wood being stored

Properties And Characteristics Of Eastern Red Cedar Wood

Properties Of Eastern Red Cedar Wood

The scientific name for Eastern Red Cedar is Juniperus Virginiana.  The tree size can reach 115 ft tall and have a trunk diameter of 3 to 4 ft.

Its average dried weight is 33 lbs/ft3 which makes it fairly lightweight for applications.  This is an advantage when used as building materials.

The Janka hardness is 900 lbf with a specific gravity of .44, .53 (Basic, 12% MC).  Eastern Red Cedar is a softwood and is porous.

Its Modulus of Rupture is 8,800 lbf/in2 with an Elastic Modulus of 880,000 lbf/in2.  This places its flexibility to the point of breaking very close to Basswood and half that of Maple or Oak.

The Crushing Strength is 6,020 lbf/in2.  Here Cedar clearly outperforms Basswood and comes in a little under Maple.

The shrinkage for Eastern Red Cedar is 3.1% Radial, 4.7% Tangential, and 7.8% Volumetric with a T/R Ratio of 1.5.

Characteristics Of Eastern Red Cedar

Aromatic Quality Of Cedar

All Cedar is aromatic, yet each will have its own unique smell.  The Eastern Red Cedar will instantly remind people of closets, hope chests, or bird houses.  This is different from its Western kin.

driftwood display art

The aroma comes from the oils found within the wood.  They are strongest when freshly cut but will fade somewhat over time.

The reason for the scent fading is not due to the oil disappearing but rather it cures.  How long the scent lasts will vary yet it does last longer than many other species.

What will aid in determining the longevity of the aroma is how much surface area is exposed to the air.  Additionally, the volume of the wood will play a role in this factor as in how thick the board is.

Color Of Eastern Red Cedar

The wood color of Eastern Red Cedar is easy to recognize.  The heartwood is always a reddish color that can trend to a pinkish brown.  The outer layers will shift to a light brown.

The heartwood has the greatest density and is far less porous while the outer layers are the opposite.  If you attempt to stain two colors side by side, you will immediately notice the impact.

Within heartwood the color will remain within the defined line where stained.  In the outer layers the stain will bleed causing it to mix within the grain.

Durability Of Cedar

Nearly all Cedar from different species are rot resistant.  Eastern Red Cedar is rather exceptional in this area.

Posts have been commonly placed into the ground without any treatment to prevent rot.  The key to this success can be found within the natural oils of the wood.

These oils also aid in another way.  It provides a natural resistance to insects and repels them before they ever begin to attack the grain structure.

These qualities make Eastern Red Cedar a great choice for outdoor use within any structure.  It is also a common selection for home siding which provides many angles of protection from the elements.

Workability Of Eastern Red Cedar

I personally have put many hours into working and carving Eastern Red Cedar.  It cuts great and is easy to work with in all regards when using blades.

The one drawback is that it can dull blades and wood chisels more easily due to higher silica content.  Keep this in mind if using routers or cnc mills to adjust feeds and speeds to accommodate.

japanese manufacutred chisels

Note that surfacing bits will easily take small chips out of the surface.  If this happens clean the bit and adjust feeds and speeds.  While this will not stop small tears it will minimize the impact.

Normally people do not seal Cedar in order to retain the aromatic qualities.  The grain itself will stain very nicely and show good variation between the layers of wood within the grain lines.

The one catch to this Cedar is when one wants to use multiple stain colors on a defined line.  The heartwood will not bleed yet the outer layers of wood will almost always bleed.

Smaller branches or trunks will have more knotted wood whereas larger trunks will not.  Knots will at times present challenges for some projects due to how frequent they can occur.

Dimensional Stability Of Eastern Red Cedar

Generally speaking this species of Cedar is dimensionally stable overall.  This general stability will be impacted by the cut and thickness of its dimensions. 

Thinner boards will tend to curl and warp.  Thicker boards will hold with little movement across time.  Another factor to impact this is where the cut is made.

When surfacing with a router or cnc interesting reactions can occur.  After milling and allowing the board to sit overnight some flex or curl can appear as the grain “relaxes”.

If this occurs the wood can be easily bent back to its shape.  As Cedar is a softwood it will accept shaping more readily than other species of wood.

Allergic Reaction And Toxicity Of Cedar

From personal experience and through that of friends I will advise caution when working with Cedar of any species.  The issues here are related to the oils.

Severe allergic reactions are uncommon albeit it can be common for minor reactions to take place.  For some know that asthma like reactions can occur but this is more common with the Western cousin.

The greater danger resides in the wood dust that can be inhaled.

Be sure to wear a proper respirator rather than a typical wood working mask if a lot of dust will be created like when sanding.  I give this caution due to a friend who’s life was forever changed and permanent damage was done to his lungs from this species.

The wood itself is very beautiful yet take precautions to protect yourself from what can get into your body.

Sustainability Of Eastern Red Cedar

The Eastern Red Cedar is very common and is abundant within Eastern North America.  It is not listed in the CITES Appendices and is considered a species of least concern.

Noted Differences Between Western And Eastern Red Cedar

Immediately the key differences one should notice between Western and Eastern Red Cedar is the scent and grain color.  In terms of aroma the Western will smell more like pencil shavings.

In grain color the Western will appear more tan or brown.  The “red” color within the wood will appear darker or more brown compared to the Eastern species being brighter or more pink.

There are many other differences which will not be as easily noticed.  The wood strength is different from East to West as well as its other properties.

Eastern Red Cedar is more resistant to the elements an rot by comparison.  Here the Eastern Cedar wins.

The trees themselves are also different when seen in the wild.  The Eastern is shorter and smaller in diameter while the Western is taller and more robust.

Application Of Eastern Red Cedar In Wood Art

Within wood art the Eastern Red Cedar is a beautiful addition to the artist’s work.  There are a few issues to note when carving.

The grain itself can have a tendency to tear.  Keep your chisels sharp and attempt to cut in line with the grain.

I would say that Cedar is not a good place for beginners to learn wood carving.  I would rate it at an intermediate level of skill for carving.

In terms of building small items like art boxes or chests it is very easy to work with.  In this case for general woodworking, it is a great beginning place for novices.