oils that repel insects, such as moths, termites, and carpenter ants. This makes it a good choice for use in furniture, closets, and chests.
  • Scent: aromatic red cedar has a pleasant, woodsy scent that is often described as “balsamic” or “medicinal.” This scent can help to repel insects and also has a calming effect on people.
  • Appearance: Cedar has a straight grain and a smooth texture. It is often a light brown color, but it can also be found in shades of red, yellow, and orange.

Cedar wood is a versatile material that has many different uses. It is commonly used for the following:

  • Furniture: Cedar is a popular choice for furniture because of its strength, durability, and insect resistance. It is often used for making chests, closets, drawers, and other storage furniture.
  • Outdoor applications: Cedar is a good choice for outdoor applications because of its weather resistance. It is often used for making siding, shingles, fencing, and decks.
  • Clothing storage: Aromatic red cedar is a popular choice for storing clothing because it helps to repel moths and other insects. Cedar chests and closets are often made from cedar wood.
  • Essential oils: Cedar oil is extracted from the wood and is used in aromatherapy and other applications. It has a pleasant, woodsy scent that is often described as “balsamic” or “medicinal,” and aromatic red cedar is an excellent choice for these purposes.

Cedar is a beautiful and versatile wood that has many different uses. It is a sustainable choice for lumber, as cedar trees are fast-growing and can be harvested without harming the environment. If durability, insect-resistancy, and attractiveness, cedar is a great option.

Cedar’s Different Wood Species

Cedar Planks

There are four main species of cedar trees:

  • Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is a large, evergreen tree that can grow up to 100 feet tall. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is prized for its beautiful wood, which is used for furniture, musical instruments, and other decorative items.
  • Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) is a smaller tree than the Cedar of Lebanon, but it is still a popular choice for landscaping. It is native to North Africa and is known for its blue-green needles and its spreading, umbrella-shaped crown.
  • Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) is a large, evergreen tree that is native to the Himalayas. It is known for its long, drooping needles and its fragrant wood. Deodar cedar is a popular choice for landscaping in warm climates.
  • Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) is a small, evergreen tree that is native to Cyprus. It is known for its bright green needles and its compact, pyramidal shape. Cyprian cedar is a popular choice for bonsai and other small-scale landscaping projects.

In addition to these four main cedar wood species, there are also a number of other cedar trees that are native to North America, South America, and Asia. These trees are often referred to as “false cedars” because they are not closely related to the true cedars of the genus Cedrus.

Some of the most common false cedars include:

  • Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is a large, evergreen tree that is native to the Pacific Northwest. It is known for its strong, durable wood, which is used for a variety of purposes, including construction, furniture, and boatbuilding. It is a beautiful wood favored for its natural appearance. Competing with Western red cedar for attention in the Pacific Northwest of the US  is Yellow Cedar, also known by many other names, including Nootka cypress, yellow cypress, Alaska cypress, Nootka cedar, Alaska cedar, and Alaska yellow cedar. It is actually a cypress tree, though, and not a cedar.
  • White cedar is a coniferous evergreen tree native to Eastern and Northern North America. It is also known as Thuja occidentalis, eastern white-cedar, or arborvitae.  White cedar grows in a narrow, pyramid shape and often have crooked or twisting trunks. They can grow to be 40 – 60 feet tall in full sun and moist to medium-moist soil.  White cedar are members of the cypress family, Cupressaceae.  They’re most abundant in wetlands and along lake shores in the Adirondack Mountains.  They’re used for rustic fencing and fence posts, cabin logs, lumber, poles, and house shingles.
  • Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a small, evergreen tree that is native to eastern North America. It is known for its fragrant wood, which is used for making cedar chests and closets. We mentioned earlier cedar’s use as a moth repellant, and thus its use in clothes closets and close chests.
  • Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is a large, evergreen tree that is native to California and Oregon. It is known for its fragrant wood, which is used for making incense, essential oils, and other products.

Cedar trees are a diverse group of trees that offer a variety of benefits. They are beautiful, durable, and fragrant, and they can be used for a variety of purposes. If you are looking for a tree that is both attractive and functional, a cedar tree is a great option.

Cedar: Hardwood Or Softwood?

Cedar is a softwood. Softwoods come from coniferous trees, which are evergreen trees that produce cones. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, which are trees that lose their leaves in the fall. Cedar trees are coniferous, so cedar wood is a softwood.

Even though cedar is a softwood, it is still a strong and durable wood. It is also naturally resistant to rot, decay, and insects, making it a good choice for outdoor applications. Cedar wood is also known for its pleasant scent, which can help to repel insects and also has a calming effect on people.

Here are some examples of other softwoods:

  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Spruce
  • Douglas fir
  • Hemlock

What Is Cedar Wood’s Janka Rating?

The Janka hardness rating is a measure of the hardness of wood. It is determined by the amount of force required to embed a 0.444-inch steel ball into the wood to a depth of 0.059 inches. The higher the Janka rating, the harder the wood.

The Janka hardness scale for cedar varies depending on the species of cedar. Western red cedar has a Janka rating of 350, while eastern red cedar has a Janka rating of 470. This means that western red cedar is softer than eastern red cedar.

For reference, the Janka hardness scale for some other common woods rates them as follows:

  • Oak: 1290
  • Maple: 760
  • Pine: 560
  • Douglas Fir: 620
  • Hemlock: 600

As you can see, cedar is a relatively soft wood. However, it is still a strong and durable wood, and it is often used for outdoor applications because of its resistance to rot and decay.

Here is a table of the Janka hardness ratings for some of the most common types of cedar:

Type of CedarJanka Hardness Rating
Eastern red cedar470
Western red cedar350
Port Orford cedar720
Alaskan yellow cedar580
Incense cedar470

As you can see, Western red cedar is the softest of the cedars on the Janka scale, with a rating of 350.

What Are Cedar’s Common Uses In The Shop?

Closeup of Cedar Board Stained

Cedar wood is a versatile material that has many different uses. It is commonly used for the following:

  • Cedar Furniture: Cedar wood is a popular choice for furniture because of its strength, durability, and insect resistance. It is often used for making chests, closets, drawers, and other storage furniture.
  • Outdoor Furniture, Fencing, and Decks: Cedar wood is a good choice for outdoor applications because of its weather resistance. It is often used for making siding, shingles, fencing, and decks.
  • Clothing storage: Cedar wood is a popular choice for storing clothing because it helps to repel moths and other insects. Cedar chests and closets are often made from cedar wood. Aromatic red cedar is a perfect choice for these uses.
  • Essential oils: Cedar wood oil is extracted from the wood and is used in aromatherapy and other applications. It has a pleasant, woodsy scent that is often described as “balsamic” or “medicinal.”
  • Musical instrument: Cedar wood is a popular choice for making musical instruments, such as guitars, violins, and cellos. It is prized for its rich tone and its ability to resonate sound.
  • Boatbuilding: Cedar wood is a good choice for boatbuilding because it is strong, durable, and water-resistant. It is often used for making hulls, decks, and other parts of boats.
  • Beehives: Cedar wood is a popular choice for making beehives because it is resistant to rot and decay. It is also a good insulator, which helps to keep the hive cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Cedar wood is a beautiful and versatile material that has many different uses. It is a sustainable choice for lumber, as cedar trees are fast-growing and can be harvested without harming the environment.

What Is Cedar Wood’s Shear Strength?

Cedar’s shear strength is the ability of the wood to resist forces that tend to cause it to slide or shear apart. The shear strength of cedar varies depending on the species of cedar and the direction of the grain. For example, the shear strength of western red cedar is 4.96 MPa parallel to the grain and 5.90 MPa perpendicular to the grain.

Here is a table of the shear strengths for some of the most common types of cedar:

Type of CedarShear Strength Parallel to Grain (MPa)Shear Strength Perpendicular to Grain (MPa)
Eastern red cedar4.505.20
Western red cedar4.965.90
Port Orford cedar6.077.30
Alaskan yellow cedar5.406.30
Incense cedar4.505.20

As you can see, cedar’s shear strength is generally higher parallel to the grain than perpendicular to the grain. This is because the grain of the wood acts like a series of tiny fibers that help to resist shear forces.

The shear strength of cedar is important for applications where the wood is subjected to shear forces. For example, cedar is often used for construction applications where it is used to support heavy loads, a use for which cedar is an excellent choice.

Overall, cedar’s shear strength is a good property of the wood that makes it suitable for a variety of applications.

What Is Cedar Wood’s Compressive Strength?

The compressive strength of cedar wood is the ability of the wood to resist forces that tend to crush it. The compressive strength of cedar varies depending on the species of cedar. For example, the compressive strength of western red cedar is 4,560 psi parallel to the grain and 7,500 psi perpendicular to the grain.

Here is a table of the compressive strengths for some of the most common types of cedar:

Type of CedarCompressive Strength Parallel to Grain (psi)Compressive Strength Perpendicular to Grain (psi)
Eastern red cedar3,9606,500
Western red cedar4,5607,500
Port Orford cedar6,36010,600
Alaskan yellow cedar5,8009,500
Incense cedar3,9606,500

As you can see, cedar’s compressive strength is generally higher parallel to the grain than perpendicular to the grain. This is because the grain of the wood acts like a series of tiny fibers that help to resist compressive forces.

The compressive strength of cedar is important for applications where the wood is subjected to compressive forces. For example and again, cedar is often used for construction applications where it is used to support heavy loads.

Overall, cedar’s compressive strength is a good property of the wood that makes it suitable for a variety of applications.  It represents an excellent strength that commends it for its most common uses.

Does Cedar Wood Require Regular Maintenance?

Cedar wood is a naturally durable wood that is resistant to rot, decay, and insects. However, cedar lumber can still benefit from regular and proper maintenance to help extend its lifespan and keep it looking its best.

The amount of maintenance required for cedar wood will vary depending on the climate and the type of application. For example, cedar siding that is exposed to the elements will need to be cleaned and re-sealed more often than cedar furniture that is kept indoors.

Here are some basic maintenance tips for cedar wood:

  • Cleaning: Cedar wood can be cleaned with a mild soap and water solution. Avoid using harsh chemicals, as these can damage the wood.
  • Sealing: Cedar wood can be sealed with a clear sealant to help protect it from the elements. This should be done every few years or more often if the wood is exposed to a lot of moisture.
  • Staining: Cedar wood can also be stained to change its color or to add a protective layer. However, it is important to use a stain that is compatible with cedar wood.

By following these simple maintenance tips, you can help keep your cedar wood looking its best for years to come.

Here are some additional tips for maintaining cedar wood:

  • Inspect the wood regularly for signs of damage, such as rot, decay, or insect infestation. If you see any damage, take steps to repair it immediately.
  • Keep the wood clean and free of debris. This will help to prevent moisture from accumulating and causing damage.
  • Store the wood in a cool, dry place when it is not in use. This will help to extend its lifespan.

Much of this pertains to appearance and longevity and not to its inherent strength but is an equally valid consideration when working with cedar lumber.  By following these tips, you can help ensure that your cedar wood will last for many years to come. 

Additional Video Information About Cedar

While we were unable to find a video exactly on point about the strength of cedar wood, we did find a short and very informative video on cedar wood generally.  We found it interesting and hope you will, too.

Although somewhat scientific, the charts included in this piece give you an idea of the strength of cedar wood.

Beyond being able to withstand an insect attack, having a natural resistance to rot and decay, having many exterior applications, presenting an aromatic scent, and having natural beauty that it brings to its many uses in woodworking projects, cedar wood is strong enough (compressive strength, and shear strength) to be used in supporting heavy loads.  

It is a strong wood and should not be avoided for uses that will carry a heavy load.  

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