Working with Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar house, deck & chairs

Western Red Cedar house, deck & chairs

When it comes to Western Red Cedar Lumber, J. Gibson McIlvain’s inventory is second-to-none. By understanding the exceptional quality of this one-of-a-kind wood, you can appreciate the myriad applications for which it can be used.

For starters, you may have heard people using alternative names for Western Red Cedar Lumber. Some of those include the following: red cedar, redcedar, giant cedar, Oregon cedar, and cypress. All of those terms refer to the same kind of lumber, though; it’s produced by evergreen conifers that grow primarily in the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. While these trees grow in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, they’re especially prominent in B.C. The Latin name for the trees means “tree of life,” which captures the wide range of uses coastal aborigines found for this durable but lightweight wood. Traditionally, Western Red Cedar lumber was used for dugout canoes to hand tools, while its bark was used to make rope, baskets, and even clothing items.

Western Red Cedar lumber is prized for its durability and subsequent longevity. Resistant to insect damage and decay, some fallen Red Cedar trees have retained their integrity for up to 100 years! Some of the reasons for this wood’s remarkable stamina is found in the preserving abilities of its natural oils. Combined with that intrinsic benefit, proper finishing techniques and maintenance make finished products well-equipped to stand the test of time.

While the wood from many species of trees may be equally durable, most is much heavier in weight. The combination of Western Red Cedar lumber’s resilience to decay, combined with its lightness in weight make it perfect for outdoor, fencing, and furniture. The wood’s low density translates into thermal insulation and acoustics, too, so using it for paneling and siding brings value that extends past mere aesthetics.

Western Red Cedar siding

Western Red Cedar siding

One fairly unusual quality of this wood is that it’s considered to be hygroscopic, meaning that it has dimensional stability that helps it to attain equilibrium with its atmosphere by releasing and absorbing moisture, by turns. This characteristic helps it to avoid shrinkage, warping, twisting, or checking like many coniferous woods are prone to do.

While Western Red Cedar trees may reach heights up to 200 feet and have trunks with diameters over 10 feet, they seem small compared to their second cousins, the California Red Woods. Both types of trees, however, have bases that appear swollen and fluted, with oversized, drooping branches that shade smaller plants around them. Compared to Red Woods, Red Cedars are more flexible, resisting shattering. For that reason, hydro-electric posts are made from Red Cedar lumber. By comparison, Redwoods are more dense and oily than Red Cedars, making them resistant to gluing and staining and more likely to split when penetrated by screws.

For more information about recommended applications for Western Red Cedar lumber, you can contact the softwoods team at J. Gibson McIlvain.

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