Northern White Cedar

Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

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Common Name(s): Northern White Cedar, Eastern Arborvitae

Scientific Name: Thuja occidentalis

Distribution: Northeastern North America

Tree Size: 50-65 ft (15-20 m) tall, 1.3-2 ft (.4-.6 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 22 lbs/ft3 (350 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .29, .35

Janka Hardness: 320 lbf (1,420 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 6,500 lbf/in2 (44.8 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 800,000 lbf/in2 (5.52 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 3,960 lbf/in2 (27.3 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 2.2%, Tangential: 4.9%, Volumetric: 7.2%, T/R Ratio: 2.2

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is pale brown or tan, while the narrow sapwood is nearly white. Numerous small knots are common in the wood.

Grain/Texture: Grain is usually straight, with a fine, even texture. Moderate natural luster.

Endgrain: Resin canals absent; earlywood to latewood transition gradual, color contrast medium; tracheid diameter small to very small; zonate parenchyma.

Rot Resistance: Rated as durable to very durable regarding decay resistance; also resistant to termites and powder post beetles.

Workability: Northern White Cedar has good overall working characteristics, and works easily with both hand and machine tools. However, the wood is both soft and weak, giving it poor screw-holding capabilities. Northern White Cedar glues and finishes well.

Odor: Northern White Cedar has a distinct (though moderate) cedar-like smell when being worked.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Northern White Cedar has been reported to cause skin irritation, runny nose, as well as asthma-like symptoms. Reported by the USDA to be among the most allergenic woods native to the United States. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Generally available in smaller sizes of lumber. Prices should be in the mid range for a domestic softwood.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.

Common Uses: Fences, posts, shingles, piles, canoes, outdoor furniture, railroad ties, and paper (pulpwood).

Comments: In tree form, Thuja occidentalis is commonly referred to as Eastern Arborvitae—or simply just Arborvitae—and is widely used as an ornamental tree, with hundreds of different cultivars in existence.

Perhaps the closest thing to Balsa that the United States has domestically, Northern White Cedar is one of the very lightest and softest of commercially available woods in the country. Yet the greatest value of this wood is not merely in its lightness, but in its resistance to decay, lending it to many exterior applications.

Related Species:

Related Articles:


Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
Northern White Cedar (sanded)

Northern White Cedar (sealed)
Northern White Cedar (sealed)

Northern White Cedar (endgrain)
Northern White Cedar (endgrain)

Northern White Cedar (endgrain 10x)
Northern White Cedar (endgrain 10x)

Northern White Cedar (foliage)
Northern White Cedar (foliage)

Northern White Cedar (leaf)
Northern White Cedar (leaf)
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Richard Mertins

Can anyone compare and contrast Northern White Cedar and cypress for flexibility and weight?


I sanded a small white cedar table without a mask. Dumb, I know. What’s worse is I already have allergies and minor asthma. And what’s even worse is, the table had a Minwax coating on it. I didn’t put a mask on because I only planned on a slight sanding, maybe 10 seconds on top. Once I realized I didn’t like the job I did, I decided to sand it and remove the thin coating. It was dry, as I had put that on about a week before. It was a tiny side table to go with some adirondack chairs.… Read more »


Yes, the table is an outdoor table. It’s not red cedar, but white. I think red is even worse, thanks.


What kind of wood is this? I’ve been told white cedar and pine ? thank you


Thank you Eric. I don’t think I can sand any of it

Amy Peterson

We just bought a picnic table made of Northern White Cedar. I have allergies and asthma, and being near the table makes it hard for me to breathe. Will this be less of a problem if we stain it and seal it?


Vicki the furniture top does look a bit like northern white cedar, but it is an exceptionally soft wood for a piece of furniture. It also can have many small knots. Also very lightweight so see if weighs less than a typical chest of drawers for its size. If it was built in the northeast maybe they used that wood locally. Wood hardness can be tested with a fingernail. Northern white cedar will dent easily. Tulip poplar will dent. Soft maple and the softer birches barely. And hard maple (including black) and the harder birches generally will not. Also northern… Read more »

Vicki Cable

Can you tell me if this is cedar – if not, any ideas what it is?

Vicki Cable

Thanks. I’ll have a look :)

Vicki Cable

I’ve done a close up of the top.
I’m thinking black maple?

Jordan Matthews

If i use this as panneleing in my cottage will ir smell nice like red cedar will?


Do I need to strip the bark to use it as pergola poles? I am planning on repurposing large poles that were cut late August to make the pergola in upstate New York.


Is this good wood to build a playset out of? Reading the description, it doesn’t seem like it.