I understand that choosing the right wood for projects can be challenging. I work with many wood types, and what you choose to use significantly impacts work quality. Over the years, I’ve relied considerably on maple and cedar for the best results in many of my projects.
My goal in this article is to help you understand the importance of various factors such as wood grain pattern, and how they can help determine the type of wood that should be used for a given project.
Maple and Cedar Wood Overview
Maple wood is harder and more durable than Cedar wood. Cabinet makers favor Maple for its strong durability. On the other hand, Cedar is softwood with natural weather-resistant properties that make it a good choice for siding, shingles, decking, greenhouses, arbors, and fences.
There are a lot of other points to consider between the two types of wood, like what they are good at being used for, their properties, appearance, pricing, etc. It all depends on what you want to use the two types of wood for at the end of the day.
Maple is a popular hardwood choice amongst woodworkers to make furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and kitchen accessories. It’s wood with high durability, wide availability, and natural beauty due to its natural grain pattern that pops when varnished. It has a rating of 1450 on the Janka scale, which is higher than Oak, Walnut, and Cherry.
What makes Maple appealing for woodworkers is its light, creamy color, smooth grain pattern, and, of course, its durability. With Maple, a woodworker can create high-end furniture, cabinetry, and kitchen accessories.
Maple, at one time, was used to make baseball bats but was later replaced by lighter Ash. It’s also used to make bowling alley floorings, so it can take a hit from countless heavy bowling balls and still keep its shape.
Cedar is categorized as softwood because it is from a gymnosperm tree, which means it doesn’t flower like hardwood tree sources. Cedar, though a softwood, is versatile and durable in outdoor environments thanks to its natural insect-repellant characteristics. This softwood is iconic for its natural reddish color, which is attractive and has natural weather and insect resistance.
Cedar wood gives off a recognizable scent. Red Cedar starts as a reddish-brown color and then changes over time with exposure to sunlight. A bit redder than Cherry wood Cedar has a rating of 900 on the Janka scale. It’s typically used for outdoor furniture, decking, and sidings.
|Color||Light, creamy, can be spalted or birdseye||Reddish-brown, sometimes lighter|
|Durability||Moderately durable||Highly durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,450 lbf.||350 lbf.|
|Maintenance||Relatively low maintenance, specific care needed for flooring||Regular cleaning and maintenance recommended|
|Price||Moderately priced||Moderately priced|
|Suitability for outdoors||Not suitable due to vulnerability to insects||Highly suitable, naturally insect-resistant|
|Suitability for wood carving||Fair||Excellent|
|Workability||Excellent, but can be prone to burn marks||Excellent, but requires caution due to softness|
|Smell||Mild odor||Distinct pleasant odor|
In the United States, there are several types of cedar wood, but western red cedar is one of the most well-known. When freshly cut, this cedar variety has a reddish-brown hue and emits a fragrant, resinous aroma, making it easily identifiable. Because of its workability, cedar wood is a popular choice for many woodworking projects.
Compared to maple, one notable advantage of cedar wood is its impressive resistance to insect infestations. Its natural durability makes it an excellent choice for outdoor applications such as decking, summer houses, fences, and fence posts.
The appeal of western red cedar, however, extends beyond the outdoors. It’s also used to make indoor furniture, flooring, and cabinets. It’s important to note that cedar, with a Janka hardness rating of 350 lbf, is on the softer side of the wood hardness scale. This makes it more prone to scratches, dents, and abrasion, so use caution when working on certain projects.
Maple trees can be found all over the United States and produce two types of wood: soft maple and hard maple. Despite the term “soft” being applied to one variety, maplewood is significantly tougher than many other hardwoods.
Maple wood has a pale, nearly white color and a uniform, tightly woven grain pattern. Hard maple is popular for making furniture, cabinets, and flooring, while soft maple is used to make food-grade butcher blocks.
Hard maple’s strength and durability make it an ideal material for crafting sports equipment such as baseball bats and pool cues, in addition to its use in traditional woodworking. Maple sap is used to make delicious maple syrup, and maple wood chips are popular for smoking various foods.
Maple wood is extremely versatile, with both hard and soft variants serving various purposes. However, one disadvantage of maple wood is its fine grain and lack of pores, which makes applying finishes difficult. It’s also noteworthy that maple wood develops a yellowish tint over time.
Advantages Of Maple and Cedar
Maple is a sought-after wood due to its high Janka scale reading and naturally beautiful grain pattern. Other highlights of Maple include:
- Durable, strong, long-lasting wood
- Characteristic straight wood grain
- Uniform color
- Good resistance to decay
- Stains and polishes well
Cedar, even though it’s a softwood, surprisingly has great durability, especially for outdoor usage. Though that’s one of the biggest reasons it’s used, Cedar does have other advantages that are worthwhile to consider:
- Natural reddish color is attractive
- Acoustic properties used for musical instruments
- Durable and resistant to insects
- Weather resistance
- Light porous type of wood makes it great for insulation
Disadvantages Of Maple and Cedar
Like all things, there is a downside due to their advantages; everything has a weakness ultimately, right? That is the same for these two types of woods that aren’t perfect but have flaws that might make you reconsider using them and choose another option that might be more fitting for your choice of usage.
The disadvantage of Maple is that it’s not always easy to stain the wood due to its tight grain structure, resulting in uneven patches along with the wood. So in terms of staining and dying this wood, it’s best to get a professional to do it, but it’s not impossible to do on your own if you have the experience.
Due to Maples’ lighter color and little grain pattern compared to other woods, scratches and marks become easily visible on the surface. Maple is also sensitive to weather changes and high heat/humidity, which results in the wood expanding and shrinking a lot that can cause it to split easily. Hence the reason why it isn’t suitable for outdoor usage.
Cedar also has its list of disadvantages; for instance, though it is weather-resistant, it still requires yearly maintenance, especially outdoors. In addition, although Cedar has those natural resistance qualities, it also has oil present in the wood that is flammable. So, making Cedar a flammable wood that can be a cause of concern for some people, thankfully, it can be treated.
That beautiful reddish color disappears a lot quicker than you would think; in about two weeks, it will go from red to greyish when exposed to direct sunlight. In addition, the wood is softwood, which makes it sensitive to bumps, scratches, etc. On top of all of this, most builders don’t recommend this as they believe that it won’t stand the required load of a building.
Cedar is an affordable option if you’re looking for durability and is specifically used for outdoor usage. Compared to other woods in its category, it’s cost-effective, sustainable, and reliable. However, the drawback to its level of quality, its disadvantage of fading over time, and the fact that it requires yearly maintenance will increase your cost to maintain the wood.
Maple wood is moderately priced as hardwood; it is better than oak, cherry, and walnut. In addition, maintenance is hardly required due to its durability and long lifespan, making it the cheaper option in the long term.
Maple vs. Cedar: Appearance
Maple wood has a lovely light and creamy color that many people like. Its smooth, even surface is appealing due to its straight and fine wood grain. You may encounter subtle waviness and the occasional knot, which can be creatively incorporated into woodworking projects with some skill.
Spalted maple is a beautiful maple variation known for its unique beauty. Birdseye maple is a popular variety that got its name from how its wood grain pattern resembles a bird’s eye. Birdseye maple is the most expensive of the maple varieties available.
One intriguing aspect of maple wood is that the sapwood, rather than the heartwood, is used for woodworking. Sapwood has an almost white appearance with occasional hints of reddish or golden hues that mature subtly over time.
Western red cedar is typically reddish-brown, though lighter, pinkish-brown shades can be found. Its grain pattern contains darker streaks and bands on occasion. Surprisingly, there is no clear distinction between the pale-yellow sapwood and the darker heartwood of cedarwood.
Western red cedar has a coarse texture and a grain pattern that shines naturally. It’s worth noting that different cedar species look very similar.
Maple vs. Cedar: Durability
While considered a hardwood, maple lacks the overall durability of cedar. However, with a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf., its moderate hardness lends itself well to creating long-lasting furniture. Maple furniture is well-known for its resistance to chipping, denting, and scratching, making it an excellent choice for flooring applications.
However, maple’s downside is its susceptibility to insect infestations, which makes it unsuitable for outdoor use. Cedar takes the lead in outdoor projects due to its natural resin production, which acts as a protective shield against insect attacks.
Cedarwood can also be used to make furniture, but it has a much lower Janka hardness rating of 350 lbf. It should be noted that cedar furniture is best suited for low-traffic areas and is not a good choice for flooring where durability is a top priority.
Maple vs. Cedar: Maintenance
Maple furniture is low-maintenance, but maple flooring requires special attention. Modern flooring options include pre-finished maple planks, which make maintenance easier. Even pre-finished maple flooring, however, requires maintenance regularly.
Specific procedures for maintaining maple flooring must be followed to prevent floor damage.
Western red cedar, on the other hand, while moderately durable, necessitates regular maintenance to ensure peak performance. Cedar accumulates dirt, grime, mildew, and mold without regular cleaning. Furthermore, annual maintenance on western red cedar wood helps to extend its lifespan.
Maple vs. Cedar: Workability and Uses
Both maple and western red cedar are well-known for their ease of workability with hand and machine tools, though there may be some difficulties where the wood grain interlocks. During woodworking, care should be taken to avoid tear-out.
Because of its high sugar content, maple, particularly sugar maple, is prone to burn marks caused by high-speed cutting blades. This problem can be solved by lowering the cutting blade speed.
Both types of wood accept glue readily. However, applying a finish or stain to maple can be difficult due to the lack of pores in the wood structure. Using a pre-sealer to prevent blotchiness during finishing is recommended. Maple is also good for steam bending, allowing creative shaping in woodworking projects.
Western red cedar, on the other hand, does not usually pose the same problems as maple. Nonetheless, it should be noted that cedar is a very soft wood that must be handled with care. Because cedar is prone to scratches and dents, it is best suited for low-traffic areas.
Western red cedar is used in various applications, including boat construction, decking, shingles, fences, and posts. It is also commonly used for patio furniture, musical instruments, crates, and boxes.
Maple vs. Cedar: Price
Maple is widely available throughout the United States, but its price varies according to the type and grade of the wood. Standard maple wood is reasonably priced in comparison to most common hardwoods, whereas figured or spalted maple can be significantly more expensive.
Western red cedar, another common wood species in the United States, is generally less expensive than many hardwood species. Certain grades of cedar, on the other hand, may command a significantly higher price.
Maple vs. Cedar: Sustainability
Both maple and western red cedar are considered sustainable wood species because neither is endangered.
Maple is a great choice if you’re looking for great quality wood material for interior use, such as furniture, cabinets, etc. Maple also has a really beautiful aesthetic when it’s stained.
Cedar is perfect for outdoor furniture that you want to last longer naturally, and if you’re concerned about costs, it’s the most cost-effective option between the two. Yes, it has a few concerning points, like its sensitivity and color fading over time. However, these are things that can be avoided.