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Eastern Red Cedar vs. Western Red Cedar: A Guide to Their Differences

Timber Knowledge
02 August 2023 min read

Eastern Red Cedar vs Western Red Cedar: A Guide to Their Differences

When choosing the perfect wood for your woodworking projects, it's crucial to understand the subtle yet significant differences between various species. 

More specifically, in the realm of cedar: eastern red cedar and western red cedar. 

While they may share similar names, these two cedar types are distinct in appearance, scent, durability, and application. 

This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the contrasting characteristics of eastern red cedar and western red cedar, allowing you to make an informed decision based on your woodworking needs.



1. Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) boasts a captivating reddish-brown colour, featuring distinctive knots and grains that add character to any woodworking project. The sapwood, which tends to be lighter in tone, provides a beautiful contrast to the darker heartwood, making it aesthetically pleasing to the eye. 

This type of cedar also displays remarkable natural patterns, with some boards exhibiting striking streaks of purplish hue.


2. Western Red Cedar

On the other hand, western red cedar (Thuja plicata) exhibits a broader range of colours, including pale yellow, light brown, and reddish-brown shades. 

Further, the wood shows a straight, sometimes slightly wavy, grain pattern that adds a touch of elegance to any woodworking creation. Also, western red cedar often contains dark brown or red knot streaks, enhancing its visual appeal.



1. Eastern Red Cedar

One of the most distinct qualities of eastern red cedar is its aromatic fragrance. The wood emits an enchanting scent often described as earthy and spicy. This natural fragrance is due to oils within the wood, which contribute to the pleasing aroma and acts as a natural insect repellent. 

As a result, eastern red cedar is highly sought after for building closets, drawers, and chests, providing a pleasant smell while offering protection against moths and other pests.


2. Western Red Cedar

While western red cedar possesses a mild fragrance, it’s considerably milder than its eastern counterpart. The aroma of western red cedar can be described as a subtle, sweet scent with hints of pineapple. Although less prominent, this fragrance adds an understated charm to woodworking projects.



1. Eastern Red Cedar

When it comes to durability, eastern red cedar offers exceptional resistance to rot, decay, and insect damage. Natural oils and resins in the wood act as a barrier, making it highly resistant to weathering and degradation. 

As a result, eastern red cedar is widely used for outdoor applications such as decking, fencing, and outdoor furniture. However, it’s worth noting that eastern red cedar is relatively soft, making it susceptible to dents and scratches.


2. Western Red Cedar

The western variety also possesses impressive durability, making it suitable for exterior applications, such as siding, shingles, and outdoor structures. Further, the wood contains natural oils that enhance its resistance to decay and insect infestation. 

What’s more, western red cedar's stability and ability to withstand moisture make it an excellent choice for saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms.



1. Eastern Red Cedar

Due to its exceptional durability and natural resistance to pests, eastern red cedar is commonly used in exterior applications. It’s especially suitable for decking, fencing, pergolas, and outdoor furniture. The wood's aromatic properties also make it ideal for creating closets, drawers, and chests. 

Additionally, its distinct appearance, characterised by its reddish-brown tones and knots, also makes it sought after for decorative panelling and trim work.


2. Western Red Cedar

Western red cedar finds extensive use in various applications due to its versatility and durability. 

It’s highly favoured for exterior siding, shingles, decking, and interior purposes such as panelling, trim, and furniture. And the wood's lighter colour palette and straight grain offer a refined contemporary appearance, making it particularly popular for modern architectural designs.


The Workability of Eastern Red Cedar vs Western Red Cedar

Naturally, the differences in workability between eastern and western red cedar can also influence your choice of wood.


1. Eastern Red Cedar

The eastern variety is moderately soft, making it easy to work with hand and power tools. However, due to its brittle nature, it can be prone to tear out during machining operations. Therefore, crafting detailed pieces requires skill and care. As a benefit, the wood glues and finishes nicely, adding to its appeal in fine woodworking applications.


2. Western Red Cedar

Western red cedar is softer than its eastern counterpart. It's also highly resistant to splitting caused by screws and nails, making it an excellent choice for carpentry projects. 

Despite its softness, it sands, cuts, and shapes remarkably well, ensuring a smooth finish. The wood also holds stains and paints exceptionally nicely, offering you a range of customisation possibilities.

To summarise, eastern and western red cedar have unique advantages. Eastern red cedar, with its robust fragrance and brilliant colour, is perfect for projects where a standout appearance and scent are preferred. 

In contrast, western red cedar, with its exceptional workability and softer tone, is ideal for projects that require a refined finish and intricate detail. 


Woodshop Direct: Leading Provider of Quality Cedar Wood Products

Both eastern and western red cedar share the same family name, but they each possess unique characteristics that set them apart. 

Eastern red cedar's reddish-brown colour, aromatic fragrance, and exceptional resistance to decay make it an excellent choice for outdoor applications and storage solutions. In comparison, the western variety's diverse colour range, mild scent, and impressive durability are highly versatile and suitable for indoor and outdoor projects.

When choosing between eastern red and western red cedar for your woodworking needs, consider the specific features you desire, the intended application, and the overall aesthetic you wish to achieve. Woodshop Direct offers a wide range of eastern and western red cedar, enabling you to choose the perfect wood to bring your woodworking visions to life. 

So, take the time to explore these two varieties' unique qualities, and make your pick knowing you have made an informed choice.