Western Red Cedar

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Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)

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: 23.0 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.

Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood.

Identification: See the article on Softwood Anatomy for definitions of endgrain features.

Western red cedar (endgrain 10x)
Western red cedar (endgrain 1x)

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.

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Samuel Wilbur

My friend gave me an offcut of some mystery wood he said he found at a fancy wood shop, after carving it down and working with it, I came to the conclusion to it must be western red cedar. However the odor was significantly less then i would have expected, it is a very soft and easy wood to practise power carving on.
What is the best finish for western red? Oils, polyurethanes? Or furniture waxes? Or a mixture of them all?

Sam. W.

mukund khemka

Hello there! I wanted to understand the acoustical properties of western red cedar. And how does that calculation happen?


Someone recently gave me a billet of WRC from a City of Orlando power pole. Apparently they installed a bunch 80 years ago. I got 4 guitar tops and some smaller bits out of it. Here’s a baritone uke topped wit some of the ‘scrap’. The closeup does the wood more justice. It is very resonant. Can’t wait to use this stuff on a classical guitar


A turned bowl from western red cedar

Sven Kapp

Yes, just under tihe bark.


How do compare it’s ability to bend to other woods? Is that elastic modules? if so how does that work?


this wood is very underated how did it make ten on the list im very disappointed


Does anyone know if “Juniper” is the same as western red cedar? I have client looking for juniper siding,


John Spiegel

“Juniper” was a name the locals used for Atlantic White Cedar when I lived on the NC coast, but that was decades ago. Used often for small commercial fishing skiffs. It’s physical properties very similar to RWC, but cosmetically very different – a totally white wood.


I fished Currituck Sound long ago with my dad and guide Johnny Owens. Johnny’s boat was juniper, locally built.

David Westerdale

Inland Red Cedar is the same wood species as Wester Red Cedar, but because of the different growing conditions in the inland mountains of Idaho and Montana, Inland Red Cedar trees show differences in the wood grain, wood coloration, and smaller tree height.

Do these differences in appearance have an affect on the MOR, MOE, compression, shrinkage and dried weight?

David Westerdale

Does western red cedar share the same properties for strength, bending, crushing and janka hardness as inland red cedar(which is the same species)? Because of the growing conditions, higher altitudes, drier climate, and less iron in the soil, Inland Red Cedar trees typically don’t grow as large, have a tighter grain, and are usually blonder in color.

If the properties are different does anyone know where I could find those stats?

Thanks in advance.

Carl Graham

As a shingle sawyer who has sawed cedar both on the coast and inland i personally doubt there’s any difference in the wood from these different locals.Much inland wood tends to have more rot in the center leading to a significantly narrower shell on the log , but I haven’t seen that reflecting on the wood qualities at all ( other than a lot more narrow edge grain shingles in the interior).

Ryan E

I am looking to build a log home with either western red cedar or eastern white pine in western massachusetts and am looking to choose the better for minimal rot and insect repellant. (I plan on building in some woods and near water) Any thoughts between the two? Very new to building so thanks in advance for any help.

Bjarki Thor

White pine will last a very long time if properly cared for. If you don’t care to keep up with the maintenance than red cedar may be a good choice. I believe red cedar will cost more than twice as much in Western Mass for a log home. Trucking from the west coast, and the general higher cost of cedar vs. pine will put a dent in your wallet. There are lots of log home manufacturers around New England. Certainly do some research before spending the big bucks out west.


Western Red Cedar will hold up the best. The only problem is that the cost of the cedar plus shipping could kill you. Have you taken a look a Northern White Cedar?


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I’d like to build a gymnastics bar for at-home practise. Would a 1.6′-diameter dowel of this cedar be able to sustain a swinging and pulling weight of 155lb? (odd question, but I’d love to know!). I’m searching for suitable wood alternatives to metal, if I can.

Morgan Wheeler

You want hardwood. I would suggest ash, or hickory.

Chris Kenney

Correction: I doubt very much that WRC has an Elastic Modulus of 1,100,000 as presently stated.

Olessia Makarenia

Whoever is maintaining this database, please correct the information with respect to this wood’s susceptibility to insect damage. As a matter of fact, this species is naturally repellent to insects due to its strong odour and, therefore, has a strong resistance to insect infestation.

Olessia Makarenia

I admit that my impression is based on the information that is available through the websites of commercial entities and their angle is easy to understand but it does seem to get this reputation of an insect-resistant species as a result of being compared to other species. Oh, well, I just thought that the wording used in the description did not communicate this relative resistance which prompted my original comment.


I work with Western Red Cedar every day as a fence installer In Michigan off all the tear out and replace jobs I have only seen signs of insects in one fence that was 27 years old, because it was never taken care of. They let soil build up around the panels. I have also seen 50 year old fences that have only had the post replaced.