Cedar and beech are both commonly used kinds of wood for various woodworking applications. But apart from being common, they do not have much in common. Which is better for furniture, flooring, and cabinets, cedar, or beech?
Cedar and beech are both easy to work with. Cedars are generally durable woods suitable for exterior applications, whereas beech is non-durable and vulnerable to insect attack. Neither are considered beautiful woods; however, you can stain beech to resemble other woods.
Let’s examine the differences between cedar and beech more carefully so that you can make an informed decision about which wood you should choose for which application.
What is Cedar?
Woodworkers apply the classification “cedar” to over a dozen species from both softwood and hardwood genera. They do, however, tend to share some common properties:
- Cedar is generally aromatic, with a long-lasting smell.
- Cedar is rot and pest resistant and therefore often used for exterior applications.
- Cedar is relatively lightweight and soft, and therefore easily worked.
- Cedar is generally reddish-brown, with exceptions such as yellow cedar or Northern white cedar.
Only two species of cedar are commonly encountered in North America, namely the Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and the Eastern red cedar or aromatic cedar (Juniperus virginiana).
What is Beech Wood?
Species in the deciduous hardwood genus Fagus of the family Fagaceae yield beech. This genus has about a dozen species found across the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
In the United States, you will most likely encounter lumber from Fagus grandifolia, the American beech, which grows in the eastern parts of the United States, and Fagus sylvatica, the European beech.
How are Cedar and Beech Different?
Now that we have looked at cedar and beech let’s examine what makes them different.
Description of Cedar and Beech
Western red cedar has reddish to pinkish-brown heartwood, with banding and streaking of darker wood. The sapwood is narrow and pale yellowish-white. The grain is straight and coarse, which will affect your ability to finish this wood smooth.
The heartwood of Eastern red cedar is reddish or violet-brown. The sapwood is pale yellow and can appear as streaks in the heartwood.
The grain is straight and frequently knotty, and it is rare to find large clear boards of this wood. It has an even, fine texture, and you can finish this wood with a very smooth finish.
Beech has a fine, plain texture on flatsawn surfaces and a silvery fleck pattern on quartersawn surfaces. It has conspicuous rays, tiny pores, and straight grain and is generally light yellow.
Western red cedar smells like sharpening wood pencils, and Eastern red cedar smells like closet liners and birdhouses, while beech does not have a distinctive odor.
Western red cedar weighs approximately 23lbs per cu. ft. and Eastern red cedar 33lbs per cu. ft., while beech is a heavier wood, with European beech weighing 44lbs per cu. ft., and American beech weighing 45lbs per cu. ft.,
Durability of Cedar and Beech
Cedarwood is highly durable to rot. Eastern red cedar is very resistant to pest attack, whereas Western red cedar has mixed resistance to pests. Beech is a non-durable wood and is susceptible to insect attack.
Mechanical Properties of Cedar and Beech
Cedar has medium crush strength, whereas beech has high crush strength.
Cedar has low stiffness, making it suitable for steam bending, while beech has a high bend strength and is considered superb for steam bending.
Cedar is softer than beech, with Western red cedar’s Janka hardness being only 350 and Eastern red cedar’s 900, in contrast to beech, which is 1300.
Seasoning of Cedar and Beech
Both cedar and beech dry quickly, but that is where the similarities end. Cedar shows no tendency to split, check, or warp, whereas beech tends to split, check, and warp.
Working Properties of Cedar and Beech
You can work cedar easily with hand and power tools. You can plane Eastern red cedar to a very smooth finish, whereas Western red cedar remains rough. Cedar nails, screws, and glues superbly. It stains and polishes easily and holds hard enamels.
Beech works quickly with hand and power tools. It nails, screws, and glues well and can be stained and polished to an excellent finish.
Availability and Sustainability of Cedar and Beech
Both cedar and beech are readily available. Large, clear boards of Eastern red cedar are uncommon, but narrower boards with knots are readily available.
Neither the CITES Appendices nor the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species list any beech species as threatened. Neither Western red cedar nor Eastern red cedar is threatened; however, some other species known as cedars, such as Spanish cedar, are threatened.
Cost Differences Between Cedar and Beech
Beech and Eastern red cedar retail for around $6.29 per board foot, whereas Western red cedar is far more costly, at $14.00 per board foot.
Which is Better for Furniture, Cedar or Beech?
Because woodworkers consider beech less attractive for furniture than other woods, it tends to be less expensive, and they use it as a secondary wood for the legs of tables and chairs, the bottoms of drawers, and the backs and sides of dressers.
Carpenters have historically favored cedar for dresser or chest building and closet lining due to its bug and rot repellent properties.
Which is Better for Flooring, Cedar or Beech?
Beech is relatively expensive when used for flooring but easy to work and reasonably resistant to wear. Cedar is far more resistant to rot and pests but tends to be too soft to stand up to constant heavy traffic.
Which is Better for Cabinetry, Cedar or Beech?
Beech is useful for cabinetry as it does not impart odor or flavor and does not have a dulling effect on knife blades. However, you should seal it properly to avoid warping due to humidity.
Cedar is far too aromatic for use with food. It could be used for other cabinetry, as its durability is an attractive quality.
Beech is the better of these two kinds of wood for flooring and is also more suitable for use in cabinetry. For furniture, cedar has the edge in terms of pest and rot resistance.
The Wood Database: European Beech
The Wood Database: American Beech
The Wood Database: Cedar Confusion!
How Stuff Works: Guide to Furniture Woods
Bobvila: Types of Wood