Redwood. Cedar. A battle for the ages in the decking and outdoor lumber industry. Who has what it takes to come out on top? To help us decide, we went to the source.
For cedar, specifically western red cedar, we turned to the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association (realcedar.com) to find out all there is to know about cedar. Our source for information on redwood was Humbolt Redwood (getredwood.com), the largest California Redwood supplier in America.
So, what’s the difference between Redwood and Cedar?
The research is clear: both redwood and cedar suppliers believe their product is the best. No surprise there. So which is really better, redwood or cedar? As we dug a little deeper into each product we discovered some important factors worth mentioning. In our redwood vs. cedar research, we focused on four main categories: appearance, environmental-impact, longevity, and value. Whether you’re building a deck, pergola, or fence, here are 8 factors that can help you decide between cedar or redwood.
It’s tough to determine a winner in this category, but there is definitely a difference in appearance. Western red cedar, unless stained a different color, will naturally have a yellowish tone, while redwood has a noticeably more reddish-brown hue (there’s a reason it’s called “redwood”). Both are beautiful in their own right, but if you’re planning to use a tinted stain or paint your deck or timbers you might want to go with cedar because it costs less and has a lighter natural color. Regardless of which wood you choose, both will eventually turn a silver-gray if not periodically maintained.
Who Wins? It comes down to your personal preference.
Your project or budget may determine the type of grain or number of knots you want in your wood. With 30 grades of redwood and 10 grades of cedar, you can get just about any grain you want with either product. Because redwood is harvested primarily from large old growth trees, there are typically fewer knots overall than its cedar counterpart. Redwood is also more readily available in “clear” grades, which means there’s no knots at all. When it comes to overall smoothness, redwood has a slight edge over cedar. Again, it’s hard to choose a winner of this category since every project requires a different look, but based on grade availability redwood wins by a narrow margin.
Who Wins? Redwood for smoothness, but your project will ultimately decide.
Although this list is suppose to show the differences between redwood and cedar, these species are very similar when it comes to being eco-friendly. Both have product certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), both are 100% natural products, and both claim to be more environmentally-friendly than composite brands. Because redwood is primarily harvested in northern California and western red cedar comes from Canada, the environmental requirements are almost identical.
Who Wins? They’re both winners in our book!
Western red cedar and redwood may have the same environmental certifications, but can they grow new trees as fast as they harvest old ones? Sustainable growth is obviously important if either industry plans to stay in business, and both have done an excellent job at harvesting responsibly. Since it takes 50+ years for cedar or redwood seedlings to be harvestable, the growth process isn’t an exact science. According to a cedar growth study, second growth western red cedar is just beginning to be harvested and is producing a high quality product. However, Humbolt Redwood takes it a step further saying they harvest less than the annual growth rate, meaning they are growing more redwood than they are harvesting.
Who Wins? Neither product is going away anytime soon, but redwood is the one saying they grow more than they harvest.
Finally, a difference that we can actually measure! To determine the hardness of redwood and cedar, we are using the janka hardness test. Redwood - with a janka rating of 450lbs - is about 23% stronger than cedar (janka rating of 350lbs). Whether or not the extra strength is necessary for your project is up to you, but clearly redwood is more durable than cedar in general.
Who Wins? Redwood, but that doesn’t mean cedar can’t handle your project.
Both cedar and redwood give almost identical tips for cleaning, color restoration, and finishing. With either product, soap and water is going to clean most dirt and stains. Mildew can be taken care of with a little bleach and water. For restoring color (due to extractive bleeding or iron stains) use an oxalic acid-based product. Redwood and cedar naturally contain tannin (a chemical that gives the products their color), which keeps the wood insect resistant. Since California redwood has a higher level of tannin, it could be more rot resistant than cedar.
Who Wins? It’s too close to call.
7. Cost Comparison
We can’t speak for every region, but in Texas (TimberTown HQ) redwood products are 15% higher in cost on average than the same cedar products. For instance, a 2x6x16 foot board of redwood decking is about $36, while that same board in cedar decking is less than $31. This is why almost all the fences built in Central Texas use cedar fence pickets. So, although redwood may have a leg up in strength and durability, cedar has the best price point.
Who Wins? Cedar, depending on the region.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to supply and demand. The availability factor will depend on your region, but overall western red cedar is in much greater supply than California redwood. Producing almost 1 billion board feet a year, cedar is easily accessible anywhere in the country. Redwood is definitely the popular choice for projects in the Northwest region of the U.S., but it may be harder to find exactly what you need for your project in other regions.
Who Wins? In Texas: cedar. In Oregon: probably redwood.
And the winner is…
Up to you. The bottom line is you need to choose the best option for your specific project. Thinking about the look you want, your budget, and product availability will help you decide if redwood or cedar is better for you. Regardless of which you choose, you’re getting an excellent product!
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