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): 0.29, 0.35
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 light reddish brown. Relatively narrow sapwood is nearly white and isn’t always sharply or clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Numerous small pin knots are not uncommon in some pieces—especially in wood harvested from smaller ornamental trees.
Grain/Texture: Grain is usually straight; fine, even texture with moderate natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Rated as durable to very durable regarding decay resistance; also resistant to termites and powder post beetles.
Workability: 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. It also tends to sand unevenly due to the difference in density between the earlywood and latewood zones. Glues and finishes well. Holds paint well.
Odor: Northern white cedar has a distinct (though comparatively mild) 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. The wood contains plicatic acid (so-named from the related species, Thuja plicata), which has been shown to cause occupational asthma in cases of prolonged exposure to wood dust.Cartier, A., Chan, H., Malo, J. L., Pineau, L., Tse, K. S., & Chan-Yeung, M. (1986). Occupational asthma caused by eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) with demonstration that plicatic acid … Continue reading See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Generally available in smaller sizes of lumber, usually processed for exterior purposes such as fence posts, shingles, etc. 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. Though despite the wood’s extreme softness and low strength, it’s valued for its resistance to decay, lending it to many exterior applications.
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Resin canals : absent
Tracheid diameter : small to very small
Grain contrast : moderate
Parenchyma : zonate
Lookalikes/Substitutes: Another cedar with similar appearance, anatomy, and overlapping geographic distribution is Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), and both are sometimes referred to more generically as eastern white cedar. Although northern white cedar tends to have less consistent zonate parenchyma (Atlantic white cedar tends to have more abundant and consistent zonate parenchyma), this feature is variable and observations can be ambiguous. Being in the Thuja genus, northern white cedar has a pungent, pencil-like odor that resembles a milder version of Thuja plicata, while the odor of Atlantic white cedar has a sweeter character.
Notes: Although western red cedar (Thuja plicata) 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.
|↑1||Cartier, A., Chan, H., Malo, J. L., Pineau, L., Tse, K. S., & Chan-Yeung, M. (1986). Occupational asthma caused by eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) with demonstration that plicatic acid is present in this wood dust and is the causal agent. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 77(4), 639-645.|