Common Name(s): Western red cedar, giant arborvitae
Scientific Name: Thuja plicata
Distribution: Pacific Northwest United States/Canada
Tree Size: 165-200 ft (50-60 m) tall,
7-13 ft (2-4 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 23 lbs/ft3 (370 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC) : 0.31, 0.37
Janka Hardness : 350 lbf (1,560 N)
Modulus of Rupture : 7,500 lbf/in2 (51.7 MPa)
Elastic Modulus : 1,110,000 lbf/in2 (7.66 GPa)
Crushing Strength : 4,560 lbf/in2 (31.4 MPa)
Shrinkage : Radial: 2.4%, Tangential: 5%,
Volumetric: 6.8%, T/R Ratio: 2.1
Color/Appearance: Heartwood reddish to pinkish brown, often with random streaks and bands of darker red/brown areas. Narrow sapwood is pale yellowish white, and isn’t always sharply demarcated from the heartwood.
Grain/Texture: Straight grain with a coarse texture and moderate natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Western red cedar has been rated as durable to very durable in regard to decay resistance, though it has a mixed resistance to insect attack.
Workability: Easy to work with both hand or machine tools, though it dents and scratches very easily due to its softness, and can sand unevenly due to the difference in density between the earlywood and latewood zones. Glues and finishes well. Iron-based fasteners can stain and discolor the wood, especially in the presence of moisture.
Odor: Western red cedar has a strong, lingering, aromatic scent when being worked.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, western red cedar has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, as well as runny nose, asthma-like symptoms, and nervous system effects. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Should be moderately inexpensive for construction-grade lumber, though higher grades of clear, straight-grained, quartersawn lumber can be more expensive.
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: Shingles, exterior siding and lumber, boatbuilding, boxes, crates, and musical instruments.
Comments: Sometimes called giant arborvitae—in comparison to the smaller eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)—these massive trees have large commercial importance. The wood is used in a number of applications, ranging from rough-sawn lumber for use in home construction to clear quartersawn material for classical guitar soundboards.
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Resin canals : absent
Tracheid diameter : medium to medium-large
Earlywood to latewood transition : usually abrupt (or gradual if growth rings are more widely-spaced)
Grain contrast : high
Parenchyma : none
Lookalikes/Substitutes: Another North America wood that goes by the common name of red cedar (usually eastern red cedar or aromatic red cedar ) is Juniperus virginiana. However, J. virginiana has a much more purplish-red heartwood color and a much finer texture. (See the article Cedar Confusion! for more information.) On a practical level, the wood that has the closest weight, appearance, and similar geographic/commercial distribution is coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). However, coast redwood tends to have darker heartwood (on average), and also lacks the characteristic scent of western red cedar.
Notes: Although northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is the most closely related North American species, the two are usually quite easy to tell apart—as the common names imply, one species (T. plicata) has reddish-brown heartwood while the other (T. occidentalis) is pale brown to nearly white.